Football is king at most HBCUs, but college hoops is a very close second in all-Black conferences. As a result, October for basketball coaches and players is a time brimming with optimism.
“Anytime you get started for a new season,” said Florida A&M Men’s Basketball Coach Robert McCullen, “it’s always a time of optimism and excitement.”
The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) 2022-23 men’s and women’s basketball regular season is just days away.
Jackson State was tagged as the favorite to win the SWAC women’s title, followed by Alabama State, Southern, Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Ten of the 12 WBB head coaches are Black females.
“I’m extremely excited about this group,” exclaimed JSU Coach Tomekia Reed. “We have a really strong recruiting class that we brought in. My staff did a good job of bringing in a really strong class.
“This year’s team may be the most skilled and the most talented team I’ve ever coached here at Jackson State,” continued the coach. “I’m really excited about what this team brings to the floor.”
Alabama A&M’s Margaret Richards said, “There’s no excuses. You have to be tough. You have to be ready to play. You have to be physical; you have to be aggressive. Again, no excuses.”
“Prairie View is a very elite institution academically,” said Coach Sandy Pugh proudly. “It’s not easy to get in school here. So, we have to be extremely selective of the quality of student-athletes that we bring here. It’s important to know that they’re representative of that institution.”
“We’re excited for the upcoming season,” said Freddie Murray, Grambling State.
Kimberly Anderson, Mississippi Valley State, said, “Hopefully I’ll be able to run up and down the court.”
“We are really excited about the team that we have put together this year,” noted Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Dawn Thornton. “We’re right on target to be where we need to be.”
On the men’s side, Texas Southern was picked tops in the SWAC this upcoming season, followed by Alcorn State, Southern, Prairie View A&M and Florida A&M. Texas Southern Coach Johnny Jones said on the preseason prediction, “We just want to continue to get these guys better each and every day.”
“We have a group of guys coming back,” added Alcorn State HC Landon Bussie. “They’ve been through the battle and are looking forward to having another successful season.” His Braves, who won the SWAC regular season last season, will play at Minnesota on Dec. 29.
McCullen stressed, “We are trying to bring nine new players into the fold and we know the challenges that lie ahead [in the] non-conference as well as another exciting challenging SWAC season.”
Sadly, when most mainstream media prognostications are published, rarely are HBCUs included, men or women. “It is a conference that people recognize as being an up-and-coming conference,” said Bethune-Cookman MBB Coach Reggie Theus on the SWAC.
Part of this is the annual “guarantee games” most Black schools are financially forced to play—being the road club at a larger Division I school. “We’re trying to win some of those non-conference games that we play,” admitted Alcorn State WBB Coach Nate Kilbert.
Defending her conference, Alabama State’s Freda Freeman-Jackson, who is beginning her 25th season is considered the dean of SWAC’s women’s hoops, “We’ve always had great players … coaches with their knowledge and expertise. I think we are really headed in the right direction, and I’m really excited about being a part of this.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.