What’s the ‘big deal’ when Black coaches face off?

Ben Johnson

Another View

Second of two parts

Whenever two basketball teams coached by Blacks face each other, two certainties will occur: One Black coach will emerge a winner, and the other will have an L attached to his or her resume.

“A lot of Black coaches don’t want to play one another,” admitted Kenneth Blakeley, in his third season as Howard University men’s coach after 24 years as an assistant at seven different schools before finally getting his first HC opportunity in 2019. “The reason behind that is because somebody has to lose. Are you putting the African American or Black coach one game closer to his demise or his not having success?”

Blakeley is mostly referring to Black coaches at non-HBCU schools—Blacks coaching against each other is the way of life in Black colleges and universities. But you can see his point—any sort of setback for a Black coach can be fatal to their career when more often than not they aren’t given a second chance, unlike their White counterparts.

It is not any different in women’s college hoops, where the numbers and percentages of Black head coaches at non-HBCUs are even lower than the men’s and their second chances are just as slim to none.

This is Ben Johnson’s second year as Gophers men’s coach. He will be involved this season in eight scheduled “Black-Black” matchups, seven of them at home, including last Monday’s 61-60 season-opening win over Western Michigan, coached by Dwayne Stephens, his first HC job after the last 19 years as a Michigan State assistant.

“Ben is a real close friend of mine. I appreciate him giving us the opportunity to play [each other],” said Stephens beforehand.

Shalon Pillow (FAMU) and Charmin Smith (California) will face each other Dec. 18 as part of the first-year Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series Games.

“To have two Black females coaching against each other, it definitely is a big deal,” affirmed Pillow, hired by FAMU in 2020. Smith was named Cal’s coach in 2019. “We don’t have that many Black female head coaches,” added Pillow.

Photo by Charles Hallman Cindy Brunson

Wisconsin’s Marisa Moseley, also in her second season, pointed out, “Whether we’re competing against each other or against other opponents on any given night, we have an opportunity to show what we’re capable of doing, that we are coaches who just happen to be Black.

“I think that for young girls, Black, White, any other race or ethnicity, they need to see us in these positions be successful [and show] we can do it with grace and with poise,” said the Badgers HC.

Added Johnson, “I think we all take pride in handling ourselves the right way, developing our programs, and winning on and off the floor, setting a good example.”

Cindy Brunson, veteran Pac-12 Networks broadcaster during the Big Ten media days in October, openly questioned, if nearly 50% of women’s college basketball players are Black, “Why aren’t we seeing more [Black] head coaches in the Division I level? We need more in the Power Five [conferences] for sure.”

“There are a lot of great minority coaches that can coach if given the opportunity,” said Indiana’s Mike Woodson. “If you qualify, you should get an opportunity if somebody’s willing to give you that opportunity.”

North Carolina Central WBB Coach Trisha Stafford-Odom looked at the “big deal” of Blacks coaching against Blacks: “I think people that are not coaching make a bigger deal of it than us as [Black] coaches. There is a great pride to be able to look across the court and see you’re coaching against someone of color.

“I love the fact that right now you’re able to see that it’s not just about the color, it’s about the skill and ability and our inclination to be as good if not better.”

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