Black-on-Black coach matchups ‘definitely special’

Ben Johnson
Photo by Charles Hallman

Sports Odds & Ends

The first-ever HBCU men’s basketball trifecta at Williams Arena started Dec. 14 when Minnesota hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff, then later this month Chicago State (Dec. 22) and Alcorn State (Dec. 29).  

Black schools have played at The Barn before, but not in recent memory have Gophers fans seen three HBCUs, coached by Black coaches on the sidelines. The Gophers are in the midst of a five-game stretch in which four squads are coached by Blacks, which began last week with visiting Michigan, coached by Juwan Howard, one of four Black head coaches in the Big Ten, including Minnesota’s Ben Johnson.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Alcorn State both are members of the SWAC. Chicago State currently is an independent. This is the first time APB has played Minnesota.

The Golden Lions this season is averaging 63 points a contest but gives up 69.5 points.  Coach Solomon Bozeman is one of the youngest HCs in Division I. Now in his second season, he previously was an assistant coach at Oral Roberts University for three seasons; two seasons at Arkansas-Little Rock, where he is a graduate; and two seasons at Abilene Christian. After a decorated playing career at ALR, Bozeman played professionally in the then-NBA D-League and overseas.

We talked to Bozeman during the SWAC virtual basketball days in November and asked him to speak on HBCU Black coaches facing PWI Black coaches. “I think it’s just a blessing. Black coaches are growing, and I think people are starting to take notice that we can coach…at this level. I think it’s an absolute blessing that you see two Black coaches coaching against each other, especially in Minnesota,” he responded. “I think it’s a big deal.”

This is Chicago State’s second swing through the state of Minnesota after an 83-61 defeat at St. Thomas on Nov. 11. “We’re just going to continue to chip away at just playing basketball the right way,” HC Gerald Gillion told us afterward—he was featured in last week’s MSR. 

His mostly young squad with only a senior and three juniors on this year’s roster is averaging 68 points a game but allowing over 77 points. But the Cougars are unbeaten thus far (3-0) at home.

“We’re looking forward to winning on and off the court,” continued Gillion. “[We] want to develop young men to be able to be successful both on and off the court, and we’re gonna continue to strive to do that every single day.”

Gerald Gillion
Photo by Charles Hallman

When Alcorn State plays Minnesota in a couple of weeks, it will be the team’s final non-conference contest before embarking on league play when the Braves host Jackson State Jan. 2.

ASU, who haven’t played the Gophers since 1985, will make their second-ever visit to Williams Arena. The Braves average 61 points but have given up nearly 74 points a contest this season.

Coach Landon Bussie became Alcorn State coach in 2020, his first HC opportunity, and won the SWAC regular season in 2021-22, the first time for the program in 20 years. He was named SWAC Coach of the Year and led the squad to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). 

Bussie told us that two Blacks coaching against each other in an HBCU-PWI matchup is “definitely important, it’s definitely special when you coach against another African American.”

On Minnesota hosting the HBCU hoops trifecta, Gophers HC Ben Johnson pointed out, “I think it’s important, and also an opportunity for us to talk to our guys about those historic colleges, what they represent, and what they mean,” as well as for the visiting players “to be able to come to a different region” to compete. 

“To be able to compete against guys that are different than the typical mid-major or low-major [teams] that we play,” said Johnson, “I think it is all positive.”

Have an opinion? Share it below.