Black History Month

Thursday, February 24
Updated: February 29, 4:43 PM ET
Next generation is still blazing trails

By Andy Katz

On the occasion of Black History Month, takes a look at the state of our games. Each sport has made its own advances in racial equality, but each also has its own challenges still to face. Today, Andy Katz looks at the advancements made by black coaches in college basketball.

New Mexico State gave Rob Evans a scholarship to hand out in his name. But Evans needed some sort of display. So, he looked for a way to show how far he, and other black coaches, have come since he was a player at New Mexico State in the 1960s.

Rob Evans
ASU's Rob Evans was encouraged when he counted black coaches.
Evans sat down in his Arizona State office and put together a massive list of black head coaches with the hope of getting an autographed picture of each one. He included the predominantly black colleges. But he didn't think he would get far.

He found 54 black head coaches, out of 318 Division I schools.

"It's not bad," said Evans, who during Black History Month in February has turned the Sun Devils into an NCAA Tournament contender. "It shows something about our game. We've made a lot of inroads."

When Evans started, he was pegged as a token, only around to get along with the players and recruit. The assumption, albeit racist, was that black coaches couldn't coach. It's the same argument thrown at black quarterbacks or black head coaches in any other sport.

"The perception was that we couldn't make decisions," said Evans, who started as an assistant at New Mexico State in 1968. "But once a number of coaches were successful like (John B.) McClendon at Tennessee State, John Thompson (at Georgetown), Nolan Richardson (at Tulsa and Arkansas) and John Chaney (at Temple), they opened doors for the rest of us."

Evans took the ultimate test job when he left Oklahoma State as an assistant to take over at Mississippi. He took the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament twice -- one more time than they had been in their entire history.

"I felt that if I could go to a downtrodden program like that and be successful, that I could open up more doors for other people," Evans said. "I knew I would be nationally scrutinized."

Opportunities for black coaches in men's college basketball have been plentiful of late, from all four positions (head coach, two assistant coaches, part-time coach). Former players are getting more involved in coaching, too. Tyrone Weeks, a former Massachusetts forward, was hired by St. Bonaventure this season. If Weeks succeeds, more players from the 'X' Generation might think it's cool to be a coach, too.

The key is to break down the stereotypes. Siena's Paul Hewitt said he was bombarded by queries thinking he was a token when he was an assistant under Villanova's Steve Lappas. To the contrary, Hewitt said Lappas made a point of making sure everyone knew Hewitt was a coach first. By giving him more responsibilities and letting him take over scouting and scheduling, Lappas helped Hewitt become a well-rounded coach. A few years later, Hewitt remains one of the hot names to get a higher-profile coaching job.

"We've made strides, but we're not where we should be," said first-year Washington State coach Paul Graham. "More minorities like myself are getting a chance, but it takes too long. It took me 21 years to get an opportunity where it could take someone else four or five years or even less to get one. But basketball is a heck of a lot better than football."

The disparity comes in at the administrative level. The National Association of Basketball Coaches, along with the Black Coaches Association, has made it a point to get more minorities in a position of authority. The numbers for athletics directors and administrators pales in comparison to the coaches.

"That's the next trail that has to be blazed," Evans said.

While more players are getting involved, no one seems to be riding as much success as Seton Hall's Tommy Amaker, the former Duke point guard.

Growing up, Amaker's parents stressed education and giving back to kids. Amaker always remembers going into Thompson's office at Georgetown and seeing the deflated basketball the coach kept as a visual reminder to players of what life would be like when the air goes out of their basketball careers.

"We know what John Thompson stood for," Amaker said. "He won big-time games and a national championship, but he had an impact on society and had a voice on issues."

Thompson is still a mentor for coaches. So, too, is former USC coach George Raveling. Hewitt, a former assistant, still calls on him often for advice. Keeping the lines of communication open and helping younger black coaches succeed will only benefit the profession.

"Black coaches can be an asset to a university, male or female," Hewitt said. "We're proving we can do the job."

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