Opening doors for Hispanic coaches

Everyone just calls him Frank.

But whenever he signs autographs or receipts, "Francisco" is Frank Martin's signature, a lifelong link to a heritage that South Carolina's coach will always highlight.

Martin is one of two Hispanic-American head coaches of major Division I programs; South Florida's Orlando Antigua is the other. Martin is also the bricklayer of a burgeoning movement that's brewing within college basketball's coaching ranks.

"I think Orlando and I have an opportunity of opening some doors," Martin said. "I hope I can keep doing my job in a way where 20 years from now they're not interviewing two Hispanic coaches, they're interviewing a group of Hispanic coaches."

Martin and Antigua stand alone as program leaders. But the number of Hispanic-American assistants, directors of operation and grad assistants continues to grow at a modest rate. The pipeline is expanding for Hispanic coaches.

Mike Balado is an assistant at Louisville. Jason Ludwig is the director of basketball operations at Arizona State. Antigua's staff at South Florida includes his brother, Oliver Antigua, and Sergio Rouco.

There's Rick Cabrera at Tennessee Tech and others scattered throughout Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior college. They're in the high schools, too.

There's also vast potential abroad, as coaches throughout Latin America continue to succeed on the global landscape.

But the influx -- if and when it comes -- will be homegrown, Martin and others agree.

"It's a natural progression with the influence of Latinos and Hispanics in every walk of life as the population starts to shift," Antigua said.

Manu Ginobli, Pau Gasol and other Hispanic pros have inspired youth within an exploding population that now represents 12 percent of the NBA's TV audience, per The Atlantic. Hispanics accounted for an average of 2.8 million viewers of the 2012-13 NBA Finals matchup between the Heat and Spurs, a 31 percent jump from the previous season's Finals, according to SportsBusinessDaily.com.

A U.S. Census Bureau report revealed that the Hispanic population had grown more than 43 percent from 2000 and 2010, and 49 percent of young Hispanics who graduated from high school had enrolled in college in 2012, a greater percentage than young white students.

Those changes could transform the college basketball landscape and, eventually, yield more Hispanic coaches.

"The popularity of the sport [among] Latinos and Hispanics is growing," said Will Delgado, a graduate assistant with the Eastern Michigan women's team. "But even locally, you have pockets of different areas. They're starting to come out now. ... Obviously having role models and coaches and bigger players to help carry that torch is certainly needed. It's moving in the right direction."

Baseball and soccer remain the most popular sports among Hispanic-Americans, but the future presents possibilities for a rising wave that overtook Antigua in New York City.

He was born in the Dominican Republic but raised in the Bronx. He tried baseball, but ...

"I sucked," Antigua said. "I grew, I stretched. One day, I went to a basketball tryout. The rest is history."

The Bulls won just 12 wins last season, but Antigua helped John Calipari lure top talent to Lexington during his time there, and he's confident that he'll draw recruits to South Florida, too.

It's still an adjustment for a coach who enjoyed the spoils of college basketball's capital. Those recruiting trips on private jets have been replaced by road trips in the New England mountains where cell phone coverage is spotty.

Antigua is a savvy, young coach who could inspire others like him to pursue the craft if he excels at South Florida.

It's not fair to place that burden on minority coaches, but it happens and it's accepted within those circles. The doors that open are scarce. The few who've achieved the prize of running their own college basketball programs haul the sack of progress along their journeys.

"You can't think of it in that regard," Antigua said. "The pressure is just doing well."

That's how it began with black coaches who trickled onto the scene in the 1970s, '80s and '90s and blossomed in the decades that followed. Ludwig, a member of Herb Sendek's staff at ASU, believes the current crop of Hispanic coaches could spawn a similar push for the next generation.

He's a co-founder of the Latino Association of Basketball Coaches. At last year's Final Four, more than 30 Hispanic coaches attended a gathering for the organization, its highest turnout. Martin has been an advocate for the group. Rouco has been a mentor. It's that cohesiveness that will benefit Hispanic coaches throughout the country, Ludwig said.

"The biggest thing for us is support for each other," Ludwig said. "It's all about relationships."

Balado, a Louisville assistant, made stops at FAU, FIU, High Point and Miami before his current gig at Louisville. His peers suggest that he'll be the next Hispanic coach to earn a Division I head coaching slot.

That's Balado's goal, too. Balado, like every college coach, desires an opportunity that would position him to excel.

It's a dilemma for any coach searching for that first job. Do you take the opening because it offers control of a program and more cash or do you wait until the right one comes along? The implications of those deliberations are magnified for minority coaches.

"It's a huge step only because the first job, it has to be one where you have to be successful because it's going to be hard to get the second one, the third one or continue to sustain the one that you're in currently as a head coach," Balado said. "And again, there's not a lot of Hispanic coaches, so if you look at it that way, you have to really make sure you do the best job you can in your first job to help pave the way for the other young guys."

The process must be multidimensional though, Martin said. Administrations have to diversify so that candidates from atypical backgrounds will have a greater chance to interview for high major jobs, he said.

"I've got a different perspective of minority hiring," Martin said. "As long as we don't have minority presidents and minority [athletic directors], you won't have minority coaches, whether it's Hispanic or whatever other nationality."

Once they get those opportunities, they have to do what any coach is expected to do: win.

Rouco accepted the top spot at Florida International a decade ago. He had pride after he'd managed to go from Cuban immigrant to Division I head coach. That bliss, however, waned soon.

"F---," he said, "we didn't win."

So he lost that job.

But he has helped others find victory as a veteran assistant, recruiter and strategist. He has been around long enough to know how crucial this period might be for the next crew of Hispanic coaches. So he reminds both Antigua and Martin often that this could be the beginning of something special, something grand.

"Frank and Orlando," Rouco said, "those two guys are, right now, our flagship guys to have more Hispanic coaches."

Earlier this year, Ludwig hired Donovan Castro as a graduate assistant. He's a young, hungry Hispanic coach searching for a path like the rest. And now he's in the mix thanks to Ludwig.

"He has a bright, bright future," Ludwig said. "He's everything you want in that position in terms of his work ethic, character. If a guy's qualified enough, why not give him a chance?"