By Charles Hallman
Not counting HBCUs, there might be 20 Black women head coaches today in collegiate basketball among over 300 NCAA schools.
“It’s tough,” admits Tonya Edwards. “I think as African American coaches have more success, it will open [doors] for a lot more.”
She easily lists such Black females as Penn State’s Coquese Washington, one of four Black women head coaches in the Big Ten, and Nikki Caldwell, who is in her first season at LSU after several successful seasons at UCLA. “And [Rutgers’s C. Vivian] Stringer always has done well,” adds Edwards, who’s in her fourth season as head coach at Alcorn State, of the legendary coach.
Stringer, a Basketball Hall of Famer, has been a longtime advocate of more former Black female basketball players making the transition into coaching once their playing days conclude.
Edwards was a high school star in Flint, Michigan and played on two national championship squads at Tennessee in 1987 and 1989 — she was the 1989 Final Four MVP. She later played on two ABL championship clubs in the late 1990s.
Before she became the first-ever pick of the Minnesota Lynx in 1999 and the team’s first WNBA All-Star, Edwards coached at her old high school, where she won the 1993 Michigan state high school championship with a 28-0 record. She later was an assistant coach at the University of Detroit Mercy after she retired as a professional basketball player in the mid-2000s.
Alcorn State is one of 10 historically Black colleges scheduled to play Big Ten teams this season — Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana are the only conference teams not playing HBCUs. Edwards’ Lady Braves faced Minnesota December 11 at Williams Arena.
Afterwards she told the MSR that ASU’s on-ball defense must improve. “We haven’t done a very good job containing our man,” surmised the coach. “We have to put pressure on the ball.”
Edwards also wants her squad to play up-tempo. “That’s supposed to be one of our strengths,” she continues, “but right now we are out of step.”
She’s counting on several players, including senior guard Kiara Ruffin (15 points a game) and senior forward Sharnika Breedlove — both returning all-SWAC performers from a year ago — to be regular contributors in order for Alcorn State to do well. “Ruffin [5-1] has really struggled — she was the player of the year in the conference last year. She really has struggled in the early going.
“Breedlove is our defensive stopper,” notes the coach. The 5-11 senior is averaging eight boards a game, but Edwards adds, “We need her to be in double-digit rebounds.”
Edwards also is looking for consistency from 5-9 junior forward Renelle Richmond, who’s averaging around eight points a game this year. “She’s been up and down — she started the season extremely well, but now she’s hit a bump in the road. We need to get her back on track.”
ASU is projected to finish third in the SWAC. “It is going to be extremely competitive,” notes Edwards on Prairie View and Southern, who are picked to finish ahead of the Lady Braves. “Both of those teams are pretty strong. Then you have Mississippi Valley [State], who is pretty good.”
Finally, when asked if her players know her history, Edwards says smiling, “I think some of them know where I come from. They try to get me out there to play with them, but it’s tough for me to get out there and watch them at the same time.”
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