Congratulations University of Connecticut!
Kevin Ollie’s UConn (University of Connecticut) basketball team was crowned national champion Monday, April 7. They beat the University of Kentucky, 60-54. And how very special: UConn women won, too.
This is only the second time in history that both the men’s and women’s Division I basketball titles won during the same year by same school. Last time: 2004. Same school: UConn.
This tournament presents us with a teaching moment, with history as our guide. Why only four Black winning coaches in history when there are 351 Division 1 college programs? Why is it rare for an African American to win the national title as coach in any college sport?
Most basketball coaches are former players, so why, when 52.2 percent of players are Black, are only 18.6 percent of coaches Black? Black assistant coaches: 31 percent, but often called “recruiting assistants” to recruit Black players but not to be groomed to run programs. Those who determine programs, athletic directors: 89 percent White.
Ollie joins the now legendary John Thompson (1985), Tubby Smith (1998) and Nolan Richardson (1994). Yet Smith was pushed out of both Kentucky and Minnesota (See my March 27, 2014 “Through my Eyes” column). Richardson was “fired for being Black and outspoken.” May Ollie be treated better.
Kevin Ollie, former Timberwolves team captain (2008-2009), crafted, molded and shaped his young men into national champions under tough conditions: the NCAA had banned them from tournament play for previous player low grades, causing several coaches and five key players to leave for other schools or the NBA. So Black Americans and Huskies fans are understandably delighted and proud.
We discuss race because race is always the “unseen” elephant always at work in the room. Did you notice that during the 48 hours before the championship game, neither Black nor White commentators pointed out that Kevin Ollie could very well join the legends in a rare feat, a Black man coaching a team at a White university and win the national championship?
We remember the greats: the legendary Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul Jabaar, the great Oscar Robinson, and, certainly Michael Jordan. All coaches are given opportunity to enjoy the vast resources and alumni contributions that pour in to help win a coveted national championship, be it in football, basketball, baseball, or any of the dozens of other sports, but mostly for White coaches.
So while we celebrate with joyful jubilation and dream of happy fans winning in the future in Minnesota, we pause to congratulate Kevin Ollie, a Black man that led a team many thought would not make it to the championship, let alone win it.
Coach Ollie was trusted with the resources and assets of a great university. Many more White coaches have earned that opportunity. Too many coaches in Black America have to continue to wait for their opportunity. Don’t forget: our young men have been involved in winning national championships each and every year, ever since the great days of Bill Russell of the 1950s at the University of San Francisco.
And so now we have a former player and captain of Minnesota’s Timberwolves, who overcame adversity to win the national championship with dignity and respect for the game. He honors the memory of those we previously named. He proved we can do it.
We congratulate Kevin Ollie, and the young men and women of the University of Connecticut. Congratulations to the administrators at the University of Connecticut. They believed that if students could shoot the ball and score the points and direct the game on the floor, they would be able to develop winning strategies for whatever they do after they graduate, Black coaches, too.
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