It’s a strange time in college basketball when the SEC is the conference showing the most hospitality to black coaches. Opportunities at programs in major conferences have remained stagnant at best, and may be on the decline.
However, despite accounting for just seven out of 68 (fewer than 10 percent) of the coaches in the NCAA Tournament, black coaches delivered some of the first day’s most compelling action and storylines.
Last season's National Coach of the Year, Frank Haith bowed out early, but the young prodigy, Shaka Smart and VCU’s Havoc pressure defense put on a clinic and eviscerated Akron by 49 points, late Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Southern’s dapper head coach, Roman Banks, became a household name. Not because of his resemblance to SportsNation co-host Marcellus Wiley, but because his Southern Jaguars traveled all the way to Salt Lake City and were tied with the West’s 1-seed in the 37th minute of regulation.
It’s taken just two seasons for Banks to resuscitate the 4-23 Jags. When Banks was hired by the Baton Rouge HBCU in 2011, the Jags were banned from postseason eligibility because of their subpar Academic Progress Rating. Banks’ hands-on approach in getting his players back on track while, simultaneously, improving Southern’s product on the court has been remarkable.
Suffice it to say, Tommy Amaker had no academic issues to resolve at Harvard. However, Amaker has coached this season without the Crimson’s senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. The two withdrew from the team while under investigation for their roles in a school-wide cheating scandal. Ultimately, Harvard trumped last season’s historic top-25 ranking by beating No. 3 seed New Mexico.
On Friday, John Thompson III and his Georgetown team will be a comfortable favorite against Florida Gulf Coast. However, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith will be under intense pressure as an 11-seed facing sixth-seeded UCLA.
Smith hasn’t returned the Gophers to the heights of their Clem Haskins glory, but has already been to the tournament three times in six years. His predecessor, Dan Monson, danced just once in eight seasons. Tubby's not drowning in losses at Minnesota; therefore, it shouldn't even be a question about whether or not he deserves another season. Black coaches could have better representation if the jobs they were accepting weren't mostly midmajor crumbs.
However, there is one positive takeaway. Besides Smith and NC A&T's Cy Alexander, every black head coach in the NCAA Tournament is younger than 50. Hopefully, this next generation carrying the flame keeps it burning deep into the Tournament.