Men’s Sweet 16 Will Celebrate Black Coaching Excellence, A Culture Shift Toward Level Playing Field

(Art: David Grubb)

The NCAA Tournament aka March Madness is the best championship tournament in all of sports. Where else can a No. 15 seed like Saint Peter’s have the opportunity to knockoff a blue blood like Kentucky?

With all the upsets, heartbreaks and last second heroics, there is nothing quite like March Madness. Making the Sweet 16 is not easy. If it was, many more teams would do it. It’s a benchmark accomplishment for a program looking to establish the current class as historic. And a coach looking to boost successful regular-season résumé. 

These five black coaches exude “black excellence” and have led their programs into this year’s Sweet Sixteen.

Kelvin Sampson (Houston), Juwan Howard (Michigan), Hubert Davis (UNC), Ed Cooley (Providence) and Shaheen Holloway (Saint Peter’s). That’s 32 percent of the coaches that will be represented in this week’s festivities.

Last year only three black coaches led teams to the Sweet 16, they were the aforementioned Sampson, Howard and Leonard Hamilton of Florida State.

According to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 22.7 percent of the coaches in men’s Division I basketball in the 2019-20 season were Black, while 53.2 percent of the players were. Out of the 77 coaches to have led a team this season at the Power Six level, just 13 are Black.

 

Kelvin Sampson Has Been Here Before: Houston Cougars

Sampson is the veteran of the bunch, having led both Oklahoma (2002) and Houston (2021) to the Final Four. Sampson also coached at Indiana but was forced to resign after two seasons due to NCAA allegations.

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He arrived at a downtrodden Houston Cougars program five years ago. In that timeframe he’s led them to a 135-28 record, three AAC titles, one Final Four and two Sweet 16 appearances. The Cougars have the fourth-best odds to cut the nets down in New Orleans, behind the three No. 1 seeds left in Gonzaga, Arizona and Kansas.

Sampson had this to say about his team’s toughness and grit:

“Our kids are tough kids. This is a tough program. That’s how we achieved to be at this point. All of our players are buying in, stand on the shoulders of the kids that came before them. I couldn’t more proud.”

Juwan Howard Is A Leader: Michigan Wolverines

Howard has been great for his alma mater. His leadership and determination was on full display during his suspension for throwing a punch at an opposing coach during the postgame handshake line.

Howard overcame the late-season incident which saw him suspended the final five games of the season, returning even more focused. Howard is 97-33 in three seasons in Ann Arbor. 

After starring with the Fab Five, Howard enjoyed a 19-year NBA career, winning two NBA titles with the Miami Heat. He joined the coaching ranks as a Heat assistant (2013-19). In 2019, he became head coach of the Wolverines.

Ed Cooley The Savvy Vet: Providence Friars

Cooley began his head coaching career at Fairfield before arriving at Providence in 2011. He’s gone 313-209 overall, including 221-140 at Providence. He’s led the Friars to one Big East Tourney title (2014). This season Cooley led them to the conference regular season title, and was named Big East Coach of the Year. For his efforts he’s been named a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year.

Cooley has turned the Friars into a formidable opponent capable of beating anyone on any given night. Cooley cultivates a rare toughness in his teams. 

During a December matchup with Big East rival Seton Hall, Cooley said, “This is a street fight. Listen everybody. A street fight. And we win every street fight.”

Hubert Davis The Chosen One: UNC Tar Heels

When Hall of Famer Roy Williams surprisingly stepped away after last season, Davis was chosen to lead the legendary Tar Heel program. Davis struggled a bit early, but his team seems to be finally buying in and playing with the consistency and intensity that he wants. 

As a player, Davis led the Heels to the 1991 Final Four before embarking on a 13-year NBA career. Davis became an assistant coach for the Heels in 2012, sharpening his coaching acumen for this opportunity. Davis has become a legend-wrecker. He led the upset of defending national champion Baylor to advance to the Sweet 16. His Heels also ruined Coach K and archrival Duke’s final home game.

Shaheen Holloway The Party Crasher: St. Peter’s Peacocks

The diminutive Holloway has always had to prove himself. Even after winning MVP of the 1996 McDonald’s All-American Game that also featured Kobe Bryant, people doubted his size and his ability to keep elevating. Holloway went on to have a solid collegiate career at Seton Hall, then a brilliant eight-year career playing career overseas.

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Holloway returned to the U.S. to begin his budding coaching career. He started at Iona and his alma mater Seton Hall as an assistant.

Then onto Saint Peter’s, where he’s led the Peacocks to their first-ever March Madness wins and a Sweet 16. Even more impressive is he’s done it without a single ranked or top-750 player in the nation.

Beating blue-blood Kentucky was just the beginning. After this performance the belief is Holloway will return to his alma mater and fill its vacant head coach position at season’s end.

Black coaches have always been the minority in big time college hoops, but now we see a brotherhood of African American coaches who are establishing themselves as impactful and intelligent basketball minds and in the process relating culturally to young players in a way that makes their influence on winning very obvious.