By Fred J. Cromartie, Ed.D. |
South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Arizona’s Adia Barnes have accomplished a first in NCAA Women’s Tournament history. It’s the first time that two Black women will serve as head coaches during the women’s Final Four.
Staley expressed her pride in being able to share this coaching accomplishment with Barnes.
“I was cheering for [Barnes] to get it done, not for any other reason besides us being represented at the biggest stage of women’s college basketball,” Staley said to reporters after her Gamecocks beat Texas. “That’s because so many Black coaches out there don’t get the opportunity. When [athletic directors] don’t see it, they don’t see it. And they’re going to see it on the biggest stage Friday night; that two Black women are representing two programs in the Final Four, something that has never been done before.”
Prior to pursuing careers as basketball coaches, both Staley and Barnes played in the WNBA. Staley is universally revered as a six-time All-Star and one of the best players in the history of the league, while Barnes won a championship with the Seattle Storm in 2004.
“I know Adia utilizes all of her basketball knowledge as a player and she’s been a coach long enough that she’s not just a suit,” Staley told CNN. “It’s always going to be part player in us and that’s why our players […] we are so relatable to them. They understand it because it’s coming from a place of ‘We’ve done that. We’re trying to help you get to that place where we can have longevity in our league.’”
Barnes has been instrumental in turning Arizona’s basketball program around. When she returned to her alma mater in 2016, they were the laughingstock of the Pac-12. Now, six years later, the San Diego, Calif., native is leading the Wildcats to her first Final Four appearance as a coach.
On the flipside, Staley has been doing damage in South Carolina. For the third time in six seasons, her Gamecocks are in the Final Four. But despite all of her success, she’s acutely aware that she’s not only fortunate to be in the position that she’s in, but that others deserve a similar opportunity.
“Representation matters,” she said. “It’s nothing against anybody else that lost to us, but when you see two Black women representing in this way, I hope the decision-makers who—because there are a lot of jobs out there that you give Black women an opportunity—not just give them the job. Bring them in. Interview them. If you don’t hire them, let them know why.”
She continued, “There are a lot of people out there that aren’t getting the opportunities that they should because this is exactly what can happen when you give a Black woman an opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want people to start bashing me on social media about just hire the most qualified coach. If it was that easy, there would be more Black head coaches in our game.”
Let’s see if the final game of the women’s tournament will offer the opportunity to have two Black female coaches in the Final Four coaching for the national championship.