A look at the Black coaches highlighting the NCAA women’s tournament field
From South Carolina’s Dawn Staley to Jackson State’s Tomekia Reed, here are the coaches and key players to know on 14 teams entering this week
In 2021, history was made when two Black head coaches, South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and Arizona’s Adia Barnes, led their teams to the Final Four for the first time in Division I NCAA tournament history.
What history might we see in 2022?
This year’s tournament features a group of Black head coaches with differing levels of experience. In the SEC, for example, experiences range from multiple tournament first-timers to a coach looking to make her eighth straight appearance in the Sweet 16.
Andscape has compiled a complete list of Black head coaches in this year’s tournament, along with a player from each team to keep an eye on when they take the floor in their opening games this week.
Dawn Staley, South Carolina
Season record: 29-2
Seed: No. 1
Opponent: No. 16 Incarnate Word/Howard
Staley and the Gamecocks enter this year’s tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. South Carolina was a missed putback away from an appearance in the national championship game a year ago but will return the same core (plus reinforcements) that make the Gamecocks tournament favorites. Staley’s teams have advanced to at least the Sweet 16 each year since the 2013-14 season. A national title would make Staley, the 2022 SEC Coach of the Year, the first Black coach in Division I to win multiple national championships in women’s college basketball.
Player to watch: Aliyah Boston
All season long, Aliyah Boston, a junior forward, has demonstrated a level of on-court dominance that has made her a clear favorite to win National Player of the Year. Boston, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, enters the tournament with an active double-double streak of 24 games – tied for the fifth-longest single-season streak in Division I women’s basketball history.
Adia Barnes, Arizona
Season record: 20-7
Seed: No. 4
Opponent: No. 13 UNLV
In last year’s tournament, Barnes’ first as a head coach, she became the fifth Black head coach to appear in the women’s national championship game. After putting together a fourth straight 20-win season, Barnes and the Wildcats find themselves back in the tournament, marking the first time since 2005 that the program has appeared in consecutive tournaments.
Player to watch: Sam Thomas
One of Arizona’s hallmarks is its defense – the Wildcats had the best scoring defense in the Pac-12 this season. Sam Thomas, a fifth-year forward, anchors Arizona’s defense. She was recently named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive team for the third consecutive year.
Shereka Wright, UT Arlington
Season record: 20-7
Seed: No. 14
Opponent: No. 3 Iowa State
It took Shereka Wright just two seasons to make a historic mark on the UT Arlington program. Under Wright’s leadership, the Mavericks won their first Sun Belt championship and are headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. Wright, who was an assistant and associate head coach for 14 years before being named the head coach at UTA, will make her first appearance in the tournament as a head coach.
Player to watch: Starr Jacobs
After transferring to UTA from junior college, Starr Jacobs took the Sun Belt by storm in her first action at the Division I level. The 2022 Sun Belt Player of the Year, Jacobs put up 28 points and 11 rebounds in UTA’s upset of top-seeded Troy in the Sun Belt championship. The SBC tournament MVP, Jacobs ranks 13th in the nation in scoring at 21.0 points per game.
Joni Taylor, Georgia
Season record: 20-9
Seed: No. 6
Opponent: No. 11 Dayton/DePaul
It’s been a challenging lead-up to the tournament for Joni Taylor and the Bulldogs, who will make consecutive appearances in the tournament for the first time since 2014. Georgia finished the season dropping five of their last eight, including a second-round exit in the SEC tournament – a departure from last year, when the Bulldogs appeared in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs will look to get past the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2012-13, and the first in Taylor’s tenure.
Player to watch: Que Morrison
Georgia is led by the veteran duo of All-SEC first-team selection Jenna Staiti and Que Morrison. Morrison is one of the best defenders in college basketball and was named to the SEC All-Defensive team for the third time in her career this season. Morrison was also selected to the All-SEC second team as a fifth-year graduate student.
Ty Grace, Howard
Season record: 20-9
Seed: No. 16
Opponent: Incarnate Word (First Four)
The Bison will be appearing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 after winning their first MEAC championship in 21 years. This will be Ty Grace’s first Division I NCAA tournament appearance as a head coach after making a pair of tournament appearances at the Division II level while leading the University of New Haven. The Bison, who recorded their first 20-win season since 2012-13, will try to make it past the tournament’s first round for the first time in program history.
Player to watch: Anzhane’ Hutton
Last season, Anzhane’ Hutton became the first Howard player since 2010 to be named MEAC Rookie of the Year. In her sophomore season, Hutton, a 6-foot forward out of Dallas, was the Bison’s most efficient performer on both ends of the ball. She was named to the All-MEAC first team and the MEAC All-Defensive Team for the second straight year. She enters the tournament averaging 11.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on the season.
Niele Ivey, Notre Dame
Season record: 22-8
Seed: No. 5
Opponent: No. 12 UMass
Niele Ivey will make her first NCAA tournament appearance in the second year of her tenure as the head coach of her alma mater, Notre Dame. She has quickly reestablished the Fighting Irish as a top contender in the ACC after inheriting a team that went 13-18 the year before she arrived and 10-10 in her first season at the helm. Powered by an impressive young core, this won’t be the last time we see Ivey’s teams in the Big Dance.
Player to watch: Olivia Miles
Olivia Miles is easily one of the most entertaining talents in the country – and she’s only a freshman. The Notre Dame point guard was the only freshman selected to the All-ACC first team and is second in the nation in assists at 7.2 per game. Miles became the second freshman in Notre Dame history to record a triple-double earlier this season. We’ll likely be talking about Miles and her game for years to come.
Kyra Elzy, Kentucky
Season record: 19-11
Seed: No. 6
Opponent: No. 11 Princeton
There might not be any coach or team entering the tournament with more momentum than Kyra Elzy and Kentucky. In early February, Kentucky found itself on the wrong side of the bubble. It had lost 10 out of 13 games, was 2-8 in the SEC and had drawn doubts about even making the tournament. Elzy was able to right the ship and the result has been a 10-game winning streak that has included three straight wins over ranked Tennessee, LSU and South Carolina en route to an SEC championship. The championship was Kentucky’s first in 40 years.
Player to watch: Rhyne Howard
Rhyne Howard is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2022 WNBA draft. The 6-foot-2 senior guard is a two-time SEC Player of the Year and was recently named to the All-SEC first team for the fourth time in her career. Howard was the MVP of the SEC tournament in which she averaged 22.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
Antoine White, Mount St. Mary’s
Seed: No. 16
Opponent: Longwood (First Four)
In his first year as the head coach of Mount St. Mary’s, White is already headed to the Big Dance. White, who started as a coaching intern and served as an associate head coach before being named head coach of the Mountaineers last March, led Mount St. Mary’s to a second consecutive Northeast Conference title. The Mountaineers will be making consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994-95.
Player to watch: Michaela Harrison
Mount St. Mary’s is led by All-NEC first-team selection Kendall Bresee and Michaela Harrison. Harrison, a senior guard, was named to the All-NEC third team this season. She ranks second on the Mountaineers in scoring at 11.3 points per game, is second in total steals with 33 and is Mount St. Marys’ best 3-point threat.
Yolett McPhee-McCuin, Ole Miss
Season record: 23-8
Seed: No. 7
Opponent: No. 10 South Dakota
Yolett McPhee-McCuin, also known as Coach Yo, has orchestrated one of the best program turnarounds in college basketball this season with Ole Miss. The Rebels didn’t win a single SEC conference game in 2019. This year, they finished in the top four of the conference for the first time since 1992 and will be making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007.
Player to watch: Shakira Austin
At 6-foot-5, Shakira Austin is an incredibly versatile player who has the capacity to take over any game she plays in. She can score running the floor, with her back to the basket or by facing up and taking a defender off the dribble. Austin is projected as a top-three selection in the upcoming WNBA draft and enters the tournament averaging 15.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Felisha Legette-Jack, Buffalo
Season record: 25-8
Seed: No. 13
Opponent: No. 4 Tennessee
The Bulls are returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019 after winning the MAC championship for the third time in school history. The tournament appearance marks the fourth in program history. All four appearances have come during the 10-year tenure of Felisha Legette-Jack, who turned Buffalo into a mid-major power after inheriting a program that didn’t post a winning record for nine straight seasons before her arrival. The Bulls will try and make some March magic like they did in 2018 when they reached the Sweet 16.
Player to watch: Dyaisha Fair
The Bulls are led by Dyaisha Fair, who statistically is one of the top scorers in college basketball. Her 23.4 points per game are the fourth-best in the country. She dropped 30 points on Ball State in the MAC tournament final. The junior guard is a two-time All-MAC first-team selection and was recently named the 2022 MAC Player of the Year.
Amaka Agugua-Hamilton, Missouri State
Season record: 24-7
Seed: No. 11
Opponent: Florida State (First Four)
Despite a pair of brutal injury blows to her roster, Amaka Agugua-Hamilton still managed to coach her Lady Bears team to a third consecutive 20-win season, an appearance in the MVC tournament final and, ultimately, an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. Agugua-Hamilton lost All-MVC honorable mention selection Abby Hipp for the season in November and MVC Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-MVC first-team selection Jasmine Franklin in December – both to torn ACLs. The Lady Bears have made it to the Sweet 16 in each of their last two tournament appearances.
Player to watch: Brice Calip
Brice Calip is the on-court leader of this Lady Bears team and will be a major key on both ends if Missouri State is to make a deep tournament run. Calip was recently named the MVC Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in her career. The sixth-year senior was also selected to the MVC All-Defensive Team and named first-team All-MVC for the third time. Look out for senior forward Abigayle Jackson as well, who has made a giant leap in the absences of Hipp and Franklin.
Natasha Adair, Delaware
Season record: 24-7
Seed: No. 13
Opponent: No. 4 Maryland
The Blue Hens are NCAA tournament-bound after winning the CAA championship for the first time since 2013. The conference title and tournament appearance mark the first for Natasha Adair as a head coach. It’s been a swift climb for Adair and Delaware, who went from a 12-17 record in 2019-20 to a regular-season title and WNIT semifinals appearance a season ago to champions of the conference in 2022. The last tournament-bound Blue Hens team, then led by future WNBA star Elena Delle Donne, made it to the Sweet 16.
Player to watch: Jasmine Dickey
Superstar scorer Jasmine Dickey leads the Blue Hens. The senior guard currently ranks third in the country in scoring at 25 points per game. Dickey is responsible for two of the top-scoring performances in college basketball this season. In November, she scored 48 against Eastern Michigan, then topped that performance with a 52-point barrage against the College of Charleston in early February. Dickey was recently named the CAA Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and is the sixth player in Delaware program history to score 1,000 career points and record 1,000 career rebounds.
Tomekia Reed, Jackson State
Season record: 23-6
Seed: No. 14
Opponent: No. 3 LSU
Jackson State earned its second straight NCAA tournament appearance by absolutely dominating the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Tigers won all 21 games against conference opponents this season to earn their third consecutive regular-season title and second straight SWAC championship. Reed, the 2022 SWAC Coach of the Year, has turned Jackson State into a powerhouse in four short years. This Tigers team could shake the table come tournament time. Jackson State played a number of Power 5 teams close in conference play, including a five-point loss to Miami and a 4-point loss to Arkansas.
Player to watch: Ameshya Williams-Holliday
Ameshya Williams-Holliday has been a double-double machine and relentless force in the paint all season for the Tigers. Her 21 double-doubles are the sixth-most in college basketball and her 11.4 rebounds per game rank 12th. Williams-Holliday was the 2022 SWAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Her impressive performances went beyond conference play. She had 18 points and 21 rebounds against Arkansas, 16 points and 10 rebounds against Ole Miss, and 18 points and 9 rebounds against Miami.
Kenny Brooks, Virginia Tech
Season record: 23-9
Seed: No. 5
Opponent: No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast
Kenny Brooks continues to have his Hokies program trending upward after putting together his most successful regular season since becoming the team’s head coach in 2016. Virginia Tech hadn’t made the NCAA tournament before Brooks’ arrival since 2006. This year will mark its second consecutive appearance.
Player to watch: Aisha Sheppard
The star of the Hokies is junior center Elizabeth Kitley, recently named ACC Player of the Year. And alongside Kitley is Sheppard, a graduate student guard who was Brooks’ first signee as head coach at Tech. Sheppard, who was named to the All-ACC second team and is the Hokies’ all-time leading scorer, is one of the best 3-point threats in the country. This season, she broke the ACC career 3-point record and currently sits at 399 career 3-pointers made.