A Common Thread In November 2021, Dawn Staley sent pieces of her 2017 NCAA championship net to Black female head coaches around the country, creating a tangible connection for a steadily growing group of women in the sport. In Division I women’s college basketball, where 21% of its head coaches identified as Black women during the 2020-21 season according to the NCAA, Staley understood the bond they shared. We spoke to several dozen of the more than 70 coaches who received a net, all of whom shared their perspectives on what it means to be a Black female head coach.

In 2015, Carolyn Peck gave Dawn Staley a piece of the championship net she cut down after becoming the first Black women’s basketball coach in Division I to win an NCAA title in 1999 with Purdue.

Staley carried it until she won her championship in 2017 with South Carolina. After winning her title, Staley said she’d continue the tradition. But sharing it with just one coach wouldn’t be enough.

“I may just have to cut that up and spread it out amongst all the Black head coaches, so we all have something tangible to hold onto,” Staley said.


In November 2021, Dawn Staley sent pieces of her 2017 NCAA championship net to Black female head coaches around the country, creating a tangible connection for a steadily growing group of women in the sport. In Division I women’s college basketball, where 21% of its head coaches identified as Black women during the 2020-21 season according to the NCAA, Staley understood the bond they shared. We spoke to several dozen of the more than 70 coaches who received a net, all of whom shared their perspectives on what it means to be a Black female head coach.

Notre Dame

What thoughts went through your mind as you held the net for the first time?
I remember seeing Carolyn Peck when she cut a piece of her net down and gave it to Dawn. To be a recipient of it, it was very inspiring. It’s something I’m chasing. I’ve only been a head coach for a year and some change but I’ve always dreamed of winning as a player, an assistant and as a head coach. It’s a goal of mine. It was very powerful to be able to see that net, read her words of inspiration and have both in my office as something for me to look up to.
For many Black Americans, you’re told that you have to be twice as good to succeed. Is that something that exists as a Black head coach?
Absolutely. You have to make sure that you don’t make mistakes. I don’t know, it’s just this stigma that we’ve had for a long time. It’s definitely hard. It’s not fair. But I was always taught just to put my best foot forward. It’s unfortunate this is something we’ve had to endure but it’s factual.

Katrina Merriweather
American Athletic Memphis

“For her to say this is the one thing that connects us no matter what … we are giving an option for these young women.”

Tonya Cardoza
American Athletic Temple

Toyelle Wilson
American Athletic SMU

American AthleticCINCINNATI

American AthleticEAST CAROLINA

Tina Thompson
ACC Virginia

Kara Lawson
ACC Duke

America East
Stony Brook

What thoughts went through your mind as you held the net for the first time?
To me, it’s bigger than basketball. It kind of refocused me in terms of – I’m breaking a ceiling. I’m breaking a barrier. I’m representing more than just myself. I think that brought me back to why I do this, another piece more than basketball. I needed that. I was very much ‘I’m in season, it’s time to go.’ It was a reminder that it’s bigger than wins and losses. It was less basketball and more how can I help. Dawn Staley was taking time to serve me – who can I serve.
What’s the environment for Black female coaches in the sport right now?
I joke with some people like, ‘We’re hot right now.’ But to me, it’s nothing new. I think we’re finally getting the opportunity that’s well deserved. For me, it’s just trying to do the best that I can in the situation and understanding this is a privilege and blessing to be here, but I also want to do a really good job to help others. … To me, representation matters. It’s a long time coming in my opinion, but again, we do have this platform, this chance, this opportunity. I’m just trying to do the best I can with it.

Octavia Blue

“Having that piece of net so quickly in my head coaching career, six months in, it just gave me a … light, something to see in the future.”

Denise King
America East UMass Lowell

Johnetta Hayes
America East UMBC

Atlantic 10
George Mason

What’s it like to now be tangibly connected to so many Black coaches around the country?
I think for everyone when she won, it felt like we all won. We all got a chance to taste what the top feels like. There are times when we get these opportunities and go through the door and the door shuts behind us and we take care of ourselves. In this regard, Dawn went through the door and she propped it open. She propped it open for people like us to come behind her. That’s the message that I received – she wants us all to win.
Were there moments of frustration in landing the next job while coaching for 13 years at Bethune-Cookman?
When you’ve almost reached every award possible in your field, in your conference, even outside your conference in the mid-major polls and on a national level as coach of the year four times, three in a row. Yeah, you wonder what is it. If it’s not about winning, which for most jobs that is the criteria, you hate to keep thinking, oh, is it about something else. You kind of come back to that every time. If you were to look at me and just my résumé, there would have been no question.

Velaida Harris
Big Sky Weber State

“There is a certain level of pressure you feel in this position because historically, we haven’t been given as much opportunity as our predecessor or a person who is not Black. Those are just facts.”

Alex Simmons
Big South Gardner-Webb

Semeka Randall-Lay
Big South Winthrop

Big Ten

What does this piece of net mean to your personal journey as a head coach?
I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of cutting down quite a few nets, [and] I think for me that is the goal in taking over my own program. To have a piece of net from a Black female coach, only the second to do it, and to know what that means as an opportunity for myself and other young women of color to know that it’s possible – it adds even more meaning to it.
Is it acceptable for a Power 5 conference not to have a Black head coach today, as the Big 12 does currently?
No. I think that there are plenty of Black females, and Black males, who are capable of doing the job. …. I just think [the fact] that there are still firsts or even to have conversations like we are right now means there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done. For me, the way I can help contribute to that work is to do extremely well in this job and show other Black females that they are capable but also show other administrators to bet on women of color.

Nicole Powell
Big West UC Riverside

“It’s getting me to think bigger. How can I make sure I’m supporting others – other coaches, younger people than myself, at whatever level?”

C. Vivian Stringer
Big Ten Rutgers


What was it like to receive the net and hold it for the first time?
I carry this with me in my backpack as a reminder of the generosity of Dawn but also the vision and for us to aspire to do some things like this. It was emotional for me because I know how important it is to hold on to the nets and all of those things from your championship. She felt strong enough about us and this fight for her to cut it up and share it with us.
What are your hopes for the continued progress for Black female head coaches in college basketball?
I hope that it’s not just a moment. I hope that it’s not just because of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. I hope that it’s because we’ve made our mark and the doors are opened and not closed. For so long we’ve all been talented, that hasn’t been a question. We’ve been talented, but in this field ADs hire people they’re familiar with. If we’re not in those circles, we don’t get chosen.

Delisha Milton-Jones
usa Old Dominion

“It really showed me that someone recognizes who I am in the midst of everything that we’re trying to do within this women’s game.”

Danielle Santos
caa Hofstra

Bridgette Mitchell
CaA Northeastern

Charlotte Smith
CAA Elon

Natasha Adair
CAa Delaware

Jalie Mitchell
usa North Texas

Jennifer Sullivan
usa Florida Atlantic

Jesyka Burks-Wiley
usa FIU

Mid American

What did it mean to you to receive the net from Dawn Staley?
For an older coach who has been doing this for over 30 years, you kind of get comfortable with what you’re doing. You go through the rigmarole of trying to pursue a championship, taking care of players, you’re going to pour into kids as long as you can … My time is all about making certain the players are going to be next in line. When I got that net, it kind of said to me, ‘Hey, coach, I see you. You matter. Don’t give up on your dreams.’
For many, you are the beacon for a Black female coach who got a second chance. How do you carry that?
If we had to go through what we had been through from Indiana to Buffalo and have the success that we’ve had to have others have hope and to fight a little bit harder and ADs [athletic directors] to see a little more deeper into what they’re trying to build at their institutions, they’re going to look a little more serious about their coach, including women of color. But don’t assume because I got a second chance that you’re going to get one, too. Let’s make the first chance the best opportunity and put yourself in a position where you have choices.

Tasha Pointer
horizon UIC

“There are so many people who can talk about how this hasn’t happened, but I can slowly see change happening. I’m inspired by that.”

Jada Pierce
maac Niagra

Billi Chambers
maac Iona

LaTonya Collins
Horizon Detroit Mercy

Deunna Hendrix
mid-american Miami OH
On the environment for Black female head coaches in women’s college basketball
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us. I think that could be greatly misunderstood as far as how hard it is.”


laura Harper
meac Coppin State

“It’s not some foreign thing that no one has accomplished. I think that is the real meaning of the net for me.”

E.C. Hill
meac Delaware State

Trisha Stafford-Odom
meac North Carolina Central

Ty Grace
meac Howard

Missouri Valley
Missouri State

What is the significance of Dawn Staley sending her championship net to coaches around the country?
It just kind of linked everybody together and showed us that we can become the things that we want to become, we can reach the goals that we want to reach, and people have done it. People who have looked like us have done it. You’re not just watching other female or male coaches or anybody reach goals you want to reach. You’re seeing somebody that looks like you and has had the same struggles as you reach those goals. It’s inspiring.
Did you play for a Black female head coach during your playing career?
Not a lot of Black females played for a Black female. I was actually blessed and fortunate to, and she’s still very close to me today, and that’s Felisha Legette-Jack. She’s been an integral part of my journey as a player and coach. I was fortunate enough to play for someone that looked like me and set that example and was a great mentor to me. I guess I’m in the minority of head coaches that actually played for an African American head coach.

Keila Whittington
northeast Saint Francis

“Thirty years ago, I don’t know if I could picture all of the opportunities … we have right now at Division I institutions. ”

Tanya Warren
Missouri valley Northern Iowa

Stacie Terry-Hutson
mountain west San Diego State

Northeast Conference
Long Island University

On being tangibly connected to every Black female coach in the country:
It’s a sign of strength within the African American community of women in college basketball. It’s a sign of togetherness. It’s a sign of unity. It’s a sign of committed women who are here to mentor younger coaches as well as our student-athletes. I’m in my third year of coaching as a head coach, so I’m a young college coach and know that I have mentors that I can call on that have shared some of the same situations – whether it’s plays or X’s and O’s – that are just the daily life. It’s special.
On the state of the Black female head coach in women’s college basketball:
Right now there are some awesome Black women head coaches that have stepped up their game, are doing a tremendous job, are being great role models. … I think that right now we are strong. I think that we have become the forefront due to people like Dawn that have been very vocal in her strength and appreciation to be a Black woman in college basketball who has brought up a lot of different, controversial things but is willing and open to talk about it. I think there are so many people now who are willing and open to listen.

Brittany Young
Ohio Valley Austin Peay

“If people realize these women are beyond just recruiters, they’re smart, they build their players up, now you create more opportunities for others.”


Is there a double standard for how Black female coaches are policed on the sidelines?
Absolutely. I think that’s a fact and a reality but I also think that’s in every walk of life. I think that’s just the way it is. I think as a Black female, especially, you know that. That’s unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate I’m a woman and a female coach and I could never coach like half of the men in America. If you watch men on the sidelines and what they do – if a woman did that she’d be fired. … My thing is I’m going to be myself. I’m not perfect but I am a very good role model.
In the next 10 years, how do you hope progress for Black female head coaches continues?
I hope in 10 years it’s not even an issue because change has happened. I hope it’s not even a topic because there are more of us who are successful. That’s what my hope is. … I think for me it’s a hard place to navigate, being biracial. At the Final Four, there were all these comments like, ‘Oh, she’s barely Black, she’s not Black, she’s not Black enough.’ It’s frustrating that it’s even a thing. It definitely needs to change. People like Dawn are going to help make it change.

Charmin Smith
Pac-12 California

“Just because we have someone who has done it at the highest level, doesn’t mean the progress represents what it should be in our sport.”

Ganiyat Adeduntan
patriot league Colgate

Danielle O’Banion
Patriot League Loyola University Maryland

Ole Miss

What’s the environment for Black female coaches in the sport right now?
I think we’re here. Black female head coaches are changing the narrative. I think anybody that says Dawn Staley hadn’t spearheaded that – she has led the way into the new era. Obviously Carolyn Peck and C. Vivian Stringer, they are all matriarchs in the business. We are grateful for them. … We’re showing that we’re more than a recruiter. More than just a players’ coach. We are X’s and O’s coaches, tacticians. Don’t put us in a box. That is what you’re seeing now.
What is the value of a Black female head coach in women’s college basketball today?
My presence at Ole Miss has helped a lot of my white colleagues get used to Black leadership. It’s not their fault they haven’t seen Black leadership but it’s my job to introduce them to it and educate them when they fall short. The marketing crew would always post pictures of my players with a scowl on their face. I said I don’t want my players to be perceived as angry Black women. Someone had to educate them on the perception and the way that I did not want them to be marketed.

Kyra Elzy
sec Kentucky

“It’s a responsibility that we take care of our business, take care of each other and that we go back and get someone else so everyone has a seat at the table.”

Joni Taylor
sec Georgia

Jackie Carson
southern Furman

Johnnie Harris
sec Auburn

Keeshawn Carter
southland New Orleans

Summit League

Was it hard to get your foot in the door for a head-coaching interview?
Absolutely. I wanted to be a head coach and I wanted to be a head coach at the Division I level. Everything I did was to put me in a position to do that. The longer that went on, I started to get frustrated. You see other people getting jobs that you know, on paper, you are more qualified for. … The frustration is real. I also think Black people, especially Black women, we’re just resilient and we’ll just keep trying to find our own door, pull our own chair up to the table if someone isn’t going to share.
What are your hopes for the continued progress for Black female head coaches in college basketball?
I just want our hard work to be rewarded. If that translates into one wanting a head-coaching job, wanting one that she’s earned, I want her work to reflect the opportunities she’s working for. Not everybody wants to be a head coach, but what I want for each of us is not to think that your color and your gender is going to be an issue. That if your résumé is presented in front of someone hiring, without your name on it, and you were the best option for the job, to be rewarded as such.

Jaida Williams
sun belt Coastal Carolina

“This net, our network, gives you a sense of we can do this. We can all do this. We can all represent.”

Zenarae Antoine
sun belt Texas State

Destinee Rogers
sun belt Arkansas State

Anita Howard
sun belt Georgia Southern

Shereka Wright
sun belt UT Arlington

Carrie Banks
summit league Omaha

Jackson State

What thoughts went through your mind as you held the net for the first time?
When I opened the package, it was a national championship net. The title said ‘net worth.’ Obviously, at the HBCU level, we don’t really wake up every day to compete for a national championship. That’s not really a goal we set for ourselves, to be honest. But reading that note and having that net and looking at where we are in this game as Black women and where our programs are – it made me feel like, why not? That net just gave me a lot of hope. … It gave me something to strive for.
It appears Black female head coaches at HBCUs struggle to get other coaching opportunities no matter their success. Do you agree?
We feel left out. We feel disrespected. We’re not afforded opportunities as other coaches are. I tell anybody it’s hard to win a championship no matter what level you are on. It’s hard to win a championship, let alone win it back to back. Like Dawn [Staley] has broken the barrier and won a national championship and opened the door for us, I’m wanting to do the same thing for HBCUs. I want to beat these Power 5s. I want us to establish a name for ourselves and do something that’s never been done.

Ashley Walker
swac Mississippi Valley State

“It just brought more electricity, more excitement and it gave that extra umph that’s needed because it came from someone that looked like me”

Janell Crayton
swac Bethune-Cookman

Sandy Pugh
swac Prairie View A&M

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke
swac Texas Southern

Margaret Richards
swac Alabama A&M

Shalon Pillow
swac Florida A&M

Dawn Thornton
swac UAPB

Freda Freeman-Jackson
swac Alabama State
On what continued progress for Black female head coaches looks like:
“I want it to be an even level for any Black female coach that’s qualified to coach, at a Power 5 school or any mid-level school school, to have an opportunity.”


Aarika Hughes
west coast Loyola Marymount

“It’s being a part of something like this knowing that I got my chance and that I was seen, valued, heard.”

Tiffany Sardin
wac Chicago State

Aqua Franklin
wac Lamar

Ravon Justice
wac Sam Houston

Conslusion image

Black Women Coaches in the NCAAW in the past 5 years

There is a consensus among current Black female head coaches that equitable representation in women’s college basketball is not where it needs to be, but it is trending in the right direction. The 2020-21 season represented the highest increase of Black female head coaches during the last 10 years, rising by 4% from 2020.

“I didn’t do it for me,” Staley said of sharing the net. “It was for no other reason besides what Carolyn did for me. I wanted somebody else to feel that. The fact that we had success after that means it’s real. Carolyn didn’t do it for any reason besides wanting success, so it all came out of wanting somebody else to succeed.”

Written by Sean Hurd. Edited by Ed Guzman. Project Managed by Ashley Melfi.

Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Michelle Bashaw, Heather Donahue, Jarret Gabel, Lori Higginbotham, Sean Hintz, Kristine LaManna, Thomas Maloney, Sarah Pezzullo.

Illustrations by Gluekit.

This list of Black female head coaches who received a net from Dawn Staley was provided by University of South Carolina athletics

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