In this Dec. 4, 2014, file photo, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley directs her team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Charlotte in Columbia, S.C. Ranekd No. 1 and undefeated, South Carolina is ready to defend the Southeastern Conference crown it earned last season. Things start Friday against Auburn. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments have come and gone with Kansas narrowly defeating North Carolina (72-69) and South Carolina beating UConn (64-49), respectively. 

The Final Four showdowns for both the men’s and women’s games were nothing short of amazing, electrifying basketball aficionados from start to finish.  

But something happened that’s even more noteworthy and rare in the annals of college basketball: two coaches of color led their teams in the championship games. On the women’s side, Dawn Staley, known for her no-nonsense coaching style, became the first Black coach, male or female, to win two Division I basketball titles, her first coming in 2017. 

As she cut down the last parts of the net that her players and assistants had not yet chopped off, she danced gingerly on the ladder while Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” played in the background. Indeed, she was feeling more than just fine. 

Meanwhile, Hubert Davis in his first year at North Carolina nearly matched the feat. A full-time first-year coach has never won it all but Davis almost delivered. “I should be disappointed,” Davis told reporters after the game, “but I’m just filled with so much pride.”

His impressive tournament run concludes back-to-back seasons where a Black coach reached the men’s Final Four, following Houston’s Kelvin Sampson last year. That hasn’t happened in consecutive years since Clem Haskins with the Gophers in 1997, followed by another ex-Minnesota coach, Tubby Smith, won the title with Kentucky in 1998.

Still, the question remains when will the notion of “first Black” ever be such a remote concept that it doesn’t appear in the headlines? 

Staley said she understands the challenge for people of color to get head coaching jobs. And it’s even more of an arduous task to reach the sport’s pinnacle. 

“I felt a great deal of pressure to win because I’m a Black coach,” Staley said. “Because if we don’t win, then you bring in so many other — just scrutiny. Like you can’t coach, you had enough to get it done but yet you failed. You feel all of that and you feel it probably 10 times more than anyone else because we’re at this platform.”

Staley said she wanted to cut up pieces of her championship net to give to some Black male coaches because “they don’t get opportunity.”

How long will real opportunity have nothing to do with color but with talent? 

We can only hope it won’t be much longer.

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