As you sent down to enjoy the second weekend of March Madness, make sure to check out Kansas State, and not just because they’re the almost local team, but because they’re led by one of three-Black coaches in the Sweet 16.
Joining Jerome Tang, K-State’s first year coach in the sweet 16 are University of Houston Coach Kelvin Sampson and University of Texas coach Rodney Terry,
At three out of 16, they represent 18.75% of the final 16 coaches, just slightly be the stats for Division one coaches. Excluding HBCUs, Blacks comprise just 24.3% of Division I coaches, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s most recent report card. That’s in a league where more than 50% of the players are Black.
Sampson: University of Houston
When veteran coach Kelvin Sampson took over at Houston in 2014, the Cougars had made the NCAA Tournament just once since 1992.
“There was no success. There was no hope. There was no aspirations,” Sampson said, recalling the culture he inherited.
Now in his ninth season, Sampson has transformed the program into a tournament mainstay as the first-seeded Cougars prepare to play in the Sweet 16.
Houston is making its fifth straight NCAA appearance, the school’s longest streak since the Phi Slama Jama teams led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler also went four years in a row from 1981-84.
This success was almost unthinkable when Sampson returned to college coaching to revive a career that was derailed by NCAA violations regarding impermissible calls to recruits at both Oklahoma and Indiana. Those violations resulted in a five-year show cause order from the NCAA that kept Sampson, who took Oklahoma to the 2002 Final Four, out of college coaching until he was hired at Houston.
In 2018, they returned to the tournament for the first time since 2010 and along the way he’s established a record that makes him the winningest coach in the school’s history.
This week, 67-year-old Sampsons he was announced as a finalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith National Coach of the Year award.
Tang: Kansas State
One year after taking over a downtrodden program coming off three straight losing seasons, Tang and his upstart Wildcats are preparing to play Michigan State in the Sweet 16 tonight night. They’ve already taken down mighty Kentucky and its roster of NBA prospects, and now they will face Tom Izzo and the Spartans — a program synonymous with NCAA Tournament success — under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Tang kept using the term “elevate” when he was hired to replace Bruce Weber a year ago. But not even the longtime Baylor assistant could imagine how quickly, and how high, he would have the Wildcats soaring.
“We surpassed the expectations I had,” Tang said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.
The first thing to understand about Tang’s winding road to the heartland of America is fortunate to be here. Not here, as in Kansas State. Here, as in alive.
Born in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, Tang moved to St. Croix with his mother and three siblings while his father chased work in the oil industry. He was about 5 years old and playing marbles beneath a car in his aunt’s driveway when his cousin, not knowing he was there, got behind the wheel and drove away.
“Drove right over him,” remembers Tang’s older sister, Kim. “He’s lucky. He was in the hospital for weeks.”
Perhaps that brush with death somehow infused in Tang his profoundly deep faith — “I believe my gift is ministry,” he explains, “and my passion just happens to be basketball.” Or perhaps it somehow led to a preternaturally optimistic outlook on life, which has served him well as he tries to resurrect Kansas State’s basketball program.
“He treats people the right way,” says Baylor coach Scott Drew, his longtime friend. “He just always sees the good in people.”
Tang grew up playing cricket and soccer, and when his family moved to the Houston area, it became baseball and football — this was Texas, after all. But in 1979, while watching Magic Johnson and Michigan State beat Larry Bird and Indiana State in the title game that truly gave birth to March Madness, Tang fell in love with basketball.
Except, well, he wasn’t very good.
Tang was intent on becoming a youth pastor. But when the founder of Heritage Christian Academy, Dr. Jennifer Cooper, was searching for a basketball coach, she turned to Mike Allard, Tang’s own youth pastor at Green’s Bayou Assembly of God. He recommended this energetic kid with a devout faith in both Jesus and basketball.
Tang soon built the small school into a national power, pumping out prospects such as Von Wafer, who played at Florida State and in the NBA. And he was still there in 2002 when Drew was hired to clean up an inconceivable mess at Baylor.
Drew needed someone with an unflinchingly positive attitude who could recruit in Texas, and over dinner one night, Tang won him over, earning a job that Drew had very nearly given to someone else.
Nearly two decades later, inside a quiet football stadium at the end of an NCAA Tournament played entirely inside a COVID-19 bubble, Drew and Tang celebrated the Bears winning the 2021 national championship.
Gene Taylor remembers a moment last year when the Wildcats still had just five players on their roster, and he was rightfully nervous. The athletic director asked Tang, “Are we OK?’” Tang said, “Gene, we’re fine. I don’t just want guys; I want the right guys.”
The right guys turned out to be a motley crew carefully assembled during that hot summer in the Flint Hills.
“Nobody,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “has done a better job of assembling talent in a short amount of time.”
Picked to finish last in the Big 12, the Wildcats finished third. The reward was a No. 3 seed in March Madness, where the Wildcats knocked off Montana State in the first round before toppling Kentucky last weekend.
Now, they’re just two more wins away from their first Final Four in nearly 50 years.
Tang is also a finalist for the Werner Ladder Naismith National Coach of the Year
Terry: University of Texas
Each Texas win on its march into the NCAA Tournament raises a recurring question about interim coach Rodney Terry: What more must he to do to earn the job on a permanent basis?
The Longhorns are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. They finished second in the Big 12, just a game out of first place, and routed regular season conference champion and No. 1 seed Kansas twice in a span of eight days.
All that came after former coach Chris Beard was arrested on a felony domestic violence charge on Dec. 12, suspended and then fired three weeks later when the school determined he was “unfit” to lead the program. The charge has since been dropped and Beard was hired Monday as the new coach at Mississippi.
But even with all that Texas winning under Terry, the chatter around him still seems to be that the 54-year must prove himself in March Madness. After all, that was the benchmark for Shaka Smart, who couldn’t get it done with the Longhorns and left for Marquette two years ago.
So far, so go. Texas is in the Sweet 16 and position they hadn’t made since 2008.
If he gets the job, Terry would be just the second Black head coach to lead the program.
“I always tell our guys, live where your feet are, live in the present,” Terry said after Texas watched its NCAA tourney draw. “This team has been on an incredible journey. I’ve enjoyed being with them on this incredible journey. We’re going to try to go as far as we can. Really, that’s been my focus the entire time.”
Athletic director Chris Del Conte has praised Terry’s job handling the team in crisis and given him a raise, though only through April. He’s also noted Terry inherited a veteran roster and strong staff of assistants built by Beard.
The Longhorns are one of the most experienced teams in the country with four players in their fifth or six year of basketball.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Terry said. “Our guys understand the type of urgency you have to play with this time of year.”
“For everything we’ve been through, for us to get to this point right now, it’s not us,” senior transfer guard Sir’Jabari Rice said. “Everything is RT.”