Black ex-assistants paved way for Staley

SAITAMA, Japan (AP) — The Gillom sisters are part of a small group that made big strides in the role of Black female coaches with USA Basketball.

Peggie Gillom-Granderson and her sister Jennifer are two of only five Black females who have been U.S. women’s basketball assistants in the 12 Olympics for women’s basketball. She believes the work they put in led to the historical appointment of Dawn Staley — also a member of that elite sorority — as head coach of the 2020 team.

“Just like pretty much everything else, it’s a process,” said Gillom, won Olympic gold as a player in 1988 in Seoul and was an assistant coach in 2012 in London. “And I think that it took us to pave the way for Dawn.”

Her sister Gillom-Granderson was an assistant in 2000 at the Sydney Games. Being an Olympic head coach hasn’t been a goal for either, especially for Jennifer — not after years of playing basketball internationally. She’s happy coaching a high school team in Phoenix.

The other two Black women who have been national team assistants are Naismith Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer in 2004 and Marian Washington, an assistant at the 1996 Atlanta Games who coached 31 seasons at Kansas and was the first Black to coach on a U.S. women’s basketball staff and first Black female coach in international competition in 1982.

Neither were ever tabbed as Olympic head coaches.

“I thought she definitely would have been considered as a head coach for the Olympic team,” said Gillom-Granderson, who once coached in the Big 12 against Stringer. “Yes, those ladies have paid their dues, and they’ve been there. They’ve done that. … So yes, I think those ladies deserved it.”

Added Gillom: “Maybe Vivian, it was too early then.”

The timing is right for Staley.

A player on that 1996 team when Washington was an assistant, Staley said race wasn’t something that was openly discussed at that time. She sees USA Basketball as a place where “you just come together for a common goal.”

“We’re in a day and age where diversity matters, inclusion matters,” Staley said.

The U.S. coaching pipeline has featured 14 white women assistants — four who later were tabbed as Olympic head coaches. Geno Auriemma is one of five men to later become head coach.

The candidate pool is growing.

Adia Barnes, who coached Arizona to the national championship game in April and helped make history with Staley as the first two Black females ever to coach in a Final Four, was an assistant to Staley at the 2021 USA AmeriCup last month in Puerto Rico, a qualifier for the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup.

The Southeastern Conference, where Staley coaches, features seven Black female head coaches.

Gillom followed her playing career with stints as head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA. Now she is focused on Xavier College Preparatory High School and excited about a 6-foot-6 incoming freshman.

Her sister retired as associate head coach at Mississippi in 2009 and has worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at her alma mater ever since.

With Staley coaching the U.S. women, Gillom expects to see “a ton of Black women” coaching not just in the Olympics, but at the college level and in the WNBA.

“I’m almost positive you’re going to see a lot more Black women stepping up to the plate, feeling more motivated, feeling like they are finally being given the opportunity to display their ability,” Gillom said. “All you need is someone to be in that position to give you that confidence.”

Her sister agrees.

“The time is now is for Black women to have that opportunity,” Gillom-Granderson said.

No one understands or appreciates that more than Staley.

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