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PALM HARBOR -- Before she won a national championship at North Carolina in 1994, Sylvia Crawley remembers taking recruiting visits to Iowa and Minnesota, less successful programs, only because she loved the idea of playing college basketball for an African-American woman.
"They got a shot to recruit me (over) other schools that were better programs, simply because 'Wow,' to have the opportunity to be coached by an African-American coach, who has walked the same walk that I've walked," Crawley said. "They (Vivian Stringer and LaRue Fields) were two of the few that were coaching when I was being recruited."
Two decades later, top basketball recruits looking to play for a black female coach have many more options, including Crawley, now 37 and entering her third season as head coach at Boston College.
"There's a shift in coaching," said Crawley, who at 6-foot-5 towers over most of the men's basketball and football coaches gathered at the Black Coaches Association's national convention, held at Innisbrook this week. "The Pat Summits, the (UNC) Coach (Sylvia) Hatchells, they were once players. They came in as a wave of new coaches back in their time, and they're getting a little bit older. You're seeing a shift. The WNBA was built on the backs of veterans, and those players are now retiring, and coaching is a natural progression for them."
On Thursday morning, the BCA released a "Hiring Report Card" for women's basketball, showing a significant trend toward more minority coaching hires. In a span of three years, the number of minority head women's basketball coaches at the 120 schools that play in Division I-A football conferences went from eight to 28, an increase of 250 percent. Of the six openings at those schools last year, four went to minorities, including two to black female coaches.
"Four out of six is awesome," said Floyd Keith, executive director of the BCA. "We've done extremely well. The last three years have just been great. The progress is moving -- I've said that progress for us, in some respects, is likely plowing cement, with the football hiring. Now we're just plowing, but you still have to plow."
The BCA's report card, written by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, based in Orlando, gave "A" grades to four of the six major schools that made hires. Southern Cal was given an "F," but only because it failed to respond to the BCA study -- the Trojans hired former Lakers star Michael Cooper, who is black. The only other school not getting an "A" grade was Oregon, which got a "D," not because it hired a white coach in Paul Westhead, but because it had no minorities on its search committee and did not interview any minority candidates during the hiring process.
Crawley, who played in both the WNBA and the now-defunct ABL professionally, as well as overseas, had just two years as a head coach (at Ohio) when Boston College athletic director Gene DeFillippo made her the ACC's only black female head coach.
"He really took a chance on me, because I was a young coach, and it's worked out well so far," she said. "It set a precedent. People are watching, (so there's) an extreme amount of pressure, but I use it as motivation. I know if I do well, more people will hire African-American coaches."
The BCA has a developmental program for young minority assistants, called ACE (Achieving Coaching Excellence), a four-day symposium educating coaches in leadership, communications, media training and management skills. Of the 90 basketball coaches, Keith said 30 have now been hired as college head coaches.
The latest is Andrea Williams, who spent the last two years as an assistant at USF and was named last week as the head coach at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
"It's a phenomenal opportunity for myself, personally and professionally," said Williams, who is the sixth head coach to be promoted from 14 assistants in the ACE Class of 2006. "(ACE) was a little preparation so when you do get the opportunity, you don't fumble the ball."
Crawley said that 60 percent of the players in women's college basketball are African-American, and her age, race and recent playing experience allow her to relate to her players on a closer level than most coaches can.
"I'm not teaching my players things I've read in a textbook, things I'm hoping and wishing will work," she said. "These things have been tried out against the best players in the world. Either Lisa Leslie did this against me and I couldn't stop it, or I did it against her and she couldn't block it. This is an unblockable hook shot I'm teaching my players. I think that weighs for a lot."