USA TODAY US Edition
Fullerton coach honors Black trailblazers
College basketball coaches throughout the country have found ways to honor John Thompson, like sporting his signature towel on the shoulder look. But for Cal State-Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor, he found a way to honor not just Thompson but other Black coaches who paved the way for him.
Taylor is in his eighth season with the Titans after spending years as an assistant at numerous West Coast schools, including Arizona State. He grew up with a father who coached high school basketball in Southern California and remembered as a kid watching Thompson, his Georgetown Hoyas and Big East basketball.
“I vividly remember the commentators never really talking about him as a coach from an X’s and O’s perspective. They always talked about the leader he was, they always talked about the mentor he was, they always talked about how he cared for his group and those around him. That’s something that has always stuck with me,” Taylor said.
Like many, he was saddened when he learned Thompson dies Aug. 30 at 78. But it was a couple of weeks ago when Taylor came up with his way to honor Thompson and other Black coaches.
With assistance from his staff, Taylor designed three shirts, with quotes from Thompson; George Raveling, the first African American basketball coach in the Pac-8; and Will Robinson, the first African American basketball coach in Division I. The back lists all 98 Black coaches in Division I basketball with the title “The Legacy Continues.”
Each quote resonated with Taylor, as he found them open-ended, urging people to achieve success.
“It’s important to acknowledge them not by just saying their name, but acknowledge them and things that we do on a day-to-day basis. That’s the way, in my opinion, that you honor them, and you acknowledge them and you carry their legacy forward,” Taylor said. “More than anything, I just wanted the coaches to see their name represented amongst all of the other Black head coaches and give them a sense of pride.”
Shirts were sent to each coach whose name was on it, which Taylor said many of them have since thanked him for.
Butler coach LaVall Jordan wore his Feb. 13 against the Hoyas. Jordan said he felt humbled to see his name on it. What Taylor did reminded him of Thompson. “One way for him to bring us closer as a community, I think that was one of the things that Coach Thompson did for the coaching community and the Black coaching community,” Jordan said.
Taylor wore his Feb. 19-20, along with the entire team, in their series against in-county rival UC-Irvine. On the 20th, he earned his 100th career win as Fullerton’s head coach.
“It’s another opportunity to honor the past. I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in if it weren’t for John Chaney and Coach Thompson and Coach Raveling and Paul Hewitt and Dave Leitao and Cuonzo Martin,” Taylor said.
Despite the progress Black coaches have made in college basketball, Taylor acknowledged there is a difference in expectations compared to white coaches. “They expect you to get it done in three or four years or they fired you,” Taylor said. And no matter who the coach is, they need the support and resources to thrive, he said.
“I think coaches across the board, Black coaches in general, can do that, when they’re given the right opportunity amongst those circumstances,” Taylor said. “But for whatever reason, we’re not given those opportunities at the level I think our counterpart is.”
Despite the lack of opportunities, Taylor said Black people have proved they can play and coach the game, such as Michigan head coach Juwan Howard, who in his second season has the Wolverines atop the Big Ten and vying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Jordan said the Black coaching community remains close, with veterans like Tubby Smith and Leonard Hamilton helping lead the next great Black coaches. “Those guys pick up the phone and help mentor guys like myself,” Jordan said. “That generation really set the foundation.”
Taylor said a benefit of being a Black head coach is that he can relate to players who look like him, something he experienced after playing at UC-Davis.
Taylor spent a summer working out with former Lakers guard Eddie Jones, who played for Chaney at Temple. Jones had talked about the impact Chaney had on him and the care that he had for each of his players. The lessons he learned from Chaney, Thompson and the numerous trailblazers are lessons that continue to motivate him to be the coach he is today and leave the same impact on players.
“They showed a great deal of pushing them and putting them on the edge to try to get their best every single day and helping them form those habits that make them the successful gentlemen that they are today,” Taylor said. “Being a part of other people’s success, seeing other people being successful and being excited, that’s where I get my excitement and my joy.”