July 21, 2011
Albuquerque, N.M. --- When first-year coach Yvonne Sanchez put together her first staff for the Lobo women’s basketball program, naming Anthony Turner as an assistant coach was an easy decision to make. Boasting 11 years of collegiate coaching experience, including six in the Mountain West with UNLV, Turner was qualified without question and fit the mold for what Sanchez needed.
But Turner’s participation in the 2011 NCAA and BCA Achieving Coaching Excellence (ACE) program boosted him from the level of a “qualified coach,” to a much more elite status in the college coaching realm.
Turner was selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants as one of 12 women’s basketball assistant coaches to participate in the 2011 ACE program in Indianapolis from June 5 through June 8 of this year.
The ACE program was originally a product of the Black Coaches Association (BCA), but has recently paired with the NCAA in order to provide a professional development opportunity for college men’s and women’s coaches. The program is designed to prepare racial and ethic minority coaches for success in assistant positions and eventually, as head coaches.
Acceptance into the program is a feat in and of itself, as applicants are required to prepare personal statements addressing their coaching perspective and achievements, and how ACE will benefit them as their careers advance. They also submit letters of recommendation from educators and colleagues outside of athletics.
And then they wait, because the privilege of being selected as one of the 12 pays high dividends. The ACE program is essentially the ultimate networking tool for participants. Prospective employers call the NCAA and BCA looking for coaching recommendations when filling positions, and the ACE program assures that there are participants who have been trained to fill those roles.
For four days respected members of the NCAA -- from college coaches and athletic directors to NCAA administrators and representatives -- surround the 24 selected participants (12 men’s coaches and 12 women’s coaches) and educate them on the nuances of collegiate coaching. Speakers this year included the likes of Dr. Homer Drew, Director of Athletics at Valparaiso, coaches Bobbie Kelsey and Lamont Paris representing Wisconsin’s women’s and men’s teams respectively, and Chris Hollomon, the NCAA’s Director of Leadership Development.
Participants attended discussions regarding everything from leadership and organization to brand management and community engagement, as it pertains to the business of college coaching.
And it is, in fact, a business, as Turner realized more throughout the conference.
“Mr. Oliver [Associate Director of Athletics at the University of Virginia] talked about being a professional in this business and what athletic director’s look for, not just as a person but in your ability to handle a team in this business,” Turner explained.
“It’s not so much about coaching, but being a CEO. That’s how you have to carry yourself. Every single dealing that you would have in operating a business is analogous to being a head coach.”
He also learned to approach coaching with a slightly different mindset.
“We’re dealing with a different generation of student-athletes who think differently than we do,” Turner said. “One of the things that Bobbie [Kelsey] said that stuck with me is that we need to not change our standards as coaches, but change the way that we communicate those standards.”
For Turner, the experience not only met but exceeded his every expectation. Being surrounded by such a tremendous group of people was a humbling, but confidence-boosting experience at the same time. Additionally, he sees how his training will benefit not only him, but also the rest of the New Mexico staff.
“Coach Sanchez is a first-year head coach, and we talked a lot at ACE about how to put a program together as a head coach,” Turner said. “When I look around here, I already see her doing those things. It really reaffirms the fact that I can be a positive addition to this staff.”
The program offered additional opportunities for Turner as well, some of which came by chance.
“One of my favorite moments was getting to talk with Brad Stevens [head men’s basketball coach, Butler],” he said. “When he walked in, he saw my New Mexico shirt and immediately asked how Steve [Alford] was. That gave me a chance to sit and talk with him for about 10 minutes, and an opportunity to pick his brain that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
“The program was a life-changing event,” Turner said simply. “The people I met and networked with are in my network for life.”
On the whole, the prestige of the ACE program is paramount, as is the opportunity to be involved. But while remaining slightly humbled by the experience, Turner is enthusiastic about taking what he’s learned and applying it to Lobo women’s basketball.