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From Bonnies To The Coaching Ranks: Alumnae Trio Still Finding Hoops Success

From Bonnies To The Coaching Ranks: Alumnae Trio Still Finding Hoops Success

By Deja Francis '22, sports information intern

The Athletics Department at Providence calls itself "Friartown," but a look at the women's basketball coaching staff seems more like Bona Nation.

Providence's staff has special ties to St. Bonaventure, with nearly the entire staff having connections to SBU. Assistant coaches Priscilla Edwards, Tiara Johnson and Jessica Jenkins all were key players during some of Bonaventure's best seasons under then-Bona and current Providence head coach Jim Crowley. Now, they use their experiences to bring success to the Friars.

Johnson, a Kansas City, Mo. native, transferred from junior college North Central Missouri to St. Bonaventure in 2007.  In her first season with the Bonnies, Johnson started 28 contests and averaged 5.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. She graduated in 2010 as a redshirt senior due to a knee injury sustained during her senior year. After graduating, she became the Director of Basketball Operations at St. Bonaventure from 2010-2013 and was then promoted to assistant coach where she stayed for three years. Johnson is now in her 11th coaching season an assistant women's basketball coach. As a coach at St. Bonaventure, Johnson helped the Bonnies to four postseason appearances. The Bonnies advanced to the WNIT Second Round in 2011 and 2014, the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 2012, the program's first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and to the 2016 NCAA Second Round.

Jenkins is a 2012 St. Bonaventure graduate from Marion, Ohio, who finished playing her career with 1,441 points which ranks seventh in St. Bonaventure history. Jenkins is also the all-time Atlantic 10 and school leader of made three-pointers with 338 threes. After playing overseas, she became the assistant coach in 2015 at St. Bonaventure for one year under Coach Crowley at Bonaventure, helping the squad to an NCAA Tournament victory over Oklahoma State. She now is an assistant coach at Providence where she works with their shooters. As a player, she was key to the Bonnies reaching the Sweet 16 in 2012. 

Edwards, a Harlem, N.Y native, has spent the most time with Crowley. The 2008 Bonaventure graduate ended her career with 881 points, 448 rebounds and 354 assists. Immediately after graduating she filled the position of Bona's director of basketball operations. Edwards was then promoted to assistant coach in 2010 which she held for two years. In 2012, she became the assistant coach at St. John's University and spent three years on the bench there. Edwards now is the Associate Head Coach at Providence. While coaching at St. Bonaventure, Edwards helped the Bonnies win the A-10 regular-season title and make an unforgettable run to the Sweet 16.

Below is an interview with the Bonnies trio of former players turned coaches.

What is your favorite memory playing at Bonaventure?

Priscilla Edwards: When we found out we made the WNIT for the first time. My freshman year when we were in summer school and we were looking in gym. We were like the women's program has no banners. We were just so determined to get some type of banner. We didn't think we were going to make the NCAA Tournament, but we knew we had a shot for the WNIT. We sat outside the office and waited for the NCAA Tournament to select so that we could see if we made it to the WNIT. We found out at like 10:30, 11 at night and we were so excited. It was like we won a championship because we knew that we accomplished our goal of making some type of postseason and we were turning the program around. We ended up making a good run in it. We had some come-from-behind wins and we beat Wisconsin on the road after being down; it was a great experience. I remember the excitement of knowing that we did something we said we were going to like three years prior.

Jessica Jenkins: Making the Sweet 16. That's my greatest basketball accomplishment, but there was a moment after we lost that always stands out. When we lost to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, me and one of our other seniors were just sitting in the locker room and Coach came in and just sat with us. We hung out in the locker room, ate all the free food and talked for 20 minutes before we got on the bus. We put so much into everything that year. It was like a deep breath and that was like the first time you saw all the pressure just come off of everybody.

Tiara Johnson: My first year there, it had to be 2008. Our team was hit with the injury bug. We were down to like eight players. We were about to play George Washington who was ranked and no one thought we had a chance. At that point, we ended up having an upset on our floor and I remember kids like running on the floor and we were celebrating. For them to think we had no chance and for us to go out with the mindset like, 'look, we're coming at you no matter who you are, what you are, ranked opponent, eight players in we're going and we're going together.' Pulling off that upset was the best feeling ever.

What are some things that you learned through your career at Bonaventure that you've carried over to your coaching position now?

PE: One thing that I took away from Bonaventure is how to do more with less. Like how to accomplish things without what people necessarily say you need for success. For all of us, we went to Bonaventure for different reasons, but at the end of the day, we knew Bonaventure wasn't the most glamorous situation as players. Especially as coaches, nowadays when it comes to recruiting it's about what can you sell, like look at the facilities, look at all these nice things we have and we didn't necessarily have that at Bonaventure. But nonetheless, it wasn't about that. It was about going somewhere and proving people wrong. Making it happen regardless of what you don't have. I remember games playing ranked opponents or teams that had it all. Whenever we had an opportunity to compete and show what we could do, regardless of what we didn't have, we took really great pride in that, and that's something that has continued on with me because I came from not having much anyway. You can still accomplish anything you want to, regardless of what you have. That was a big part of my mentality, just making things happen regardless of your circumstances.

JJ: The biggest thing I took away from my time (at Bona's) is you just have to outwork people. You have the ability to do so at Bonaventure because of the location and everything. Not everybody is going to see it. Not everybody is peeking into the RC every day or hanging out in the reds to see what you're doing or how much you're working. But when you get a chance to play a ranked opponent, or when the lights are really bright and it's a big moment you are prepared for it because of the time and just the ability you have there to outwork people. I think that's definitely something I've learned from Bonaventure that I've carried on through now.

TJ: The thing for me was being who I am and not hiding that, not being afraid of that, not trying to change who I am to get a job, or to impress someone. It's either I'm going to get the job who I am or I'm not going to accept the job at all because they're not going to accept me for who I am. It was good for me to be able to be free and live free at Bonaventure as a player and then as I transitioned from player to staff. I feel like that was the biggest takeaway from Bonaventure, they allowed me to be who I am and who I am has brought me success. Now I am here coaching in the Big East and I would've never thought that as an openly gay woman who is a masculine dresser that I wouldn't be judged for it. 

What is your proudest accomplishment in coaching?

PE: I would say the relationships that you build with players. I remember coaching my first group as a college coach, and now you have all these classes that have graduated and they're coming back and are successful, or they're coaching and getting into different things. Being able to see them through with that just reminds you of when you played and how your coach was there every step of the way. For us that's Coach Crowley being there every step of the way as we grow and now we have our own lives. I would definitely say just the relationships, especially when you're that coach that drives a player crazy or you're that kid that drives a coach crazy and then you get to the other side of that where you both kind of realize what it was all about.

JJ: Coach Priscilla was the coach that drove me crazy when I played for her for that one year, but we grew past it. The first year I coached I was like, 'okay, this coaching basketball is easy.' Then I had to learn about the relationship part of it. Whether it's with our kids who we are coaching right now or even in recruiting. Even the kids you don't get in recruiting, the relationships you're able to build is like the most fun part for me.

TJ: For me, it's seeing the growth in young women. There are bad and frustrating things that happen and to see the growth in a young lady, going from struggles to some success is one of the best feelings in the world. It could be them having a D on a test to the next test they get an A. The excitement and the change in that is what drives me each and every day to be a better coach. Also winning always helps on the court as well. Accomplishments of doing things that haven't been done in years and setting records, everything like that is always good.

What is one of the biggest differences in playing for Coach Crowley and now being on his coaching staff?

PE: The biggest difference is time, we're adults now. He's been there for some of the most difficult and challenging times during my life. some of the best times of my life. We have had the opportunity to grow a great deal. Now being on staff it's more of just the maturation of our relationship and how that carries over into everything. Rebuilding the program at Providence wouldn't be possible without the complete trust, that bond and us having all these moments together. No matter how difficult it gets, being able to come back to the fact that we've been in this situation before from player to coach and coach to coach. We've relied on each other and we're doing it again under different circumstances.

TJ: I still see him as "Coach." I still have "Crowley Time." I still don't bring my phone into meetings, like I still get nervous if someone's phone goes off. All the stuff he had us do as players are still instilled in me. The difference for me is I say what I want to say to him without thinking I'm going to be punished whereas a player it's like if you say this he's going to think a certain way. But on staff you can come to him and say "yeah that's not it," and he will take that in, think about it and have a dialogue with you. He also pushes us to get out and do more than basketball; I feel like that's a very rare thing in coaches. He wants us to evolve as women and put our foot print out into the world and he pushes us every day to do so; that's something special and that's why we all have such a special relationship with Coach Crowley.

 

What is the best lesson you've taught a player that's not basketball related?

PE: You already have things going against you. The fact that you're a woman, the fact that you're an athlete, in some cases the fact that you're a black woman. As someone who grew up not having much from New York City, and being able to do things that not a lot of women in my same situation could do. Like get a college degree, have a successful career, venturing off into entrepreneurship, being able to make investments and things like that. Things you never really hear growing up where I'm from. Trying to get players to understand that as a woman you're not just an athlete or not just what people tell you are. You have to maximize the opportunities you get because in other places of the world you might not be able to do certain things that you're doing with the freedom you're able to do it with. I try to tell our players to never dim their dreams or ideas based around what people are telling them they should do or think about doing because ultimately it is their choice. Not letting that ambition die because of what society tells you. As women athletes we get a lot of crap. We don't get the credit we deserve. So any opportunity to get them to understand the power that they have as early as possible, even when they don't want to hear it I try to spread that message.

JJ: Getting out of your comfort zone or showing them that you got to find some comfort in the uncomfortable. Because it is something I'm trying to get better at and show them as I'm trying to get better.

TJ: It's not always what you know, it's who you know. The more people you get out there and you network with and show who you are the better off you will be. There are more connections and more people to say, 'yeah, I can vouch for this young lady.' That gives you more opportunities.

 

Do you see coaching in your extended future?

PE: Coaching is something I enjoy a bunch, but there are also a lot of other things I enjoy. I enjoy entrepreneurship just as much as coaching. Last spring, I opened a plant-based juice bar and café in Providence called the Glow Café, which I own and manage as well as coaching. Prior to getting to Providence, I started a basketball training and development academy where we did camps and clinics for younger kids up to pro level. I think it was important for me to find other things and time for other passions. Being able to balance entrepreneurship and coaching really makes me enjoy both of them just as much.

JJ: Right now coaching is what I enjoy, it's what I want to do. I'm not concerned about the level. I just want to be at a place where I can enjoy the coaching side of it and where it doesn't become super stressful. Where I'm able to still keep that balance is what's really important right now.

TJ: I want to continue to coach, the level doesn't matter to me. I really want to get into junior college, which was my path to basketball. Through junior college I was able to get a Division I scholarship because I had no offers coming out of high school. So, I want to impact young ladies the way I was impacted in junior college. To show them that there is a chance at any level to succeed after high school even if you have no offers. I think that would be one of my major accomplishments if I'm able to get to junior college and coach young ladies how I was coached.

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