College basketball coach Shereka Wright knows she is responsible for her players both on and off the court.
The former Phoenix Mercury forward sees her coaching role as more than just telling The University of Texas at Arlington’s Lady Mavs how to win a game. She wants to mentor her 18- to 22-year-old players during one of the most important periods of their lives.
As the first female African-American coach at UTA, she understands the pressure that female athletes are under because she feels it, too.
“For me, my bar has always been set high. I’ve had a lot of success as a player and now as a head coach. And so, when you do have some failures — because I think that’s part of how you grow and be better — sometimes we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves that doesn’t necessarily need to be there,” Wright said.
Wright teaches her players to find a role model or motivation that pushes them to come in every day ready to give their best — during practice, games and other parts of their lives.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, yes, they are people. And yes, they’re student-athletes,” Wright said. “But for me, I look at them as people that I enjoy being around every single day, because whether they know it or not, they’re also teaching me. And I want to make sure that I’m continuing to expose them to every avenue as possible out there.”
For Wright, her first inspiration was her mother. Wright grew up a military brat, and her mother regularly worked with young people at the YMCA at Fort Hood, the Army base where the family was stationed. That, coupled with the family’s love of basketball — her mom, father and brother all played — meant it was only a matter of time before the sport became Wright’s passion, too.
“At the time, I didn’t know basketball was going to be a passion for me,” Wright said. “But eventually, basketball became a love of mine. I just craved it. I played it every day.”
Her mother’s influence also shaped Wright’s coaching style, which some of her players have described as maternal. Sophomore transfer student Kali Haizlip said coming to a program where she saw people who looked like her in a leadership position was “a blessing.”
“It’s love-based. She does a really good job of making you feel welcome and like you belong. And so, that makes you just want to work harder for her,” Haizlip said.
Wright earned a full-ride scholarship to Purdue University, where she played four years on the basketball team. The Detroit Shock drafted Wright in 2004, then traded her that same night to the Phoenix Mercury. A knee injury and torn Achilles tendon cut her career short after just two seasons.
That setback opened another door for Wright: coaching. She got her first gig as an assistant coach at Texas Tech University, where she coached for seven seasons. She also coached for five years at the University of Alabama and two at Vanderbilt University.
During that time, Wright and Rosalyn Tindel crossed paths. Tindel, now an assistant coach for the Lady Mavs, had followed her boss’s career back when Wright was still in high school.
“I watched her from afar, not really knowing who she was at the time but also knowing who she was at the time if that makes sense,” said Tindel, who was a head coach in the Wichita Falls ISD when Wright was playing at Copperas Cove High School. “(I) heard about a young lady that was right outside a military base and she was just taking everything by storm.”
Wright and Tindel kept in touch after their initial meeting at a Texas Tech game, when Tindel was head coach at Lon Morris College.
When Wright got the head coach position at UTA, she invited Tindel to work for her.
“People ask me all the time, ‘How do I navigate not being a head coach anymore?’ And I said, ‘There’s not a whole lot of people that I stepped away for,’” Tindel said. “She was one of the few, because I knew our values matched up, and the work that we wanted to do being role models for young ladies was right in line.”
For young women like Haizlip, it’s those lessons she takes with her even after practice is over.
“Being a black woman in Texas, it’s really important that you keep yourself in line and keep the people around you in mind, because anything can happen, anytime,” Haizlip said. “Coach does a really good job of reminding us to, of course, live our best lives – we’re in college – but also just be mindful of the opportunities that we’re being granted and how quickly they can be taken away.”
The Lady Mavs ended this past season 14-17 overall and 8-10 in conference play, after a 20-8 record and winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship during the 2021-22 season. But for Wright, it’s important to count the victories off the court.
“When [the players] leave me, I hope that, whether they stay with me for four years or they stay with me for one year, there was something they needed from me from that time. I hope that they get to learn something, that they say, ‘I learned this from Coach ’Reke,’ and I’m OK with that,” Wright said.
Shereka Wright’s Bio:
Birthplace: Fort Riley, Kansas
Moved to North Texas: 2020
Family: Her daughter, Lennox
Education: Bachelor of Arts in health and fitness from Purdue University
Work experience: Player at Purdue (2001-2004) and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury (2004-2006); assistant coach at Texas Tech University (2006-2013); assistant coach at University of Alabama (2013-2018); associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt University (2018-2020); head coach at The University of Texas at Arlington (2020-present)
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “I think, first and foremost, to be an effective leader, you have to communicate effectively. And with communication, I think one of the things that I’ve learned is to not respond or react with emotion.”
Best advice ever received: “I had a chance to work under some really powerful coaches in our game … [Kristy Curry, head coach of the University of Alabama’s women’s basketball team] told me, ‘There’s no job that’s bigger than you.’ So, whether I had to go sweep the floor, to pick up certain things, that’s not going to be beneath me. That’s part of the stuff that I do every single day. … What I learned from [Stephanie White, head coach of the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA] was, ‘You can think just like a man across society, like you can be just as good as your male counterpart.’”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.