When you think of Black college basketball coaching pioneers, John Chaney and John Thompson Jr. are among the first mentioned as memorable figures whose influence forever changed the game.
Losing both legends in the last six months is a somber moment for the sports world and for the long line of coaches who benefited from the path they paved in their sport.
Chaney, who died last Friday at 89, turned Temple into one of the college hoops powerhouses of the 1980s, 1990s and beyond. He reached his 17th NCAA tournament and fifth Elite Eight in 2001 before retiring five years later. His life and career was spent speaking up for equal and fair treatment for Black athletes and coaches.
"We lost an icon in Coach Chaney," Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said Wednesday on Fox Sports after upsetting Creighton. "He was a man just like Coach Thompson who I looked up to, people of color looked up to. If it weren't for a man like him, a person like myself and people who have come behind me wouldn't have that opportunity."
Ewing played for Thompson and helped lead the Hoyas to back-to-back Final Fours, including the 1984 national title. Thompson, who died last August, became the first Black coach to reach the Final Four and to win an NCAA Division I basketball championship.
There was a time in the 1990s when the first three Black coaches to win NCAA titles were still on the sidelines. Thompson was still at Georgetown. Nolan Richardson was at Arkansas. Former Gophers coach Tubby Smith was at Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Clem Haskins' Gophers and Chaney's Temple teams were making NCAA tournament runs.
Smith, who has been at his alma mater High Point since 2018, is the only current Black coach with a national title on his résumé. He is one of four current Black coaches who have been to a Final Four, including Detroit Mercy's Mike Davis (Indiana), Houston's Kelvin Sampson (Oklahoma) and Texas' Shaka Smart (VCU).
It's been 23 years since Smith won his NCAA championship at Kentucky. The last Black coach to win it all was Kevin Ollie at UConn seven years ago.
The recent passing of Thompson and Chaney gave us a chance to reflect and appreciate what they and other Black coaches accomplished during that era.
But it also is a disappointing reminder how far the sport still needs to grow allowing the next generation of Black coaches and coaches of color to reach those heights.
In the six major conferences, only 13 of the 75 programs have Black head coaches. If you include only the Power Five conference schools, that removes the Big East's five, which leaves only eight Black head coaches in 64 programs.
The Big Ten had zero Black men's basketball head coaches hired from Smith's last season with the Gophers in 2013 until Michigan's Juwan Howard was hired in 2019. The Pac-12 is the only major conference with no Black head coaches this season. There are five Black head coaches with programs in this week's Top 25: Howard (Michigan), Sampson (Houston), Smart (Texas), Cuonzo Martin (Missouri) and Leonard Hamilton (Florida State).
In the wake of George Floyd's death last May, organizations and movements formed to keep fighting for causes in sports that Thompson and Chaney made their mission while coaching decades ago.
An image and quote from Thompson is prominent on the newly-established Black Coaches United's website.
"Don't let the sum total of your existence be eight to 10 pounds of air," Thompson said.