The Joyners: An HBCU Basketball Coaching Dynasty
By Lois Elfman, Diverse Issues in Education
Edward Joyner Jr., the head men’s basketball coach at Hampton University, calls coaching basketball “the family business.” This family business takes place on the hardwood and is rooted in historically Black colleges and universities, where Edward Jr.; his father, Edward; his uncle, Stephen; and his cousin, Stephen Jr., are all head basketball coaches.
It began about 50 years ago when Stephen, who goes by his family nickname Big Steve, and Edward, known as Buck, made a pact. Avid athletes, the brothers grew up with a love of sports fostered by their father, who would load them and their friends in his old van to take them to games at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) in their North Carolina hometown.
They were sitting on the front porch one day when Steve asked his older brother Buck what he wanted to be when he grew up. Buck said he wanted to play in the NBA or be a coach, which was what Steve aspired to as well.
“Steve said, ‘Let’s make a pact,’” recalls Buck, 60. “‘The first one who gets a head coaching job will call the other in to be the assistant.’ I said OK.”
Although they were only 10 and 11 when that pact was made, Big Steve, now 59, held to it. The brothers played high school basketball first together and then on opposing teams after Buck was bused to a predominantly White high school. They studied Earl Monroe, who attended WSSU, and taught each other his moves. Both attended college on basketball scholarships. That NBA tryout never did happen, although Buck swears he was good enough. After college, they both went into coaching.
“All those years went by—middle school, junior high, high school, college. We were both out coaching,” Buck says. His work as a high school coach took him to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, where he was raising Little Buck as a single father. He’d been there about two years when a call came. “Steve called and said, ‘Buck, you remember our pact?’ I said yes. He said, ‘I just got the head coaching job at Johnson C. Smith University.’”
In 1987, Big Steve sent Buck a plane ticket to come interview for the assistant coach’s job. After the interview, Buck said he’d think about the job, but that he was heading back to St. Croix to at least collect his things. “I looked at my ticket and he had bought me a one-way ticket. I was never going back,” he says.
They coached together for about five years, during which time Edward “Little Buck” Jr. attended Johnson C. Smith. Eventually, Buck got the yen to be a head coach himself and in 1993 became the head men’s basketball coach at Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va. The two brothers often face each other in the CIAA conference, where Big Steve, with more than 400 wins, is the conference’s third-winningest active coach. He is also Johnson C. Smith’s athletic director.
“My school is located in a farming and hunting town,” Buck says. “I’ve got the most difficult job in terms of recruiting. He has the best location (Charlotte, N.C.). I have a 97 percent graduation rate. We have a winning record. I’ve had an NBA draft pick. I won the academic award at least three times.”
“If you’ve got a student-athlete that’s able to graduate and get his degree, that’s just as good as winning a championship,” he continues. “Basketball instills in you how to work with other people. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to teach them. To be able to teach them, you’ve got to be able to reach them. Thus far, we’ve been able to reach them. It has carried down to our sons.”
Returning the Favor
Upon graduating college, Little Buck entered the coaching profession, as did Little Steve. Both worked alongside Big Steve at Johnson C. Smith and then went off to forge their own paths. Little Steve was happily ensconced as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Florida A&M and told the head coach he wasn’t contemplating any moves. Then the phone rang.
“Three days after that conversation is when I received a phone call asking if I was interested in the head (women’s basketball) coaching job at Winston-Salem State University,” says Little Steve, 30.
“Our family has never been one to force what you do or imply that you need to reach a certain quota or status to be successful,” Little Steve says. “We all try to build off each other and help each other.”
He says he is extremely satisfied to again be working at an HBCU. His mother is a Winston-Salem State graduate, and he thrives on the chance to give back.”
“It means a lot to me to now have the opportunity to build a program,” he says. “And to help make sure that (these) young ladies are going to have a chance to get a higher education and prepare themselves for the real world the same way an HBCU helped me.
“The work that they put in on basketball will then turn over to what they do in life. If they can approach this all the way out, with 110 percent effort and dedication, it will in turn carry over to what they do every day in life.”
While Little Steve’s niche is women’s basketball, Edward “Little Buck” Jr., 37, is the first in the family to coach NCAA Division I (all the other schools are Division II). The Hampton coach says the pact that his father and uncle made shows that no one succeeds in isolation and everyone has a duty to help those coming behind them. What he also learned from them is that no head coach can be successful unless he or she inspires all those around to share in the aspirations.
“As coaches, we’re here to teach the same life lessons that are taught in the classroom, but also teach them how to compete on the court,” Little Buck says. “Then take how they learn to compete on the court and compete in the classroom.”
He has known every aspect of an HBCU and because of that Little Buck hopes he is uniquely qualified to become the coach that gives an HBCU a presence on the national level.
“I did everything from being in high school and helping sweep the floors at Johnson C. Smith and washing uniforms to playing, performing and coaching,” he says. “It means a lot to me to be in a situation where I could possibly do something different. I would love to be the first coach to take a Black college to the Sweet 16 or something of that sort. I know how badly we all want it to be done.”
“There’s a lot to learn and help these young men learn—more off the basketball court than on,” he adds. “I feel blessed. I’m happy and upbeat every day.”