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For Dayton, Tamika Williams-Jeter Prepares To Build

Tamika Williams-Jeter has been everywhere. From the meccas of college basketball (think Lawrence, Kansas, or Storrs, Connecticut) to Springfield, Ohio, Williams-Jeter has hardly stopped moving, but now she experiences something novel: a homecoming.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Williams-Jeter was named the 10th head coach in Dayton Flyers Women’s Basketball history, following Shauna Green’s appointment at Illinois. For Dayton natives, her name should ring familiar. She was the number one recruit in the nation as a high schooler at nearby Chaminade-Julienne, before joining arguably the most legendary recruiting class of all time at UConn. Williams-Jeter became a two-time national champion playing under Geno Auriemma. After winning two national championships, scoring over 1,000 points and grabbing 1,000 boards in the WNBA, and racking up a number of personal accolades, Williams-Jeter turned to coaching. She had assistant stints at Ohio State, Kentucky, Penn State, and Kansas, prior to spending one year as the head coach at Wittenburg, a Division III school in Ohio whom she led to the NCAA Tournament and a conference championship.

When you go a lot of places, you make a lot of friends. “One thing about me is I hate the red bubbles,” she says, referring to her text notifications. “I had over 600 messages after the announcement, and I’ve gotten it down to 300. By Thursday, I’ll try to get it down to 200.” It follows, then, that she’s a multiple-time winner of the Dawn Staley Community Leadership award. She majored in Interpersonal Communication at UConn, where she was also the president of their Student-Athlete Advisory Council, and her passion for communication shows with her commitment to community building.

“This job for me is all about the people to my left and right,” she says, gesturing to the empty offices around her which will shortly be filled with members of her staff. Throughout our conversation, she constructs a web of people and stories she has accumulated during her time as a player and coach. She melds having played against Dawn Staley in the W to now preparing to face off against Staley’s former teammate and current Rhode Island head coach Tammi Reiss, while also referencing the extensive coaching tree of Muffet McGraw which permeates the NCAAW coaching landscape. She talks about going to her older siblings’ basketball games growing up; her older brother played at Miami (OH) and her sister played at Bowling Green State. She speaks with reverence about her identity, and what it means to be a woman of color in the coaching ranks – including what it means to see a coach like Dawn Staley have success.  Williams-Jeter joins George Mason’s Vanessa Blair-Lewis as the only two Black head coaches for the coming season.

It should come as no surprise that culture and community will be big parts of her program’s identity. The first thing she did when she arrived on campus was to take Dayton’s graduating class – Araion Bradshaw, Jenna Giacone, Erin Whalen – out to breakfast. “I wanted to learn from them,” she said, “and see what this place has meant to them.” That trio formed the cornerstone of a Dayton team which hardly left its perch at the top of the Atlantic 10 during their extensive careers.

Williams-Jeter inherits a program in a very, very good place. Dayton has made 15 consecutive postseason appearances, including nine NCAA Tournament berths in that time. Dayton regularly paces the A10 in attendance, and has top-notch facilities and resources.  Williams-Jeter does not get distracted by those elements, though. “Coach Green did a great job building culture,” she emphasizes.  The “bells and whistles” of the Dayton job – the fanbase, the facilities, the program’s reputations – are nice, but come secondary to the relationships built on the job.

Perhaps enviably for a new coach, Dayton has a massive number of open roster spots, with only six returning players. Last year’s graduating class included players who played fifth and sixth seasons thanks to previous redshirt years and the Covid year; additionally, a handful of players have entered the transfer portal in the offseason, accounting for around 90 percent of the team’s scoring.

What should people expect to see from her team on the court? “Positionless basketball,” she says with a laugh. “I love 5’11, 6’2 kids, who can do a little of everything. I came in and I’m around the six seniors who are leaving, and I’m like…damn! These kids are taller than me. These huge, hybrid kids who can play three through five. I love the Sam Breen [types],” she says with a huge smile. (Williams-Jeter coached Breen, the reigning A10 Player of the Year, during their time at Penn State.)

When asked if she watched the Gamecocks take down her alma mater in the national championship game, she says yes – but that she spent all of halftime giving out offers. (And no, she did not watch the Bird and Taurasi Show, instead electing for the traditional ESPN telecast over the banter of her former teammates.)

The coaching and playing talent in the A10 is extraordinarily deep, which makes Dayton’s last decade all the more impressive. Knowing Williams-Jeter, she will continue to build on the connections she has emphasized over her entire career as she takes over the reigns for the storied program of her hometown. The team on the court and the coaches on the sideline will be different for the Flyers this coming year, but if there’s one thing that Williams-Jeter makes clear, she’s full of love and respect for her new home. After all, it was her old home once, too.

Special thanks to Dayton SID Ross Bagienski for facilitating this interview, and for Tamika Williams-Jeter for taking the time out of her busy schedule.