New UMaine coach not motivated by trailblazing status: ‘I just want to coach basketball’
BY ERNIE CLARK, BANGOR DAILY NEWS
ORONO, Maine — At 5 feet, 4 inches tall, Edniesha Curry’s skill set as a professional basketball player required a heavy dose of relentlessness as she battled point guards much taller during a four-year stay in the WNBA.
It’s the same quality that has given the 38-year-old Los Angeles native the needed degree of perseverance in her second career, leading to Curry’s recent hiring as an assistant coach for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
Curry, fellow assistants Kevin Reed and Igor Vrzina and director of basketball operations Jason Coleman all were introduced as members of new head coach Richard Barron’s staff during a news conference Monday afternoon at the Alfond Family Lounge on the UMaine campus.
“I just want to coach basketball,” said Curry, who previously served as an assistant under Barron with the UMaine women’s basketball program from July 2015 to May 2017. “It doesn’t matter for me if it’s men or women, it’s basketball to me and if I was given an opportunity to coach men, I’m going to coach it the same way.”
Yet Curry’s new status is particularly noteworthy given that she is the only woman currently coaching full-time on an NCAA Division I men’s basketball staff.
There are relatively few trailblazers for Curry to follow on her current career path, which has as its ultimate goal “to sit on an NBA bench.”
Perhaps the most notable woman to to serve as an NCAA Division I assistant men’s basketball coach was Bernadette Mattox, who was part of Rick Pitino’s staff at the University of Kentucky from 1990 to 1994 before becoming that school’s head women’s basketball coach.
Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs and Jenny Boucek of the Sacramento Kings are the only women presently sitting on National Basketball Association benches as assistant coaches.
“As a woman you look back at the history of the women who have done it before and there’s a respect,” said Curry. “I don’t have any one-on-one relationships with them but I do know what they’ve done and what they’ve paved the way for in their respective careers.”
How those predecessors perhaps helped Curry most directly was by creating an environment through which she was able to gain recent experience coaching men’s basketball through the NBA Assistant Coaches Program, which included player development and scouting responsibilities while she worked at the NBA Draft Combine and the NBA G League Showcase.
“For me it’s not knowing the guys or knowing the women, it’s learning the game,” said Curry, who had left her previous UMaine coaching post to deal with a family illness. “I learned the NBA game. I learned the strategic ways. I learned how they build scouting reports. I sat in on draft boards. I was learning how to coach in the NBA.
“It was a great experience. I got a ton of respect from former NBA coaches and the NBA guys I worked with. It was part of my journey, and now I’m excited to start this part of my journey with coach Barron, a coach that I really respect for his basketball mind.”
Barron sees Curry as a major contributor as he and his new staff seek to return the Black Bears to a more competitive level within the America East conference after the Black Bears went 6-26 last winter.
“This is something she does, it’s in her soul,” said Barron, who was hired to the men’s head coaching post on March 5. “She spent the last year working with the NBA development program and her experience actually is probably as great as any of the five of us in terms of coaching men.
“She’s just a very talented coach, a very gifted strategic coach, very gifted in terms of her ability to break down film, and she has the added benefit that she knows how to deal with me and put up with my quirks and she knows our system and she knows our university.”
Curry first took up basketball at age 12 but her rapid development led to a scholarship opportunity at Cal-State Northridge, where she was named Big Sky Conference freshman of the year in 1998 and twice earned All-Big Sky Conference honors. She led the Matadors to their first NCAA Division I Tournament appearance as a sophomore in 1999.
Curry concluded her college basketball career at the University of Oregon where she helped the Ducks win the 2002 WNIT championship before starting her professional career as a third-round draft pick of the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting.
She went on to play in the WNBA for four years with stops with the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks while also gaining international playing experience in Greece, Israel, Hungary and Poland.
After retiring as a player in 2009, Curry returned to the international scene as a coach in Vietnam, China, Israel and Palestine before returning to the United States and first coming to the University of Maine in 2015.
“(Coaching) kind of just came to me,” said Curry. “It’s something I fought. My first college coach, Michael Abraham, he saw it in me maybe more than I saw it in myself. I was age 24 but I was still playing professionally and I was one of those players who said, ‘I’m not ever going to coach.’
“Then around 26 or 27 I started working with AAU teams and it was really easy for me and he would say, ‘You’re born to coach.’”
The coaching challenge Curry, Barron and the rest of the UMaine men’s basketball staff now faces is resurrecting a program located outside the Division I college basketball mainstream both geographically and, in recent years, competitively — the Black Bears have averaged just six victories per season over the last four winters and have not won a conference postseason game since March 5, 2005.
“It’s Maine, and you’ve got to be Maine tough,” she said. “But what we do have here, which is why I came back, is ‘family.’ Even after I left I still kept the relationships I had with almost everybody here, and that’s important.
“Everything takes work,” she added. “You don’t build Rome in a day and there are going to be challenges, but I think we’re going to meet those challenges. This is a very unique staff, we all have very good skill sets and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”