Bonzi Wells was told that the hiring of a basketball coach at LeMoyne-Owen College would happen quickly. And it did. A day after reports surfaced that he was in talks for the job he was introduced as the school’s newest coach at a Friday press conference.
“We had a lot of great candidates. During our interview process, Bonzi separated himself quite well. His vision lined up exactly with what our president was looking for. He’s a role model, his career is something they can look at and aspire to be,” said recently appointed LOC Athletic Director and former basketball head coach William Anderson.
Wells, real name: Gawen DeAngelo “Bonzi” Wells, admits however that he wasn’t the first choice for the job. He told reporters after Friday’s press conference that his former teammate and current podcast partner Rasheed Wallace was supposed to take the job. Wells was going to be his assistant at LOC.
“That was the original plan. When the opportunity came up, Rasheed was going to take the job and I was going to be his assistant,” Wells told the Commerical Appeal of Memphis. “Penny comes in, you know Penny stealing people, you know how he does.”
The comment was a playful jab at Penny Hardaway, the former NBA star who is now the head coach at the University of Memphis. Hardaway hired Wallace last week as an assistant coach which opened the door for Wells to be the head coach at LeMoyne-Owen. A whirlwind of events that he alluded to at Friday’s presser.
NBA connection in Memphis
“It’s going to be a tough job, learning a lot of stuff on the fly, everything is happening fast for me. Every since I have been around here I can see this is a family atmosphere and everyone has treated me like family. I’m ready to get to work and I hope these fellas are ready to show out for the city,” said Wells.
The initial conversations with Wells joining the staff at LOC, in whatever capacity, began a few months ago. Wells was involved with bringing an Allen Iverson Classic showcase to Memphis and his agent got him connected with the school. From there he, Anderson, and Wallace continued talking until Plan A suddenly became Plan B.
Wells, who has never been a head coach before, insists he will lean on Hardaway and Wallace to begin his career.
“We’re all going to work together, and you know this is my first time doing something like this so I was a little nervous, but they were like, ‘Man, we got you. You know, we’re family, we’re not going to let you fail,'” Wells told the newspaper.
While he’s new at being a head coach, he’s not new at being famous. Especially in Memphis. Wells was traded to the Grizzlies in 2003 from Portland, a moment in time that rejuvenated his playing career.
“When I came here in 03 I was coming from a tough situation in Portland. My name probably wasn’t the best, everyone thought I was this crazy person. When I got to Memphis no one cared about that. They judged me from the day one that I got here, and every day after that. I really appreciated that because they allowed me to be me,” he said.
Wells plans on leveraging that notoriety in the city and beyond to benefit LOC. He sees it as part of the cultural shift of attention back towards HBCUs.
“If you look at the trend around the country that’s what it’s all about. The way that the world is changing its HBCU’s time. We’ve promoted these other colleges that are not HBCUs long enough. Now it’s time to get the revenue and all this other stuff directed to the HBCUs. We need to get all of the media attention. I’ll use any type of celebrity I have to get attention to the HBCUs,” Wells said.
Pros get opportunities in SIAC
Bonzi Wells is not the SIAC’s first venture into hiring former professional players as head coaches. Darrell Walker won a SIAC Championship at Clark-Atlanta University in his two seasons there. He played for the Knicks, Bullets, Nuggets, Pistons, and Bulls as well as coaching in the NBA and WNBA. He was followed by George Lynch, who also enjoyed a long career in the NBA. CAU also once employed former WNBA player Yolanda Moore as its women’s head coach. Cathy Parson, a former coach for the Washington Mystics, is currently the head women’s basketball coach at Central State University.
Bonzi Wells will ironically open up his collegiate coaching career against Hardaway and Wallace. LOC will take on the University of Memphis on October 24.
The move by Wallace also opened up the door for another HBCU alum to become a head coach. Patrick Cole, the former MEAC player of the year from North Carolina Central is set to take over as head coach at North Carolina Good Better Best Academy’s basketball program. It’s the program Wallace left to join Hardaway at Memphis.