DENVER — Laughs, applause, and the omnipresent sound of sneakers squeaking filled the sound of Hamilton Gym at the University of Denver one blistering hot June day. Doshia Woods was entering her first full off-season program with the Pioneers as the head coach of the women's basketball team, as she led a group of roughly six players in a voluntary workout -- all but one new to the program.
"The last couple of years, I've really just embraced that I'm just a positive person. If I can spin it into a positive, I will. Trust me. Even if it's an air ball, I'll find a way to spin it!"
She laughed as she thought back to the final drill. It took the team a few tries to finish with three "makes" in a row. But that's okay. The real practices haven't even begun. What matters in June is the bonding that happens on the court with the new players -- and the ability to connect with them as a new coach.
"I like the collaboration with our players and I'm always asking for their feedback and they know that it might get used and it might not, but I like to always put them in a place where their voices are heard," she said.
Woods enters her sophomore season in a unique place: representing a small minority of head coaches in NCAA Division I. According to the NCAA Demographic Database from 2019, in women’s basketball, 43 percent of student athletes are Black but only 17 percent of head coaches are Black, a 26 percentage point gap.
"We all talk in our different circles about how there's not a lot of us and there's not a lot of opportunities and we want to be successful for the ones behind us. It's one that I take great pride in and it's also one that I know I've worked for and prepared for."
Woods knows that she steps onto the court in Hamilton Gym, not as a token hire, but as a seasoned professional. She brings 19 years of Division I experience (all assistant coaching) to the job. It was something she knew was possible from the moment she watched University of Kansas legend and Hall of Famer Marian Washington coach in Lawrence.
"To grow up watching her on the sidelines, I always knew it was possible because of her. Watching Coach Washington, I never thought I couldn't do it."
Woods found her first head coaching home in Denver, ironically the first place she felt like home.
"This is really the first place where I feel like my full self is accepted," she said.
As a black, gay, female coach, she wears all of those identities proudly and openly.
"I can show up and be black one day with my hair out and no one says anything, and it doesn't need to be June for me to wear my pride shirt. Everyone says hi and we keep it moving," Woods said. "All of those intersections are very important to me and me getting this role, I've realized how important visibility is."
Poetry is her other biggest passion, allowing her visibility to shine even brighter to even larger platforms. While Woods said she writes nearly every day as a personal release, she said her friends recently encouraged her to publish a few meaningful ones to her social media feeds.
"This one was about Jason Collins," she said, reading from a phone. "I wrote that poem because when he came out, he was just standing there at the press conference by himself hoping that it was going to resonate with someone else, hoping that it was going to inspire someone else. I don't think it had in the NBA the type of effect that he wanted, but I think the acceptance has gotten much better. Him being able to stand there in that moment, that's how I was feeling."
But Woods is not alone, nor has she been for quite some time. Coach Lindsay Werntz, Doshia's wife, has been both her other half and her offensive half throughout their entire nine-year coaching stint at Tulane, as well as the initial year in Denver.
Doshia Woods walked onto the campus of the University of Denver unapologetically herself. Once calling herself "three strikes" (as in three strikes against you in the diversity column), she now has reclaimed the title: Triple Threat.
"I take responsibility in the sense that I don't want you to judge me based on every black female that you know or every gay person that you know. I want to be able to show up as myself and you judge me as Doshia. That's how I want to move and operate," she said. "So it's not a burden, it's a responsibility."
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