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Bernadette Mattox is the trifecta of trailblazing

114 days ago
SEC Staff
Photo: SEC Staff

Bernadette Mattox knows about firsts. She was Georgia's first female athlete to earn All-American and Academic All-American honors. She made NCAA history when she became the first female to serve as a Division I assistant for a men's team. In 1995, she became the first African American to coach Kentucky women's basketball. She also became the first African American to coach women's basketball in the Southeastern Conference.

A native of Philadelphia, Tenn., Mattox began her college basketball career at Roane State Community College, graduated in 1979 and then followed her coach, Andy Landers, to the University of Georgia. Following her career as a college player, Mattox joined the Lady Dogs staff as a graduate assistant and an academic counselor before then becoming a full-fledged assistant coach in 1985.

She spent five years in Athens making an indelible mark on the program. In fact, UGA women's basketball annually gives out the Bernadette Locke Award, which is "awarded to the player exemplifying integrity through her actions."

In 1990, she made the move to Lexington, beginning a four-year stint with the men's basketball team as an assistant coach. Mattox then spent a year as an assistant athletic director at Kentucky before taking over as head coach of the women's team.

Mattox spent eight seasons at the helm of the Wildcats women's basketball program. Her most notable season came in 1998-99, when she led the Cats to their first 20-plus win season and first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in nearly a decade. The Cats won their first NCAA Tournament game in 17 years, finished with a 21-11 overall record and captured seven wins in the SEC, the most conference wins in school history at the time.

After leaving UK in 2003, Mattox served 10 seasons as an assistant coach for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun.

Without a doubt, Mattox opened many doors for those that came after her in the SEC. Dawn Staley, Joni Taylor, Nikki Fargas, Terri Williams-Flournoy, Yolette McPhee-McCuin, and Nikki McCray-Penson are part of the legacy that she began.

Dawn Staley said it best, "In the SEC, Bernadette Mattox is the trifecta of trailblazing. First, at Georgia she was the first female student-athlete to earn All-America and Academic All-America honors. Second, at Kentucky she was the first female assistant in NCAA men's basketball. And, third, in 1995 she made history again when Kentucky hired her as the first African American women's basketball head coach in the SEC. However, her impact goes beyond the SEC as we now have women of color in head coach positions at multiple Power 5 institutions. We all owe a great deal of gratitude to Bern because she was in the trenches long before many of us knew we wanted to coach."