Charlotte, NC – To honor and celebrate Black History Month, each Friday during the month of February, the NJCAA will highlight four former African American student-athletes who seized their NJCAA opportunity, using it to build towards a revolutionizing career in athletics. This week, the association highlights Bernadette Mattox (formerly Bernadette Locke), a former standout student-athlete at Roane State who paved the way for female basketball coaches when she was hired as an assistant coach for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program in 1990, becoming the first woman in NCAA history to serve as a Division I assistant coach for a men’s team.
A Philadelphia, TN, native, Mattox attended Loudon High School where she played 3-on-3 half-court basketball. Upon graduating in 1977, she began her basketball college career at Roane State (TN) under NJCAA Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach Andy Landers. The two developed a special relationship during Mattox’s time with the Raiders.
The Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Famer attributes many of her accomplishments to the time she spent at Roane State and the relationships she made. “I could not have done what I did at Roane State without them,” Mattox said at the 2012 Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Hall of Fame induction. “They were there for me as a student-athlete. They were there for me as a student. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate their support, their friendship, their love, togetherness. I love them. It was through them that I was able to achieve what I did at Roane State.”
Pioneers of the game, Mattox followed Landers to the University of Georgia to continue her academic and athletic career in 1979. The women’s basketball program surged as a competitive basketball force with Landers at the helm. A true trailblazer, Mattox made her mark with the Lady Bulldogs, becoming the program’s first female student-athlete to earn All-American and Academic All-American honors.
The “first lady of Georgia basketball” moved from the court to the sideline as a graduate assistant and academic counselor before becoming a full-time assistant coach for the women’s program in 1985. Mattox had a hand in Georgia’s success both as a player and a coach, helping Georgia reach the 1985 NCAA Championship game and secure bids in the first 10 NCAA Tournaments. She also established herself as a top recruiter by bringing in sought-after talent to Georgia, including Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards.
In 1990, Mattox was hired by Rick Pitino to serve as an assistant coach for the Kentucky men’s basketball team and became a key component to rebuilding a program that was on NCAA probation for a recruiting scandal. Mattox was not cut any slack, as she performed all duties as any other assistant coach would, rising to all occasions. Her full involvement and leadership helped Pitino quickly restore the reputation and operations of the program.
Kentucky, banned from postseason play and limited scholarship funds for three years, made it to the Final Four in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Four years after being hired, Mattox transitioned into an administrative role as the Assistant Athletic Director for Kentucky Athletics. She remained in the position for a year before returning to the sideline as the women’s basketball head coach.
No stranger to “firsts,” Mattox became the first African American named as head coach of Kentucky women’s basketball as well as the first African American to coach women’s basketball in the NCAA Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Mattox coached the Wildcats for eight seasons, leading them to the program’s first 20-plus win season and first NCAA tournament appearance in 1998-99. The Wildcats won their first tournament game in 17 years and had seven SEC wins, the most conference wins in school history at the time.
After a historic and triumphant campaign, Mattox left Kentucky in 2003 and joined the WNBA Connecticut Sun as an assistant coach for 10 seasons. A true trailblazer, Mattox continues to inspire others while leading the way and creating opportunities for female coaches and student-athletes today.
To view the full series, visit: NJCAA celebrates Black History Month: A Four-Week Series