Famed University of North Carolina and NBA basketball star George Lynch is making a difference. The man who counts a high school championship (Patrick Henry (Roanoke, VA – 1989), college championship (UNC Tarheels – 1993) and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers among his many accomplishments has now added head basketball coach to the list. Lynch who still holds the record for most steals at the storied UNC Tarheels basketball program, has gone from stealing basketballs to stealing hearts and minds as head coach of the Clark Atlanta University Panthers. In his quest to build a world class basketball program at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Lynch has picked up where former CAU head coach, Arkansas basketball Hall of Famer and NBA world champion Darrell Walker, laid a foundation.
Lynch has been working on building a strong program through hard work, close relationships with his players and being adamant about the student part of the student-athlete title. “The players are here to get an education first and then comes basketball. That is what Coach Smith taught me and that’s what I teach them,” says Lynch, who blossomed under the guidance of legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith. “I didn’t have one issue with my CAU basketball players not going to class this year. I’d run into professors on campus who would say great things about the players as students and that’s how it should be,” says Lynch, who instills discipline in his players which they apply to their life and the basketball court.
“We finished third in the conference this year, which is not bad,” the first-time collegiate head coach states. “Coach Walker left me three great Seniors who were self-motivated, very respectful and solid students so that helped a lot.” Lynch, who previously served as an assistant coach at Southern Methodist University, strength and conditioning coach at University of California Irvine and an Assistant Coach for the Detroit Pistons, took the job for just that reason – to build a great program and ensure that players were getting what they need on and off the court.
When considering the move to be a head coach at CAU, many Division I coaches cautioned Lynch about going to an HBCU because they said he’d spend more time fundraising than coaching. Lynch has managed to do both, pouring all of his time and energy into the program, especially the players. “The way I see it is any kid that I had an opportunity to share my experiences with would benefit from having me as a coach. I understand where the students are coming from. Many of the players grew up in poverty and without father figures. Although I had my dad in my life, my parents were divorced, so I understand a lot of those experiences,” says Lynch who spent time guest lecturing in Valerie Harris’ Public Relations class the day of our interview.
Lynch understands that he has been in a privileged position in all aspects of his career including playing pro basketball for the Grizzlies, 76ers and Charlotte Hornets. The man who told students during his guest lecture to “fight for what you want out of life and this institution,” is hell bent on giving back what was given to him by Dean Smith and other NBA coaches over the course of his professional career. “Coach Smith and Brown (Larry) didn’t care what school you came from. They treated you the same and wanted to coach kids who love the sport. I feel the same way,” says Lynch who feels good about his decision.
Even though Lynch is happy about his decision, doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges coaching at this Division II program. “The number one challenge we have as a program is fundraising and resources,” offers Lynch, who only gets seven scholarships for students whereas most other programs get a minimum of ten. “We also need to change the culture here and make it one where alumni and former players want to come back and be a part of the team,” Coach Lynch. “That’s why my foundation is having a fundraiser – to help close the gap in funding here and to create an environment that will bring the community together around basketball.”
Although quiet in demeanor, Coach Lynch is ambitious in his planning, thinking and motivating. When asked what he wants his legacy to be at CAU, he ponders for a moment. “I want to make sure we take funding and resources out the equation so we can concentrate on continuing to create great student athletes who are disciplined, role models for their fellow students and athletes, exhibit high ethical standards and give their all on and off the basketball court,” says the philanthropist. “I want my legacy to be he built a great basketball program with players who excelled on and off the court.”
For more information about Coach Lynch’s Arts for Athletes fundraiser, click here.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning news blog The Burton Wire. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire for more news about the African Diaspora.