After exploring stints playing overseas, training for the Olympic Trials and developing coaching programs across the country, four Black coaches and administrators came full circle and ended back where many of them started — Emory University.
Since then, these coaches have gone on to take the Eagles to new heights, whether by creating new groups for Black student-athletes or leading the women’s basketball team to their first NCAA tournament since 2013.
Keiko Price, Assistant Vice President of Campus Life and Clyde Partin, Sr., Director of Athletics
When Keiko Price was eight years old, she stood at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, hunkered up in a wetsuit and a wetsuit vest. Her dad rubbed vaseline over her body to protect her from the cold, and she dipped into the water. But, she couldn’t withstand the icy water, so she resorted to trying again another day.
Price came back when she was 10, and this time, she was fine when she hit the water. Since then, swimming has always been a duality — something that gives her peace while also showcasing her competitive edge.
As a student-athlete at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1997 to 2001, she was a 22-time All-American, won the 1999 Pac-10 championship in the 100-meter freestyle and swam in the Olympic Trials three times. Since then, Price has developed coaching and athletics programs across the country, most recently joining Emory’s leadership in Dec. 2020.
Swimming competitively from a young age allowed her to travel all around the world — from California to Brazil. But, it also came with sacrifice. Price said her parents had to “pinch pennies” to afford the costs of competing at such a high level, recalling how her mom would volunteer at swimming competitions just so they could get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and split them for breakfast.
While she didn’t have a regular routine, Price said there were habits from her childhood — like eating eggs and rice for breakfast, a part of her Japanese culture, or drinking 96 ounces of water in a day — that she still maintains today.
Her plethora of achievements at a young age landed her a spot on UCLA’s swimming team. In 2000, she trained for the Olympic Trials, and although she made the semifinals, she didn’t get to Sydney for the Games.
“So then, when I graduated the following June, I had to really figure out what I was going to do,” Price said. “Because I had been so focused on my sport, I didn’t really have a plan B.”
She credits her former sociology professor Walter Allen for helping her figure out her next steps. After class one day, Allen scratched a note at the bottom of one of her papers to come talk to him about graduate school.
“Nobody had ever talked to me about graduate school,” Price said. “So, after that, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school, and I knew that I wanted to help athletes.”
From there, she went to the University of California, Berkeley for a master’s degree in education.
For her master’s thesis, Price focused on the unique challenges that Black athletes experienced at the time. She remembered a commonality was the pressure to make it to the professional leagues, go to the Olympics or become the next big thing because “you’re the only one, you gotta do it for the Black folks.”
“Because my experience was so unique and I was on a team of predominantly white teammates, finding community wasn’t easy,” Price said. “So, I ended up hanging out with all the other athletes, track athletes, basketball athletes.”
After graduate school, Price went on to work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) as the senior associate athletic director. As the chair of the diversity and inclusion committee at UIUC, she gained experience that would later help her in establishing a Black student-athlete group at Emory, alongside basketball senior forward Dubem Nnake and men’s track and field sophomore jumper and sprinter Geoff Point-du-Jour.
“They have done a phenomenal job of taking ownership of creating community and really coming up with programs and opportunities for Black student athletes to support each other,” Price said. “So, I think that’s really special to be able to do that here.”
Since assuming her role, Price has faced a host of challenges. First, she had to figure out how to bring athletes back into the fold safely without endangering their health during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s also worked on a series of other initiatives, such as creating avenues for student athletes to make money and create alignment within athletes as a Nike school.
But for Price, one of her favorite parts of the job is being present for student athletes during their practices.
“That’s where they thrive,” Price said. “My job is behind the scenes to make sure they’re able to compete at a high level, that everything is taken care of and in place.”
Brianna Jones, Emory volleyball head coach
Brianna Jones said she was wearing the “biggest kneepads you could ever possibly find” on an Emory court when she discovered her passion for volleyball.
After playing basketball most of her life, one day her dad encouraged her to try out volleyball — she hadn’t turned out as tall as they expected, so he thought it might suit her more. So, she went to an overnight camp at Emory in middle school and had a “life changing moment” where she realized volleyball was her calling. Down the road, she said, she’d later realize that it was Emory’s volleyball culture that made the sport so appealing.
Jones attributed former Emory volleyball head coach Jenny McDowell’s infectious energy along with the rest of the Emory staff that made the camp life-changing.
“It was such an environment of happiness and wholesomeness and people being great people,” Jones said.
Later on, she dropped basketball and volleyball became her main focus. From there, she started playing club volleyball and began to build a name for herself. A pivotal part of her early years in club volleyball was being surrounded by Black coaches and teammates, which Jones said she was really lucky to have.
“My formative, early years of learning the sport, to know that all my head coaches were Black … does make a huge, huge difference in the way that I see the game and in the way that I see myself represented in the sport,” Jones said.
Jones spent two years at Pfeiffer University (N.C.) before transferring to Georgia State University (GSU). Not only was GSU about ten times bigger in size, Jones had to make the transition from the Division I to the Division II level.
Although Jones said that the volleyball team at Pfeiffer was inclusive and welcoming, it was a bit of a culture shock after spending her life around so many Black coaches and teammates. The school wasn’t very diverse, and Jones found herself as one of the only two Black girls on the team. Beyond that, Jones also struggled with other challenges common for student-athletes, including the time commitment and the difficulty in separating one’s identities as both a student and an athlete.
“The hardest part truthfully is that your sport and everything is your identity,” Jones said. “As much as you try to make it not your identity, it really is who you are.”
But after transferring to GSU, she said she loved being able to be in a bigger academic environment, from the larger lecture halls to the endless array of people.
“I can just be me and do what I need to do in this moment, which I loved,” Jones said. “And then I love that there were so many pockets of different groups of people that I could interact with at all times.”
While being a student-athlete was a challenging experience, Jones said she loved the parts that most people didn’t.
“It took so much of my time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; I loved it so much,” Jones said. “I loved the early morning workouts, I loved the long bus rides, I loved the hard practices where you feel like you couldn’t walk after.”
Jones credits GSU head volleyball coach Sally Polhamus with leading her toward a coaching career. She was thinking of taking a year off to apply to graduate school when Polhamus forwarded her an email about a coach at Columbus State University (Ohio.) looking for an assistant.
She ended up being co-assistants with a friend from Pfeiffer. She remembered him telling her, “This is what you’re meant to do.”
She was still working the assistant coach job when one day, she got a call from McDowell. McDowell needed an assistant, and she wanted Jones for the job. In that full-circle moment, Jones ended up back at the court where she first discovered her calling for volleyball.
Jones said she’s most proud to be able to continue the legacy that McDowell has built for Emory volleyball.
“I only hope that I can do a fraction of what’s been done,” Jones said. “The women that have come from this program … knowing what they do now, they’re running things all over the country, they’re women to look up to. To know that Emory volleyball helped them become who they are, I’m really proud to be part of it.”
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Gebereal Baitey (19C), Emory men’s basketball assistant coach
There’s an old story that Gebereal Baitey likes to tell recruits when they ask what it’s like to play at Emory or be coached by men’s basketball head coach Jason Zimmerman. It all connects back to “rolling the dice.”
During his junior year, the men’s basketball team was rolling. They made it to the Sweet 16 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and the team was full of phenomenal players. One of the freshmen, Romin Williams (21C, 22B), was a new asset to the team who Baitey said just “put the ball in the basket just better than almost anyone [he’d] ever seen.”
During one game when the score was tight, Zimmerman put Williams on the court. No one was guarding Williams, but he was about 27 feet from the basket — seemingly too far to make a shot. But, Zimmerman shouted “shoot it,” and in moments, Williams clutched the shot, gave teammates a high-five and got back to the game.
“It was just an unbelievable moment because it went against everything that I learned about basketball up to that point,” Baitey said. “It was so much deeper than just the X’s and O’s of basketball.”
In that moment, Baitey realized that coaching was about getting a feel for the players and how they’re playing at that specific moment. In other words, coaching was about knowing when to “roll the dice” and trust your players, even if the analytics suggest otherwise.
It’s that same mentality Baitey applied years later, when he ended up coaching Williams for his senior year. However, Baitey wasn’t always sure he’d end up in coaching, or even in basketball.
Growing up, Baitey’s dad wanted him to play football, and he played on his small New Jersey highschool team. Despite getting heavily recruited by college football coaches, Baitey ultimately went with basketball, which his parents also supported.
Baitey didn’t know much about the recruiting process and called it “dumb luck” that he found his way to Emory. He was fielding offers from Morehouse College (Ga.), Rutgers University (N.J.), the College of William & Mary (Va.) and Emory. When his family and peers heard he was accepted at Emory, they assumed he would go because of its academic prestige.
But, what really sold Emory for Baitey was visiting the school and getting a chance to talk to Zimmerman, who Baitey said “cares more about Division III basketball than anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
“I really just got a better feel for how much he cared about it, how much he devoted, how much time he devoted to thinking about our team, thinking about our players,” Baitey said. “That’s the biggest piece: the individuals that make up the team.”
Within two weeks of his visit, he had committed to Emory.
After graduating from Emory in 2019, he played basketball overseas before his time was cut short by COVID-19. After spending some time teaching at his old high school, he called Zimmerman to find out more about breaking into coaching.
A month after the conversation, Zimmerman called up Baitey and asked if he would be interested in an opening for the assistant basketball coach position at Emory.
Baitey was struck with a difficult choice — he had initially thought he would go back overseas after COVID-19 to continue playing. But, he knew eventually he’d have to build some “more permanent roots,” and that he couldn’t pass up on a coaching opportunity at Emory.
“It’s been a dream to be back where I played, to have firsthand experience of what some of my guys are going through on the court, in the classroom and everywhere in between,” Baitey said. “It’s a very self-actualizing process.”
Misha Jackson (13C), Emory women’s basketball head coach
Misha Jackson grew up around sports — every family holiday, she was always immersed in sports
“Whether it was watching a football game, or basketball or talking who’s better than what team, it’s always just been a part of my life,” Jackson said. “I’ve played basketball since I was allowed to play.”
She began her collegiate career at Florida Southern University before transferring to Emory as a sophomore.
At Emory, she placed among the school’s top-10 all-time performers in 11 categories, including second in blocked shots and first in blocked shots average. She also secured the No. 10 spots on Emory’s all-time charts in total points and scoring average.
Although she faced challenges typical of a student-athlete, she said her teammates made the transition to Emory seamless. The times she spent with her teammates were some of the most memorable parts of her collegiate career, she said.
“Those are the moments that you don’t forget — I don’t remember scores or games,” Jackson said. “But, I remember something funny. I remember a snowball fight in Pittsburgh. Those are the things you remember for sure.”
After deciding to defer physical therapy school for a year, she stayed at Emory as a full-time volunteer coach.
“I knew in some capacity, I wanted to be around sports, whether it was on the court, off the court,” Jackson said. “I had to be around the game in some sort of form.”
That’s where she said she fell in love with coaching. She’d done some previous coaching jobs in the youth league as a college student, but this opportunity allowed her to further explore the profession.
“Sometimes when you go to top schools like Emory, coaching isn’t necessarily the number one occupation,” Jackson said. “You know, people are going to Wall Street and going to med school, and so there’s kind of that battle you fight, but this is what I love to do.”
Jackson considers herself “really lucky” to have ended up at Emory as her first coaching job. She was later appointed interim head coach in 2017 and became the head coach in 2018.
In her second year as head coach, she took the Eagles to the first NCAA Tournament since 2013 and finished the year by clinching second place in the University Athletic Association.
In guiding the team, Jackson said it’s important to go beyond the X’s and O’s and focus on building relationships with the team.
“Coaching can make people hate the game if you don’t have a great coach,” Jackson said. “That can really take somebody out of the sport and never want to do it again, never pick up a ball. And so, I was lucky enough I didn’t have coaches like that.”
Jackson hopes her impact will stay with her players long after graduation.
“I want to build leaders, I want to build women,” Jackson said. “I want to build champions, not just in basketball, on and off the court.”
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas, majoring in political science and English and creative writing. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Emory Wheel. Previously, her column "Brammhi's Ballot" won first place nationally with the Society of Professional Journalists. She has also interned with the Georgia Voice.