Smith, Mayweather shaping lives on the court
GC’s student body is 84 percent white, and its faculty is 74 percent white. However, the women’s basketball program stands out for its diversity in leadership.
Coaches Maurice Smith and Jeremy Mayweather are the only black coaches in the GC athletic department. They have led the women’s basketball team to a 17–10 record this season.
“My experiences playing basketball and forming bonds with a diverse group of people allows me to see people, not race,” Smith said. “The background I have and the diversity that the GC athletics program embodies fuels me to feel free and empowered to coach and not see color.”
The players also help the coaches in their unique roles at GC. They don’t look at the coaches by their race, but as leaders. Although Mayweather said he feels like he is in a great position, he said that there are times on commutes where he notices people giving the coaches odd looks.
“There [are] times on the road where we stop to eat and people look at the girls and then look at us crazy,” Smith said. “You notice those things, but I love coaching this group, and they don’t make me think about it.”
Although GC is a predominately white institution, Smith and Mayweather enjoy the diverse group of the athletics program. Smith said he believes GC athletics is a very inclusive group that features a lot of diversity though the student body may not.
“I think that’s what makes me so proud as a black male, being able to promote such a diverse group,” Smith said. “I think we need to take examples of what we are doing at GC athletics and spread it.”
Both Smith and Mayweather said that diversity has increased since their college years at GC.
Smith began playing basketball at a young age, crediting his background for his interest in sports. His father played at Florida A&M University, where he was a dual-sport athlete in baseball and football.
At GC, Smith achieved an All-Peach Belt Conference second team selection and was a member of the team that advanced to the Elite Eight in the 1999-2000 season. He played under coach Terry Sellers, who was a main reason for Smith becoming a coach himself later in life.
“[Sellers] always said that whenever I wanted to coach, he always had a spot for me on his staff,” Smith said. “That was always in the back of my mind, and when I was 24, I made the decision that I wanted to coach.”
Though, Smith didn’t have early intentions to become a coach, he developed his love for working with kids at a youth detention center in Milledgeville.
Both Smith and Mayweather love helping others, specifically younger people, and this is what led to them becoming coaches.
“It’s two main things: loving to help the kids and loving the game of basketball,” Mayweather said.
Mayweather also began playing basketball when he was young, explaining that his interest in basketball came from his uncle, who played collegiate basketball and then professionally overseas.
As a student-athlete at GC, Mayweather was named Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year during the 2005-2006 season.
When Mayweather decided to stop pursuing his own basketball career, he was faced with the decision of what to do next. He took his first job at a high school where he developed a passion for working with special needs kids.
Eventually, he ended up at Armstrong State College as a men’s basketball coach until the women’s assistant coaching job opened up at GC with Smith.
“There are some great people in and around this campus that have a loving spirit and genuinely care about you, and you’re not going to find that everywhere,” Mayweather said.
The basketball players have a large part in making Smith and Mayweather feel empowered in their roles as the only two African-American coaches at GC.
“They care about us a lot, and that’s something hard to find in a coaching staff,” said senior Alyah McGriff. “They truly care about the players’ well-being and success even after basketball.”
Both coaches continue to give back to the program.
“There’s nothing that makes me happier as a coach than seeing the athletes character grow and accomplish what they work so hard for,” Smith said.