In 2020, Tamara Moore became the first Black woman head coach of a men’s college basketball team in the nation when the North Minneapolis native was hired by Mesabi Range (MN) Community College.
Junior college ball is seen by some as a hoops wasteland for players who didn’t make it to higher levels. The players, however, aren’t slop because there’s good ball played here as well.
Moore, a former Minneapolis North, Wisconsin and WNBA star, led her current club to an NJCAA Region 13 runner-up finish, losing to champion Rochester at Anoka Ramsey CC on Feb. 26. It was the first time her players experienced March Madness, or in this case, March sadness.
“You want to be champs,” she pointed out, as we sat on the bench after she and her players received their individual second-place medals and the runner-up trophy. The Norsemen went farther than they expected, farther in fact than they had since the 1950s. Nonetheless, the disappointment of not winning the bigger trophy and the right to go to nationals lingers with her and her players minutes after the buzzer sounds.
Even when asked to briefly reflect on the historic season, Moore tried to set aside her own disappointment. “Mesabi is in great hands, and with what we have coming back,” the coach said, “I’m just only going to get better.”
Moore is among four Black head coaches in Minnesota men’s and women’s college basketball. The novelty of her hiring, though groundbreaking, in all reality doesn’t make a bit of difference when it comes to coaching players. They want to know if you know what you are doing.
“I always knew I was gonna be a coach,” recalled Moore. “There are so many people that opened the door for me to be able to just hone my skills as a player.” It’s those player skills that Moore easily applies to her coaching.
“I was a defensive specialist,” she added. “I’m a very passionate coach because I was a passionate player. I have a high IQ, and my players are able to understand what I want them to do.”
That passion shows on the sidelines—Moore fights for every inch for her players during the game. Moore admits that it is hard at times to be taken seriously by officials simply because she is a woman.
“As a woman,” she bemoaned, “I have to battle against [officials] every game.”
Last summer, Moore spent time with the NBA’s Boston Celtics summer league team. “I definitely think I am a better coach from two years ago to now,” she said proudly. “I got a chance to coach with the Boston Celtics. Just learning the NBA philosophies and the things that they do, I was able to learn something that I was able to implement here once I got back.”
Making history is nothing new for Moore. She was the first and only Northsider to ever don a Minnesota Lynx uniform when she was traded from Miami in 2002. She is also the first and only North player ever drafted into the pros, as a 2002 first-round pick in the WNBA. Moore was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017.
But she wants to do more.
“We had a lot of goals this year,” noted the coach. “We wanted to get more wins—we did that by three. We wanted to be above .500.
“Obviously women can coach college men,” concluded Moore. “My biggest goal is…I would love to make it to the NBA. I don’t care what level that is. That’s my journey.”