Brittney Ezell speaks with players during a recent game. Photo contributed by ETSU.
JOHNSON CITY — Webster’s Dictionary defines coach simply: to instruct and train.
East Tennessee State women’s basketball coach Brittney Ezell feels that the instruction and training should come both on and off the court for her players.
“We’re cheapening their college experience if it’s only about basketball and what they read in a book,” said Ezell, who is in her first season at the helm of the Lady Bucs. “College should be about what you learn about yourself and about the world around you. Life is about people and communicating with them.”
To that end, Ezell has instituted an off-court program for her players that will ensure success in their lives after basketball.
“Less than one percent of women go on to play professional basketball,” added Ezell. “We have to give them all the tools to be successful. Later in life they will have to compete for jobs, a house, promotions, even a husband.
“Our job is to teach them everything that goes into competing, both on the court and off.”
Coming from a family where her mother is an educator and her father the president of a Fortune 500 company, Ezell got her life lessons early.
“I tell my players that my parents lived their life and let me watch them do it. That was the best education I could possibly have had.
“Every day I just try to reflect my mother and father in the things that I do.”
Ezell, who played her high school basketball in Franklin, Tenn., and in college at Alabama, understands full well what her players face.
“These are girls in women’s bodies. We’ve got to take the best things their mothers and fathers gave them and give it back to them better and stronger.”
Ezell has set up an off-court regimen for her players to make sure they get every opportunity to improve their life skills.
“We have a full etiquette training program, social media training and interview skills,” said Ezell. “We also teach them how to shake hands, how to look people in the eyes when you are speaking to them, the proper ways to dress and speak in public and the things to do and not do in social settings.”
There are also classes with financial advisers on the proper use of things like credit cards and how to set up a mortgage when you buy a house.
“All of these things are part of growing up,” Ezell said. “My parents made sure that I had all of these skills and they have served me well both as a player and a coach.”
Coaching wasn’t always the goal for Ezell.
“Actually, my parents did everything to discourage me from getting into education or coaching,” joked Ezell. “My degree was in business and my plan was to become an attorn e y. ”
But a call from her former coach Rick Moody at Alabama got the coaching wheels turning.
“I had coached AAU ball when I was still a player so I knew I had the skills to be a coach. Once I got into it at the collegiate level I loved it.”
After five years as an assistant at Alabama, Ezell began her coaching career at the junior college level, moved on to Montevallo and then took over at Belmont in Nashville.
At all her stops, the message has been the same. “I started my off-court program when I first coached at Okaloosa-Walton Junior College,” said Ezell. “Two of the girls from my teams there have gone on to medical school. That’s something that makes me very proud.”
Ezell sees taking over the ETSU women’s program has another great opportunity.
“I think East Tennessee State is a great school. It’s a hidden gem. All we need to do is polish it up and show it off to the rest of the world.”
While pushing her team hard to be successful on the court, Ezell continues to stress the importance of learning life’s lessons.
“I told my players when I took the job that when I die they won’t put my coaching record on my tombstone.
“When I stand in front of the Lord he’ll ask me what impact did I make in the world?
“I know that the things we’re doing for these girls will impact their lives in a positive way and that’s what’s really important.”