Commentary

Joyners show CIAA is all about family

Updated: February 27, 2007, 6:10 PM ET
By Donald Hunt | Special to ESPN.com

When you talk about basketball in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, it holds a special meaning to Steve Joyner Sr. and his son, Stephen Joyner Jr.

Joyner Sr., the men's basketball coach at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., grew up in Winston Salem, N.C., watching legendary Winston-Salem State University coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines and Hall of Famer Earl Monroe play CIAA basketball.

Joyner Sr. was an outstanding player for Atkins High School, where he was the second-leading scorer on the undefeated 1969 North Carolina State 4-A championship team, and a standout point guard at J.C. Smith from 1969-73.

After college, he became a coach and has been doing that for the past 34 seasons in the CIAA -- as assistant men's basketball coach at Virginia Union (1973-78); as assistant men's coach at J.C. Smith (1978-80); as head women's basketball coach at J.C. Smith (1980-87); and as head men's coach (1987-present). This is his 20th season at the helm with the Golden Bulls.

The Joyner family has achieved a great deal of success in the CIAA. Joyner's proudest moment was when he coached his son, Stephen Jr., who is now an assistant women's basketball coach with J.C. Smith. In 2001, the Golden Bulls captured the school's first CIAA tournament championship. J.C. Smith also won the South Atlantic Regional title, and advanced to the NCAA Division II Final Eight in Bakersfield, Calif. Winning the CIAA crown was special for father and son.

J.C. Smith University Steve Joyner (center) and Stephen Joyner Jr. understand the importance of family to their school, and to the CIAA.
"It was a very, very unique experience to work with your son on what I would call finalizing his educational and athletic experience," Joyner Sr. said. "I was just pleased to have that opportunity and Stephen did an outstanding job during his four-year career here.

"I think allowing the coaches and me as his father to work with him and bringing himself and his teammates to the level where they could win the CIAA championship, an NCAA South Atlantic Region championship and went on to the Elite Eight. This was a positive experience for him. He'll be able to draw from that season for the rest of his life. It was really special to me because it was my son."

The younger Joyner was a basketball standout at West Charlotte High School. He was one of the city's top point guards. When he wasn't playing for his school, he frequently visited the campus and watched the Golden Bulls play. Although Joyner didn't immediately think about playing for Johnson C. Smith, he eventually decided playing for his father would be the best move for him.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me," Joyner Jr. said. "I'm grateful for the things my dad has done for me. The experience definitely helped shape me from a boy into a man. Actually, Smith is pretty much where I spent half my life. I had a great time playing here. It was nice winning the CIAA tournament. That brought a lot of excitement to the school. We have one of the best tournaments in the country."

The 62nd annual CIAA tournament -- the nation's oldest black college tournament -- is this week in Charlotte. The women's teams started play Monday. The men's tournament begins Wednesday. Finals are Saturday. The tournament is more than just basketball. It's a week of reunion-type events -- a high school day, day parties, night parties, live music, a cheerleading exhibition, a slam-dunk competition, a CIAA coronation, battle of the bands, fashion show and celebrity appearances at events around Charlotte. (More event information can be found at www.ciaatournament.org.)

"It's exciting having the tournament here," Joyner Sr. said. "The CIAA has been a big part of my life as well as Johnson C. Smith. I played here and was the captain of the basketball team. We kind of turned around a program that was not doing very well. I was able to get into coaching with the help of my high school coach Bob Moore, who showed me what family is all about."

The CIAA was founded in 1912. The Division II conference headquarters is located in Hampton, Va. The league is made up of 10 other historically black colleges: Bowie State, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Livingstone College, North Carolina Central, Saint Augustine's College, St. Paul's College, Shaw University, Virginia State and Virginia Union.

The league has produced Hall of Famers Monroe, Earl Lloyd and Sam Jones, two-time NBA champion Bobby Dandridge, Rick Mahorn, Darrell Armstrong, Ronald "Flip" Murray, Ben Wallace and Charles Oakley. The CIAA also has given college basketball Hall of Fame coaches John McLendon, who died in 1999, and Gaines, who died in 2005.

J.C. Smith University Joyner Jr. (left), Joyner Sr. and Mark Sherrill coach at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.
"HBCUs were the only places we could go for a long time," Joyner Jr. said. "So, we had that family-type atmosphere. If it wasn't for black schools, we weren't going to school. We need to make sure we don't lose that aspect of remembering what made the CIAA so great.

"We have schools like Johnson C. Smith, North Carolina Central and Virginia Union giving us a chance to play basketball and get a good education. We got kids going to North Carolina and Duke now, but we can't forget what these schools have done for us."

Joyner Jr. is in his first season as a Golden Bulls assistant. He has been at UNC-Asheville, NC Central and Livingstone, where he worked with his uncle, Ed Joyner, who is now the head coach of St. Paul's College.

Joyner feels his father's longevity is a reflection of his commitment to J.C. Smith and the CIAA. Joyner Sr., with a 352-216 record, is one of the top veteran coaches in Division II.

"My dad and Dave Robbins have given a lot to their schools and the CIAA," Joyner Jr. said. "Dave Robbins has been at Virginia Union for [28] years. They really care about the schools, athletes, students and all the people involved with basketball."

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.