She's a girl, 19 years old and white. She coaches a basketball team in the Alexandria Recreation League. Her players are boys, 18 and under, all black. At the team's first practice, Joe Powell, a player, asked a buddy, "The coach, what time do he be here?" and the buddy said, "Our coach ain't no man, man, she's a lady."
The coach is Tiza Drew. She's a sophomore at George Mason University, majoring in social work. A volunteer counselor for teen-agers two nights a week, she also coaches the Charles Barrett Recreation Center basketball team twice a week. If the counseling work is made easier by a bright mind, her coaching benefits from her height. She's 6-foot-1 and crashes the boards.
"I had to show them I know as much as basketball as they do," she said.
So the tall girl with blond hair streaming down her back scrimmaged against her team of black guys who learned the game on the street
"She is good," said Powell, 18, a junior at T.C. Williams High School. "She's got a jumper from about 15 feet that's really good man. And drive! She drives down the side of the lane."
At Thomas Jefferson High School, Drew started at center for two years, earning a scholarship to play basketball at Florida State University. After her freshman year at FSU, where she started part-time, Drew transferred to George Mason and hopes to play there next season. But she didn't want to miss a year of basketball, so she volunteered to coach the recreation league team.
On a scale of 1 to 10, recreation league basketball often is a 1 1/2. The players, while willing, are out of shape, play no defense, and pass the ball about once a month. Everyone is a gunner in recball. To bring order of of the chaos of such a game, a coach ought to be named Wooden or Rupp.
Tiza Drew has tried. In the team's scrimmages, the losing side has to run laps. She runs laps, too, if she's a loser. "They like that," she said. Once, upset with her guys' reluctance to break a sweat, Drew ordered them to do fingertip pushups. "Now they call me 'Army Sergeant,' because they only do fingertip pushups in the army," she said, smiling ever so sweetly."
Like Lefty Friesell, Drew asks her charges, without noticeable success, to play defense. "If I could just get them to play both ends of the court," she said with a small moan. "All they want to do is shoot. You'll see air balls from everywhere. Those outrageous shots from 30 feet. Wild moves. Outrageous blocked shots. They like to play street ball."
This was Thursday night at George Washington Secondary School in Alexandria. On a budget of $1.3 million, the Alexandria City Recreation Department provides programs for everyone from toddlers to senior citizens, everything from basketball to karate to pony rides and cotton candy, knitting and backpacking. The recreation department has 56 full-time employes, six neighborhood centers and six swimming pools. Tiza Drew is only one of hundreds of volunteer workers who believe the recreation program is a good way to help people who need help.
Dennis Watkins, one of Drew's players, sat next to the coach, a half hour before their team would take its 1-3 record against Cora Kelley Recreation Center.
"What's the strategy tonight, coach?" said Watkins, 18, a soldier who also plays ball at Fort Belvoir.
"Defense," Drew said.
Lewis Zellars, another player, said, "Defense?" His tone suggested that the word offended his olfactory nerves.
"Play both sides of the court, Lewis," Drew said.
At game time, 24 people sat in the stands to watch. No cheerleaders, no bands, no fancy uniforms. These are boys either from or fresh out of T.C. Williams High, the only senior high school in Alexandria. Of 819 boys at that school, maybe 15 can play varsity basketball. What happens to the others? If they're lucky, then play ball in the recreation league. The league has 56 teams for 670 girls and boys from age seven to 18. The players pay $1 a year, the money going for trophies.
Booker Wilson, 18, who works for the telephone company, is a 5-foot-3 guard for Drew's team. He's played in the Alexandria league for eight years - "Ever since I was really short," he said. "I like the program."
"Keeps you from stealing," he said. What does he think of his coach?
"She's nice, to be a lady."
Joe Powell, another guard, said the team first thought it wouldn't win a game with a lady coach. "But then we crushed Cora Kelley (in the season opener). If this is her first time coaching, she's doing a helluva job."
Against Cora Kelley two nights ago, Drew's team was behind, 38-36, in the fourth quarter. Her center, Watkins, was charged with a technical foul. Immediately, Drew sent in a substitue and Watkins came off the floor, still angry.
Drew slapped her hand against the bench. That was an order to the soldier: Sit here, I want to talk to you.
Watkins sat there and listened.
Later, he returned to the game. By then, however, Drew had Lewis Zellars on the bench. A good shooter and rebounder, Zellers played no defense. This coach knows what she is doing.
Still two points behind, 46-44, with 39 seconds left, she called a timeout. Early in the game, players wandered about during timeouts. Not now. They listened to the tall blond who told one guy, Vernon Payne, to jump up and down in front of the Cora Kelley man trying to throw the inbounds pass. Lefty Driesell would have said the same thing.
It worked. Payne so distracted the passer that Beanie Terry interdepted the throw in. Add, with 20 seonds to go, Drew put the sullen Zellars back in for his offense. Enthusiastic now, he worked hard for a good shot. He missed. Somebody then misses a rebound shot, and Drew's team finally lost, 47-45, but not because the coach and her guys hadn't tried.