My story begins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1953 as the only child of two revered and respected educators. I grew up in the shadows of the hallowed Historically Black College and University (HBCU) halls of Winston-Salem State Teachers College, then known as “T. C.,” now Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), and in the shadow of the late, legendary WSSU head basketball coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines.
I entered high school in 1969 at the beginning of integration in the Deep South embarking on a somewhat storied career playing basketball with a bunch of my lifelong friends at Parkland High School. It culminated with my matriculation through the academically prestigious Catawba College on a basketball scholarship, which proved to be an adventurous four-year journey including a Carolinas Conference championship in 1973.
After graduation, I was determined to pursue a career in law at Howard University; instead I was waylaid by a wonderful woman, my late wife Cecelia, and the siren call of basketball destined to become the only assistant coach with the Bison in the fledgling Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
Five years later at Howard, in 1981, we made history by winning the school’s second MEAC Tournament title and being the first HBCU to receive an automatic berth to the NCAA Division I Tournament.
Eleven years and a crushing seven straight losses later in the MEAC Tournament finals to the North Carolina A&T Aggies, I took the red pill and found coaching Nirvana as the head coach at South Carolina State University (SCSU). My 16-year career at SCSU put the Bulldogs and Cy Alexander on the basketball map. We won the school’s first-ever MEAC Tournament title and subsequently the NCAA Tournament berth in the 1988-89 season. We went on to win four more Tournament titles and coveted berths in the Big Dance. We also became perennial contenders for conference honors by finishing first or second in the MEAC standings over a ten-year period (1992–2003). It was also during this time I began a partnership with Nike that developed into an extraordinary 20-year relationship.
The success at SCSU led to an opportunity for me to become the head coach at Tennessee State University (TSU), the only Division I HBCU in the nation in a non-HBCU league – the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC). The new and different environment at TSU presented new challenges and opportunities, both on and off the court. There I posted my 300th career win and we made it to the OVC Tournament finals in 2008, but the combination of those same on-and-off court factors conspired to derail my stay after only five years.
Two years later, I was presented with a golden opportunity to return to my home state as the new head coach at North Carolina A&T State University. In our inaugural season, we posted the first winning record at the school in 15 years and shockingly won the MEAC Tournament title, makimg me the only coach in league history to win championships at two conference schools and take two different MEAC teams to the NCAA Tournament. We went on to post the school’s first NCAA Tournament win in ten tries.
A year later, I was shook by the deaths of two beloved ladies, my mother and my wife, within a four-month span. Two years later, I stepped away from the sidelines to pursue other interests.
I have been extremely fortunate to pursue the great majority of my coaching career on four HBCU campuses, toiling in the shadows of big-time Division I hoops. I came along at the tail end of UCLA and John Wooden’s domination and during the era when North Carolina’s Dean Smith, Indiana’s Bobby Knight and Louisville’s Denny Crum made their mark on the national scene.