The Langston Lions’ men’s basketball team, home to the only HBCU in the state of Oklahoma, has been the most interesting story in all of HBCU basketball this season.
After finishing last season with a 1-27 record, the Lions have made a complete turnaround this year, currently holding a perfect 13-0 record, including a 7-0 record against the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC).
Langston is one of three undefeated teams remaining in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) and is ranked No. 7 in the NAIA’s most recent coaches poll.
Langston’s recent success can be attributed to its head coach Chris Wright who was hired by the school this past offseason.
“Coaching is a due-paying process,” said Wright to HBCU Sports when asked about his coaching career and how he built up his reputation on his way to becoming one of the top coaches in NAIA men’s basketball. “Once [I] got into coaching, it took me five years working in college basketball to make one dollar. I worked my first four years for free. You have to have a great passion for it if you want to be successful.”
Wright got his first head coaching position in 2010 with Fresno Pacific, where he spent four seasons before taking on the head job at Graceland (Iowa) and Central Baptist.
In 2018, he entered the HBCU ranks when he became the head coach at Talladega College. In his four seasons there, he led the team to a 105-26 record and three NAIA National Tournament appearances.
With all the success Wright is having currently and has had in the past, he makes it known that while winning is great, it is not his main priority as a head coach.
“For us, in our program, we always talk about how we’re a player-first program,” he said. “While basketball is ultimately why someone would choose to come to Langston University, if they don’t leave with their degree or if they don’t leave having gotten significantly better as a person, then I don’t think we’ve done our job as coaches. Regardless of how many games, regardless of how many championships we win, everything we do is to holistically help our student-athletes develop.”
His success with Talladega peaked in his final season with the team when he led the Tornados to the NAIA tournament final. This made the team the first HBCU program to accomplish this feat since 1987.
“Our team felt that we were playing for people and something far bigger than ourselves,” said Wright on the impact Talladega’s championship run had on HBCUs. “As the season went along, it was cool the amount of support we got from HBCUs around the country. From coaches to athletic directors to players from other HBCUs to our players, that support really took off the further we got into the season, and it was really fun to see.”
Coach Wright gives credit to Langston’s administrative staff, namely President Dr. Kent Smith and Athletic Director Donnita Rogers, for affording him the resources and support to help build a team that is good enough to compete for a championship.
Thus far, a championship could surely be within Langston’s grasp, led by a squad that is not only winning but is doing so in a dominant fashion.
The Lions have the number one defense in all of NAIA, allowing just 57.3 points per game and winning by an average margin of over 26 points.
Despite the incredible numbers his team has put up thus far, Wright believes that his team could be even better going forward.
“I love our group. I think we have ten legitimate Division I caliber players. Our guys are tough, they’re unselfish. We’re trying to get where we want to be defensively … that’s our identity. We are holding teams to 57 points per game, but the scary thing is we can get a lot better, Wright said. “I think that if we continue to grow and we continue to get better, I think we will have a chance to be in that conversation in March.”
Wright does, however, admit that remaining locked in on the task at hand as opposed to looking forward at what could potentially be is “really hard.”
He continues saying, “For us, we talk a lot about trusting the process. To me, when we talk about process, it’s being the best you could be on that particular day,” he added. “I think we have had a great amount of growth in understanding that, but we still have a ways to go. That’s going to be our challenge as we head into the national tournament.”
The Langston Lions will look to keep their perfect record alive when they return to the basketball court on Jan. 5 to face the University of Science and Arts.