Black History Month:
Arthur Kapetanakis | February 28, 2019
In honor of Black History Month, USTA.com is spotlighting several African-American collegiate coaches who have had an impact on the game of college tennis. In our latest feature, we talk with UCLA women's associate head tennis coach Rance Brown.
Rance Brown is in his 21st season with the UCLA women's tennis team, having joined the program in 1996 as an assistant coach. He was promoted to his current role of associate head coach ahead of the 2008-09 season and has helped guide the Bruins to NCAA titles in 2008 and 2014, in addition to four final runs, in 2004, 2007, 2012 and 2015.
Working with head coach Stella Sampras Webster (sister of Pete Sampras), Brown is heavily responsible for the program's recruiting efforts and has delivered a Top-10 recruiting class in nine of the past 14 years. In 2018, the NCAA quarterfinalist Bruins featured a lineup with four African-American women as regular starters: current No. ADVERTISEMENT 1 singles player Jada Hart, Terri Fleming, Ayan Broomfield and Gabby Andrews.
Brown also has a connection to the USTA. He was a member of one of the first graduating classes of the USTA High Performance Coaching program and, more recently, coached the USTA Collegiate National Team in the summer of 2008.
In this Q&A with USTA.com, the five-time ITA Southwest Region Assistant Coach of the Year discusses his coaching career and philosophy, the value of college tennis as a pathway to the pros and much more.
USTA.com: What are some of the biggest highlights that come to mind when you think back on your career in college coaching?
Rance Brown: Even though I was just her private coach at the time, I think seeing Keri Phebus win the NCAA singles and doubles titles at Pepperdine is one of the bigger highlights. Beating Stanford [in 2007] that first time in the quarterfinals to reach the final four in Georgia was special. We lost in the finals against Georgia Tech and Bryan Shelton, who I feel is one of the best coaches in all of college tennis, but that made the next year even sweeter. In ’08, winning your first NCAA title, it feels very special. Special group of kids and a special time.
USTA.com: What is your favorite part of coaching at the college level? The most challenging part?
Rance Brown: My favorite part is every day is different. You create a family environment with an intimate group of 8-10 young ladies and being a part of their lives and understanding there are a lot of firsts between the ages of 18 and 21. To be a part of their lives and make a positive impact as a male, it’s huge. I don’t take that lightly. I take that as a huge responsibility and a great challenge.
The most challenging part is getting to know the kids. I think in today’s society, there are limitations with phones and communication, and most of the young people we recruit have been home schooled. Having conversations and getting young people to open up, I think, is more of a challenge than it was 10 years ago. It can lead to unbelievable all-around growth, though.
USTA.com: What changes have you seen in college tennis since you started coaching at UCLA in 1996?
Rance Brown: I think one change is that we’re not just recruiting against one or two other schools, but pro tennis. We try to communicate to the parents and the kids what having an option like a UCLA degree means. It’s very easy to turn pro in our sport, and I don’t think it’s always the healthiest thing.
We, as a program, have changed and continue to change, as we try to create an environment where these kids can come in and get to the next level. If you don’t understand the top echelon of college tennis and the top players, you probably won’t keep or get those players.
USTA.com: How did your experience as a college player at Long Beach State and Golden West Junior College shape your coaching philosophy?
Rance Brown: My philosophy didn’t come so much from Long Beach State and Golden West, but from my parents. My dad’s from Texas, and my mom’s from Mississippi, and they instilled a philosophy of getting to know the kids. Having a passion for it and, as my dad would say, having the right “PhD”: being poor, hungry and driven. I am just so fortunate to have two parents that are now in their 90s, went to college and gave us tremendous opportunities as young people to handle life’s tribulations and trials.
USTA.com: Can you take me through your typical recruiting process? How much of your time is spent recruiting?
Rance Brown: That has changed yearly here in the last several years with what you can do with juniors and what you can do with sophomores. I think we, as a staff, have a very good grasp on the type of young person that will succeed at UCLA. If you don’t like being challenged in the classroom, if you don’t like being challenged on the athletic field, it might not be the right place for you. I think any coach here will tell you it needs to be the right fit.
I think on a daily basis, I spend time trying to figure out what’s going on in the junior world, looking up results. It’s a day-to-day situation, where, luckily with some of the technology now, you can keep up with juniors throughout the country and the world. There’s not a day that goes by that we’re not talking about a recruit, trying to keep our finger on the pulse. I also try to stay involved in junior tennis to the degrees I’m able to as a collegiate coach.
USTA.com: What are your thoughts on the college/pro decision for top junior players, and how do you handle that topic with recruits?
Rance Brown: My thought on making a decision between college and the pros revolves around, "Can you make enough money playing pro tennis to retire on?" If people aren’t coming after you to sign contracts and give you money before you hit your first tennis ball, college is not a bad option. We’re talking nine months out of your life to grow as a person and to get 25-30 matches, which costs a tremendous amount of money here in the States to try to do. That’s what we try to tell the top recruits.
We now have a track record where you can look at our college girls making the transition into the pros, and that probably says a lot. You don’t have to sell as much when you see some of our players transitioning into pro tennis and doing well.
USTA.com: Do you think the success of former college players, like John Isner and most recently Danielle Collins, who both played all four years in college and graduated, will make a difference to top junior players when they’re deciding whether to play college tennis or to turn pro right away?
Rance Brown: I was very fortunate to have Stevie Johnson Sr. as one of my best friends, and I saw Stevie Johnson Jr. grow up, get married and have a successful career. Seeing Stevie go into USC as a freshman and seeing what he did throughout four years of college, I don’t think he would trade that forever, and I know he misses it on a daily basis. College tennis is about the camaraderie you have with your peers and other players, fighting for something bigger than you.
Those players like a Danielle Collins, like a John Isner, I think wouldn’t have played pro tennis without going to college. I don’t think Stevie would have had a pro career without going to college. Completely different young people, but I think the growth they had on this level, learning how to be disciplined and as much as we can teach a person about how to be a professional athlete cannot be understated.
USTA.com: I’m sure college coaches don’t have a lot of free time, but when you do, how do you like to spend it?
Rance Brown: College coaches don’t have a lot of free time. That’s an understatement [laughs]. I think family, to me, is huge. My parents are here in Southern California, down in Orange County, and I’m very lucky to be able to spend a lot of time with them. My brother and sister are here. So I do spend a lot of time with family. I’m single, so hanging out at the beach is how I spend a lot of my time. My walk with Christ is my outlet. It provides me an opportunity to be a better man. I try to make that a priority.
USTA.com: As a member of one of the first graduating classes of the USTA High Performance Coaching program, what impact did that program have on your career? When did you attend?
Rance Brown: I sat in that room at Stanford with the likes of Dick Gould and Greg Patton and was pretty humbled. I had a very successful junior program in Newport Beach with some national-level-ranked players, like Jeff Abrams, at the time. The High Performance program was a turning point in my career, and I give a ton of credit to Nick Saviano, who took me underneath his wing and taught me how to teach. Coaching over time has made me a better coach, but that program developed me as a teacher. That kind of turned my tennis coaching around, as well as my philosophy in a sense of development and looking in a bigger picture. I also credit Dr. Bill Parham.
USTA.com: What memories stay with you from your 2008 summer as coach of the USTA Collegiate National Team?
Rance Brown: I think the summer program was in its first or second year and has certainly evolved over time. It taught me how to be a better communicator, not just with young people I did know intimately, but young people I got to know from other schools that we competed against. It was something that I dearly enjoyed. I only match that with my experience going to Korea with the University World Games a couple years ago, representing UCLA and the United States. I have to say putting USA on my chest was one of the highlights of my life. UCLA only takes second to those three letters. That was a tremendous experience in my life.