When former UNO women’s basketball coach Keeshawn Davenport resigned March 16, athletic director Tim Duncan already had a name in mind as her replacement.
After a three-week search, the Privateers introduced his early favorite as their new coach Tuesday morning.
Trelanne Powell, who guided Tuskegee to a 96-32 record in five seasons, will try to turn around a program that has finished with a winning record only once since 2000-01.
“We just need a fresh perspective and momentum, and I think we have that now with a coach with a successful track record,” Duncan said. “We owe Keeshawn a debt of gratitude for getting to this point, and now we’re ready to take it to the next level. We can be the flagship program in the Southland Conference.”
UNO has not been anywhere close to that level since the early years of longtime coach Joey Favaloro, who took the Privateers to a women's NIT championship in 1982-83 and the NCAA tournament in 1986-87. They went 17-12 in 2019-20 before the COVID pandemic canceled the postseason but have gone 19-53 since.
Powell, a defense-first coach who often used a full-court press at Tuskegee, will rely on that end of the floor at the start. Tuskegee ranked fourth in Division II in steals and sixth in turnover margin, outscoring opponents by an average of 16.6 points while going 26-4 this past season.
“Like I told the girls this morning, what’s the one thing we can do immediately that will have an impact on how our season is going to look?” she said. “It’s with defense. That’s the easy part. I’ll definitely evaluate what pieces we have and see what type of defense will best suit this team.”
Powell added she saw no structural impediment to success, saying Duncan gave her an in-depth profile showing UNO was in the top half of the Southland Conference in financial resources. The Privateers’ best finish since joining the league in 2013-14 was fourth in 2017-18, so her task will be to raise the bar.
She teared up in her opening statement as she talked about being a role model as a full-time coach plus a mother of a 6-year-old daughter and son who is about to turn 2.
“Being here today is a part of my dream,” she said. “This is something that I’ve always wanted to show my players — that you can do it all and you can have it all as long as you have a great support system around you.”
Powell checked all of Duncan’s boxes as he looked for a coach who could engineer a turnaround. He said he watched her coach Tuskegee against SUNO in New Orleans two years ago and was struck by her calm on-court demeanor, one of the attributes UNO players said was important to them before the search. Their other requests were a coach who would tailor the offense and defense to their strengths, respected the importance of their mental health and had won in her previous job.
In a stint as coach at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, Powell also had a full-time job at a mental health hospital for three years. Her last two teams at Tuskegee went 35-3 in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
With the help of a search firm, an initial field of about 50 candidates was whittled to about 15 before Duncan spoke to a couple of finalists. In his mind, Powell was the clear choice.
“When we started this journey, we kept measuring the candidate up with her, and she continued to pass every test pretty easily,” he said. “She matched the qualities we thought the program needed, but more importantly what the student-athletes thought they needed.”