Georgetown University women’s basketball head coach Tasha Butts died Oct. 23 after a two-year battle with metastatic breast cancer. She was 41.
In the six months of her tenure as head coach of the Georgetown women’s basketball team, she forever impacted her players and coaching staff with her trademark toughness, kindness and resilience. Butts led by example, constantly grinding her way through the basketball coaching world for 16 years before realizing her dream of becoming a head coach. Players and friends alike remember Butts for her unwavering toughness and commitment to her players’ success.
Georgetown hired Butts as a first-time head coach last April after an extensive coaching career that included a successful four-year stint as associate head coach at Georgia Tech, eight years as an assistant at Louisiana State University, three seasons as an assistant at UCLA and one season at Duquesne University.
Senior guard Kelsey Ransom said Butts knew how to balance being a disciplined drill sergeant and a players’ coach.
“She is what you aspire to be as not only a player but as a woman as well,” Ransom told The Hoya. “She is everything at once. She is confident, but she is humble. And she is grateful, but she’s hungry, she wants more. And she’s loving, but she’ll push you and tell you when you’re not doing something right.”
“And I’m saying this in present terms because I can hear her telling me that I’m doing something wrong,” Ransom added.
Junior forward Brianna Scott said Butts was relentlessly passionate about the sport.
“She dedicated her entire life to basketball,” Scott said in an interview with The Hoya. “And I’m sad she didn’t get to do what she wanted to do, which was coach us.”
Originally from Milledgeville, Ga., Butts also had an illustrious playing career. She starred as a guard for the University of Tennessee under the legendary coach Pat Summit and posted a 124-17, 55-1 SEC college record before playing professionally in the WNBA and overseas.
Ashley Robinson, Butts’ former college teammate, said she considered Butts a sister. A 10-year WNBA veteran, Robinson rose through the ranks with Butts at Tennessee, rooming with her for all four of their college years and kindling a lifelong bond.
Even as the two took different paths in their professional lives, Butts remained Robinson’s “longest friend.”
“I’m a wild child, a flower child, I love to have fun and Tasha loved to have fun, but she was more disciplined, more conservative. So living with her, it was a blast because she always allowed me to be me, but she also kept me in check,” Robinson said.
Butts applied the same on-court winning culture to life beyond basketball, winning multiple awards for her off-court excellence, including two nominations to the Advancement of Blacks in Sports Watchlist.
Scott said Butts gave every last bit of energy and enthusiasm to the team, coaching fiercely from the sidelines all the while receiving treatment for her cancer.
“She would always give 100%, even if she only had 10% in the tank,” Scott said. “She would come into practice after having treatment and still be trying to contribute, still pointing things out, still coaching from the sideline, even though she was hurting and not 100%.”
Ransom said Butts remained her usual enthusiastic self despite the challenges she endured.
“She didn’t lose the battle to cancer,” Ransom said. “Because if that was the case, then we would say how much it changed her. But every single day, she just brought who she was without fail.”
Following a string of mediocre seasons, Georgetown hired Butts as part of a systemic overhaul to rebuild and revitalize the women’s basketball program. She was, as Georgetown Athletics Director Lee Reed described her, “the perfect leader at the perfect time.”
Butts wasted no time.
Graduate forward Graceann Bennett said the first team meeting Butts held, where she set the tone for the rest of her tenure. Butts directed the entire team to sit together and put their phones away on “do not disturb.”
Scott said Butts instilled a winning culture in her team, bringing her mantra of “earned never given” to the Hilltop.
“She was not going to let you get past being average,” Scott said. “She was trying to bring out every little thing from everybody to be great. She sacrificed so much for us. Every practice, she would be like, ‘I’m gonna make you great’ to every single person, from one to 13, however many players we had.”
Her intense yet fun, ambitious yet humble, powerful yet compassionate personality made her such an extraordinary friend — someone whom interim Head Coach Darnell Haney recognized as “one of the strongest, most joyful women” in his life.
Senior forward Jada Claude said Butts always exuded confidence and knew how to have fun.
“Coach Tasha, everywhere she went, to me, she always looked so good,” Claude said of Butts, who was not afraid of the cool factor, even bringing a bejeweled basketball to recruiting photoshoots. “Her nails were done, her hair was done, her lashes were done. I always told her, ‘Coach Tasha, you look so good today.’ Every day.”
“Teams take on the personality of their coach,” Robinson said. “So if the Georgetown women’s basketball team is gonna take on the personality of their coach, they are going to be ultimate competitors. Work your way, nothing’s given to you, you work your way to the top.”
Under Haney’s leadership, the Hoyas hope to emulate Butts’ resilience and be #TashaTough.
“Losing her was just really hard,” Claude said. “But that also goes into the season, making sure her legacy of winning just continues on, because that’s something she instilled in us — it’s winning, being a winner on and off the court.”
When the Georgetown women’s basketball team kicks off its season Nov. 6 in McDonough Arena, the players will don pink shirts as a physical reminder of Butts’ presence.
“I think everybody would say she was tenacious, she was competitive, she played basketball like she had a chip on her shoulder,” Robinson said. “She was the ultimate competitor.”
“In her death, it’s a proud thing for me to have had her as a sister and friend for so long,” Robinson added.
Butts is survived by her parents, Spencer Sr. and Evelyn, her brother Spencer Jr. and her nephew Marquis. A memorial service will be held in Baldwin High School Gymnasium in Milledgeville, Georgia on Nov. 4.