It’s 3 p.m. before the bell has rung and bodies are colliding at John Furlong Gymnasium. The tightly condensed court is echoed with players in black and red calling out switches while the ball moves at an abrupt pace. Off to the sideline watching attentively is 24-year-old assistant coach Shawn Kolani.
Amidst all the noise, Kolani’s voice barely carries a decibel. But when she speaks, the gym falls silent. Toreadors coach Derrick Taylor pauses and the stage belongs to her. The kind of respect that is not simply handed to assistant. It is earned.
That’s because Kolani’s knowledge knows no bounds. Last year she worked as an intern with the Los Angeles Lakers. Throughout the season she would do everything from delivering passes to Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma to helping organize practice plans with assistant coach Brian Shaw.
It was the clear attention to detail that led to an eventual meeting with Taylor who has known Kolani since she was a small child. Her brother is Jordan Farmar was the player to watch on nights that Kobe Bryant and the Lakers had off. Farmar carved out a legendary career at Taft and later at UCLA before playing 10 seasons in the NBA.
“I’ve known Shawn ever since she was seven years old,” Taylor said smiling. “I remember she was very cocky and very funny and she was smart. She was always very confident but conscientious.”
The relationship between Kolani and Taylor would come full circle after the pair met for dinner during the summer and began talking about basketball. Kolani wanted to stay around the game and Taylor wanted her knowledge. It became a perfect fit.
“I knew how smart she was and I wanted a mind like hers on my staff,” Taylor said.
If there were any doubts of Kolani’s credibility off the court or on it, they were quickly put to rest in the very first week. One varsity player challenged her in a shooting contest. That player wasn’t named, but there were witnesses to the harsh lesson Kolani delivered to her pupil. The ball fell through the net over and over and left the rest of the team astonished.
“I saw what happened,” senior forward Brandon Wilson said as his eyes shot up. “She shot him out of the gym quick. Real quick. It was over before it even began.”
Her players must not have known about her stellar college career. Kolani had her own merits. She played at College of the Canyons and lit up Pierce College for her career high 30 points and went 10-of-14 from the field. Kolani transferred to Division III Transylvania University in Kentucky and Kolani finished her career shooting 44 percent from three point range.
“I heard about what happened,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t there but I always knew Shawn could shoot. It doesn’t surprise me one bit and that’s why she’s here. I knew what she was going to bring and that’s just your classic case of game recognizing game.
During the final week of the regular season, Kolani had to take control of Taft’s team after Taylor became sick. He was so ill that he missed senior night against Chatsworth and the last regular season game against El Camino Real on the road. A matchup that would decide seeding for the CIF LA City Section Open Division. For that week, Kolani would become head coach.
Taft earned an easy win over Chatsworth but then came El Camino Real. A team that possessed plenty of athleticism and in the first three quarters was disrupting Taft’s rhythm offensively. Kolani made small adjustments in the fourth quarter and her players responded. The Toreadors came back and pulled away in the last minute to win. Kolani has a perfect 2-0 record as head coach.
For Kolani, she is part of a small proportion of women that are coaching boys sports. Another example of a woman coaching boys in LA City Section is Alyssa Lee who coaches volleyball for ECR. But there is not enough statistical evidence currently to prove whether or not women coaching boys or male sports is becoming a growing trend because the examples are few and far between.
But there are women who have laid a foundation for Kolani like former WNBA all-star Becky Hammon who became an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. The Los Angeles Clippers have on its staff, player development coach Natalie Nakase who dreams of becoming a head coach in the NBA.
But Kolani doesn’t let any outside aspirations take her away from the main focus and that’s helping Taft win as many games as possible. She said even when she was challenged to a shooting contest during her first week, there was never a hint of sexism from players or parents.
“There was no skepticism I think on either end,” Kolani said. “I think that’s something really special looking at our kids. They don’t see gender. They just see knowledge. So when something comes in and knows what they’re talking about, they listen. I think that’s really special too. You have to have players that are willing to see that and are willing to look past the norm a little bit. It’s been a great experience.
Kolani wants to continue her mentoring in the game of basketball and eventually become a head coach. Based on a small sample size, Kolani has shown she can win the big game and will be coaching in the East vs West all-star game tonight that features high profile talent like Sierra Canyon’s Cassius Stanley, K.J. Martin, Scotty Pippen Jr., Camarillo guard Jaime Jaquez and Moorpark forward Drake London. Will a program take a chance on her? That remains to be seen as her reputation continues to grow.