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A Coach’s Homophobic Taunt Forces Him to Reconsider the Weight of Words

Lynch said he was driving back from watching college players in an open gym during the early months of the pandemic, wondering whether he still had a career in basketball, when he received a text from Turner. Lynch recalled the incident with King, which he called a mistake, but said he had been around the game enough to know that coaches are always looking for a perceived edge, be it signing a recruit, scheduling a game, calling a play — or trying to get under the skin of an opponent.

A few days later, Lynch and Turner spoke on the phone.

They talked about the events that brought them together — Lynch’s coming out and Turner’s taunt — but before long the conversation turned to basketball. They talked about defensive schemes, recruiting and player development. Turner, who spent a year as a women’s assistant at the University of San Francisco, encouraged Lynch to take a job as a women’s assistant at North Carolina-Wilmington, which he did in 2020-21.

“The truth is, he’s just made me feel like a basketball coach,” Lynch said of his conversations with Turner, who he said had introduced him to his staff. “At the end of the day, I just want to be a basketball coach; I don’t want to be the gay basketball coach.”

Turner also learned about Lynch’s gumption. Disappointed that college coaches were not responding to portfolios he mailed out in an effort to break into coaching, Lynch invested a few hundred dollars in an iPad, loaded his materials onto it and mailed it to Youngstown State. He figured at least the iPad — along with his résumé — wouldn’t end up in the trash. The ploy helped him land his first Division I men’s job, as a video coordinator at Youngstown State. He did the same thing at U.N.C. Wilmington.

That sort of boldness — the edge, as Turner described it — is an essential element for anyone navigating the ultracompetitive world of college basketball. It is present in myriad ways, including how coaches talk to players: the language they use in outlining rosy possibilities during recruiting, in coldhearted discussions about playing time, or in intense, sometimes graphic, instruction in practices or huddles.

Turner says that while he is demanding, he is in tune with his players — he notes that few leave his program; the recent four-year retention rate was 98 percent.

He is also more careful with his words, though he believes it’s important to get the attention of players — sometimes using explicit terms.

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