Tasha Tough

November 3, 2023

Design by Pia Cruz

On April 11, Tasha Butts was hired as the 11th head coach in Georgetown women’s basketball history. On Oct. 22, she died at 41 years old after a two-year battle with breast cancer. While her tenure lasted only 194 days, she etched a memorable legacy in the eyes of not only her players but of the entire Georgetown community. 

Before coming to Georgetown, Butts was known for her extensive career as both a player and assistant coach. At Tennessee, Butts played for the Volunteers as a forward before being drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2004. After a three-year professional career, she spent 17 years as an assistant coach at four different Division I institutions—most notably, she spent eight seasons with LSU between 2011 and 2019. In her last stop before Georgetown, she was the associate head coach for Georgia Tech between 2019 and 2023.

Tasha Butts was a force as a player and an outstanding basketball coach. She was also much more than that.

It was at Georgia Tech where Butts was first diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer in 2021. That diagnosis sparked the “Tasha Tough” campaign, a movement to fund breast cancer research and promote awareness. The initiative spread all across the basketball world, especially at Georgia Tech, where students raised over $100,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund to make healthcare and breast cancer screenings more financially accessible. Reflecting on the meaning of the phrase, interim head coach Darnell Haney said that “Tasha Tough” was a call to action for all of us to be decent people, both to and for one another—one that carries on after Butts’s passing. 

“Being ‘Tasha Tough’ is being tough on the floor but powerful off the floor as well,” Haney said. “Being ‘Tasha Tough’ is actually being empathetic.”

If you talk to anyone on the Georgetown women’s basketball team, they would tell you that this is still Butts’s team, despite her absence. In an interview with the Voice, before she passed, Haney talked about the idea of “saving Tasha’s place” at the helm of this program, a sentiment echoed by the players.

“When Coach Tasha came in, she had a really clear direction for the program, and we’ve been working off of that same base to this day,” graduate forward Graceann Bennett said. “Coach Haney has been really clear about being an extension of Coach Tasha, and making sure that Tasha’s voice is still at the forefront of our program.”

Haney first met Butts on the recruiting trail when he was head coach at Jacksonville University and she was at LSU. “We were recruiting a kid out of Jacksonville that we thought we may be able to get,” Haney said. “But when LSU and Tasha came in and body-snatched her up it was over.” 

Haney knew of Butts from her stellar playing and coaching career, and after that meeting, he said he respected her toughness and leadership ability. “I always admired her grit, always admired her toughness,” Haney said. “As a coach, I always admired the sense of leadership she brought to the table.”

According to Haney, the respect was mutual—and what brought him to Georgetown. “I really wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said. 

When Butts was hired in April, she needed to fill her staff and asked Haney to join. Although initially hesitant, it only took one visit and a glimpse at the vision Tasha had for this program to convince Haney to change his mind. “We call them the four Ts,” Haney said. “Tasha, Tough, Talented, and Together.” 

Bennett told the Voice that even in the brief time they spent together, she found Butts to be a remarkable leader. “She was vulnerable and open with us about her fight against cancer,” Bennett said of Tasha’s first moments with the team. “It’s the nature of her personality and her essence. You would never know how difficult something was for her because of how much she embodies being a fighter. She just shows up to work every day.” 

“Tasha Tough” was the mantra that Haney and his roster of strong-willed women bought into, and it’s the vision they hope will carry them through this upcoming season. The basketball world has lost an icon, and Georgetown has lost its unquestioned leader. It would be understandable for this team to fold under the weight of such a devastating loss.

But this is a “Tasha Tough” team. “It was easy for us as her team to show up to work every day and do right by her,” Bennett said, adding that in her absence she felt it was important to “do what she’d want us to do, which is focus on basketball and getting better.” In the six and a half months that Butts served as head coach, she sowed her very spirit into the fabric that makes up the program. Just like Butts, these women do not crumble when faced with adversity—they simply go out and do their jobs, because that’s what she would have wanted. 

Amid an 11-year postseason drought, there is certainly a job to be done. But Haney is optimistic about the team and their ability to overcome expectations. “It’s turning back into Georgetown City,” Haney said. “The DMV is gonna be ours on the men’s side and the women’s side.” 

After years of mediocrity, Georgetown basketball is hungry for more. Haney and the players are optimistic that their “Tasha Toughness” will help lift themselves to new heights. 

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