Growing up, she said she always liked being different:
“I knew if someone said my name, they were talking to me. There was no confusion.
“There was just one Calamity.”
And Calamity McEntire gave her name little more thought than that until a second-grade classroom lesson threw her for a loop.
“That was the one day I was like ‘Whaaaaat?’” she recalled with a laugh. “We had just learned how to use the dictionary and, of course, everybody starts looking up their name.
“Well, I did too and that’s when I learned my name meant disaster.
“I went home that day and I was not a happy camper. I was like, ‘Why would you name me disaster?’
“But that’s when my parents talked to me and provided another lesson in life. They said, ‘We didn’t name you Disaster. We named you Calamity, after Calamity Jane, the frontierswoman.’
“They said, ‘Calamity is your name. Take ownership of who you are and be proud. It makes you unique.’ And I remember thinking, ‘OK, that’s very cool.’”
It still is and that’s why Calamity McEntire, an assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Dayton, has the most unique given name in college basketball in the Miami Valley this season, rivaled only by Miami RedHawks players Nike Sibande and Precious Ayah and Central State’s Bishop James, a walk-on guard turned student assistant.
Calamity gets the top nod because her last name — McEntire — also is a head turner. She’s the niece of Reba McEntire, the country music legend whom she considers “a second mother.”
Even so, unique names aren’t always easy to deal with when you are younger, admitted Sibande, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard out of Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis.
“My father named me Nike because he really liked the brand,” he said. “Growing up, though, I was kind of insecure about it. I was like ‘Dang, a lot of people are giving me attention because of it.’ I didn’t like that.
“And if I didn’t turn out to be as gifted as I am, it would have been terrible having a name like that and trying to play basketball.”
He doesn’t have that worry now.
Last season, he started every game as a freshman, led Miami in scoring and was named the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year.
This season he again leads the RedHawks in scoring, averaging 16.9 points per game.
“Growing up I definitely adjusted to my name,” Sibande said. “I really embraced it.”
No one has done that any better than Calamity Jo McEntire, who comes close to eclipsing her famed namesake Calamity Jane, who was born Martha Jane Canary in Missouri in 1852 and became an Annie Oakley type figure out West .
She was a professional scout, a close companion of Wild Bill Hickok and often appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. And while her story has been made into movies, a stage play and been in dime novels, TV shows and even a video game, she never sang and tap danced in her own show in Branson, Missouri, as did McEntire.
Nor did she play college basketball, get mentored by the late, great Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and embark on her own college coaching career that included six stops, five in the Far West and Hawaii before joining Shauna Green’s staff at UD in June of 2017.
Yet, with the Flyers players, she’s not called Calamity or thought of as Reba McEntire’s kin.
She’s a basketball woman.
She’s Coach Mac.
‘I took pride in it’
When 6-foot-6 Precious Ayah came to America from Okpoama, Nigeria in 2012 to begin his high school career at Greenforest Christian Academy in Decatur Ga, he said some of the other boys at the school questioned his name.
“Everybody was like, ‘Your name is Precious? That’s a girl’s name!’
“But back in Nigeria it’s a common name to have.”
Actually, he said, it began as his middle name: “My first name is Otonworio, but everybody called me Precious and I made it my first name. And I like it. One day if I have a son, I think I will call him Precious, too.”
But before starting a family, he wants to blossom as a college basketball player.
He was recruited to Miami by former coach John Cooper, but just before his initial 2016-17 season he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in practice.
He sat out the season – managed a 3.8 grade point average — and rehabbed from surgery.
When Cooper was fired, new coach, Jack Owens came in and three of the six foreign-born players on the roster left. Ayah stayed and played in 15 games last year.
This season he had played in eight of nine games going into Saturday’s contest with Purdue Fort Wayne, had a career-high 10 points against Wilberforce a week ago and is getting the last laugh when it comes to those guys who scoffed at his name.
“The girls all love my name,” he grinned. “They’re like, ‘Oh Preeeeeciuous !’”
Like Precious and Nike, Central State’s Bishop James learned to live with a different name as he was growing up in Port Arthur, Texas.
“Some people were like ‘Bishop? That’s a chess piece!’” he said with a smile. “In high school, when we’d play rival teams and they knew my name, some would be like, ‘Hey, he’s got a preacher’s name! He’s a deacon!’”
Thanks to his mom, he said the taunts never really bothered him:
“She always told me, ‘When you say your whole name – Bishop James – it’s like a title. It meant something to me and I took pride in it. Even with the jokes that came with it, I loved it.”
He said Central State coach Joseph Price and his family are “really, really close,” going back to Price’s days as the head coach at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, which is just 21 miles from Port Arthur.
“He’d come to our house and we’d talk every now and then and he’d ask about my basketball,” said James, who played at Port Arthur Memorial High.
“By the time I was a senior, he was at Central State and he told my mom it would be a great opportunity for me to come to school here and expand my knowledge of other places. I could play college basketball and learn to grow up without my mother right on my hip.”
He walked onto the team last season and this year serves as a student assistant, working as a manager for the Marauders and helping sports information director Nick Novy.
In the process he’s learned something else, too.
He said he always thought his name came from the 1992 movie “Juice,” about four black youths growing up in Harlem:
“I always thought that’s where my mom got the name. In the movie, Tupac’s (Shakor) name was (Roland) Bishop.
“But then I called my mom and she was like, ‘Naah, that’s not right. I was watching a football game one day and saw a guy named Bishop and thought that was neat.’”
She was talking about Blaine Bishop, the All-Pro safety for the Houston Oilers turned Tennessee Titans.
“It didn’t really matter to me,” Bishop said. “I’ve gotten to really love my name.”
Finding her passion
Calamity grew up on a ranch outside of Kiowa, Oklahoma where her family was known for raising cattle, rodeoing and music.
Her great grandfather and her grandpa were both world champion steer wrestlers.
Her dad, Pake – a spinoff of the mythical cowboy Pecos Pete – was a rancher who competed on the rodeo circuit and also performed on stage as part of the Singing McEntires.
He sang lead and his younger sister, Reba Nell, and baby sister, Martha Susan or Susie as she’s known, sang harmony. Eventually the two girls went to college and Reba was spotted by country legend Red Steagall as she same the national anthem at the National Finals Rodeo.
He convinced her to come to Nashville and record with him and that helped launch a legendary career that includes three Grammys, seven Top Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the Academy of Country Music and just last Saturday, a lifetime achievement award at the Kennedy Center.
Calamity said Reba was her role model as she grew up on the ranch and was involved in 4H projects, showed horses, briefly tried her own hand at rodeoing, was the president of her Future Farmers of American club in high school, played basketball and, along with sisters Autumn and Chism, took dancing, singing and piano lessons.
She said her dad came up with the idea of a second generation Singing McEntires and eventually they had a summer gig in Branson, Missouri:
“We had our own show with no other opening act or closing act. We tap danced and sang. My dad played the fiddle. We had a band.
“They all loved it. I didn’t mind it, but it wasn’t my passion. I wasn’t as good as my sisters. Autumn is a brilliant songwriter in Nashville now and Chism can really sing. Me, I just wanted to play basketball. That was my passion.
She said she first developed her game at an old hoop behind her house:
“It was on a pole and there was never any concrete slab under it, just dirt. There was a ‘bob wire’ fence not 10 feet from it and after that you went down a hill. So if your ball bounced and went through the fence, it went down the hill. It made you not want to miss.”
She became a prep standout at Kiowa High and then played junior college basketball at Eastern Oklahoma State before eventually transferring to the University of Tennessee, after meeting Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, all thanks to her mom.
“My mom is a dreamer, a real ambitious woman and she posed it to me that we were just going to take a look at the campus,” Calamity said with a smile. “Once we got there, we walked right into Pat’s office.
“Her secretary, Katy, was sitting there and she said, ‘Oh yeah, you can go down to the court and watch practice.’ That’s the first day I met Pat.”
Calamity enrolled at Tennessee and Summitt eventually made her a manager of her fabled women’s team.
“It was such an amazing opportunity for me,” she said. “She was a role model to me. She was a great coach and someone who gave me my first opportunity at a Division I school. Being in her practices every day, being there for every time out, every huddle, for me she was just a great teacher of the game.
“She was honest and forward and just very consistent in who she was and what she was going to bring every day.”
After graduating from Tennessee, Calamity immediately began her own coaching career, landing a job as a 23-year-old assistant coach and recruiter at Fresno State. She then went to UC Santa Barbara, Boise State, spent four seasons at Arizona and was an assistant at Hawaii.
She said she relishes the opportunity at Dayton not only because she’s part of successful program with a good reputation, but also because, for the first time in her career, she’s just five hours away from Nashville where her mom, sisters and Reba live.
While she’s outfitted them in some Flyers’ gear the past two seasons, they help her reconnect with foundation on which she’s built her coaching career.
Although she certainly draws on the lessons of Summitt and some of the other people she’s coached with in her career, she said she’s found the underpinnings of her career go back to her upbringing:
“One thing I’ve kept leaning on is the lessons I learned back home. Things like being really kind to people and working your butt off and going after whatever the task in front of you is.”
But while those old lessons have provided her with answers over the years, she said her name still elicits questions:
“I get asked about it all the time and the one place I always get comments is when I travel. TSA, whoever checks me in, they usually have something to say.
“A lot of times people don’t think before they speak. They’ll look at my driver’s license and say, ‘You’re momma named you THAT?’
“I’m like, ‘Well…yeah…And I like my momma and I like my name.”
Over at Miami, Nike Sibande summed it up best:
“You grow up and you embrace your name, whatever it is. You finally just say, “This is me.’”