She Calls the Shots

Sonia Raman, J96, is the first Indian American woman to coach in the NBA
Tufts University graduate Sonia Raman prepares to throw a basketball. Raman, the first Indian American woman to coach in the NBA, joined the Memphis Grizzlies in September.
Sonia Raman, J96, joined the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach in September 2020. Photo: Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
March 16, 2021

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Last September, Sonia Raman, J96, joined a group of trailblazing women coaching men’s professional sports teams when she was hired by the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach. Her circuitous path to the NBA started at Tufts.

A coaching career was not in Raman’s sights when she arrived at Tufts in 1992; she wasn’t even recruited to play basketball. A pre-med student who switched to international relations, she joined the Jumbo team as a walk-on, and quickly earned a reputation as a hard worker. 

An unfortunate accident—she was hit by a car in her junior year—forced her to the sidelines with a broken leg, but the injury led to a taste of what coaching was like.

“I was never the most talented player on my team, so my value always had to be being prepared and being a great teammate,” Raman said. Being sidelined, she drew on those attributes. “I was trying to help the team by encouraging my teammates and also starting to really study the game more.” She made such an impact that she was voted captain as a senior.

Raman developed as a coach during two years as an assistant at Tufts under Janice Savitz, but didn’t see coaching as a long-term option. It wasn’t until later, after earning a law degree from Boston College and working for the U.S. Department of Labor and Fidelity Investments, that she returned to coaching at Wellesley College and realized it was her passion. She then landed her first full-time coaching job at MIT and became the program’s all-time victories leader.

Rich Cho, the Grizzlies’ vice president of basketball strategy, originally called Raman to inquire about the bright and talented student-athletes she coached at MIT. However, after getting to know Raman, Cho called again and offered her an opportunity to interview with the general manager and head coach.

As part of the Grizzlies coaching staff, she’s there on the sidelines when the team faces the likes of LeBron James. Finding ways to coach against the best players in basketball? “There are only 29 other teams in the world that have that challenge,” she said.

Raman is the 14th woman to be named as an NBA coach, and the first Indian American woman. While she looks forward to the day when such things aren’t a story, Raman is proud to be a part of the progress that has been made.

“Growing up, I didn’t see anyone who looks like me playing or coaching basketball at any level,” she said. “It’s really important to have representation.”

Paul Sweeney can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.