Connecticut Sun Coaching Staff Is Championship Caliber

To make a run at a title you need talent, intense preparation, and a bit of luck. The Sun have lost superstar Jonquel Jones but return a strong core, with the addition of perimeter scoring threats and some promising young players. Their preparation in selecting a new coaching staff, as well as separating the head coach and general manager positions, is in line with the organization’s goals. Luck aside, the coaching shake-up is just what the Sun need on their quest for the franchise’s first-ever WNBA championship, and this new staff is the perfect group to lead the way.

Change can be good and, sometimes, needed to rise from an upper echelon team to a championship team. Former Sun coach and general manager Curt Miller took the Sun to six straight postseasons before heading to Los Angeles to fill the Sparks head coaching role. He was 140-86 with Connecticut and a two-time WNBA Coach of the Year but failed to secure a title.

Sun President Jen Rizzotti started the rebuild by appointing former WNBA player and coach Stephanie White as head coach and Darius Taylor general manager. White will devote her time to the players and getting the most out of her team on the court; Taylor will dedicate his time to player transactions, contract negotiations, and business operations, helping execute the team’s championship aspirations. GM duties have become more complicated since the 2020 CBA, and Miller, the 2017 Executive of the Year, addressed it at a Sparks press conference in January, noting “…the GM role is much more complex, much more difficult than it once was, and it is a full-time job.” Separating the roles makes sense, and more WNBA franchises are moving that way. Last season, four teams had the same person running point for head coach and GM duties: the Sparks, Sun, Washington Mystics, and Chicago Sky. Now, the Sky’s James Wade is the only one holding both roles.

During the press conference welcoming White to Connecticut last November, Rizzotti said she searched for someone to meet the needs of the franchise and the players.

“[Assistant GM and Director of Franchise Development] Morgan Tuck and I also checked in with our players to get an idea of what they felt they needed in their leadership,” Rizzotti said. “Two things became very evident. One—again, we need somebody who understands our expectations of winning a championship and can help lead us there; and, two—they expressed the desire to have a former player.”

White has won championships at the college and pro levels. Through her 15 years of WNBA experience both as a player and coach, she understands the physical, mental, and emotional demands it takes to play year round. She played five seasons in the W, spending her rookie season with the Charlotte Sting and four with the Indiana Fever. She was an assistant coach with the Sky from 2007-2010 and Fever from 2011-2014, including their title run in 2012. She took over head coaching duties for the Fever from 2015-2016. 

Players thrive when they’re feeling supported, and she gets that. Part of the reason White took the job in Connecticut, which can’t be overlooked, was because of the emphasis on a family atmosphere throughout the franchise, and the extension of that to the community. The fact that Rizzotti and Tuck consulted the players on what they need in a coach, and followed through on it, speaks to the level of communication and cooperation within the organization.

White knows the game on a cellular level, and she’s been able to share that knowledge working as an analyst for ESPN and Big Ten Network. She appreciates the Sun’s toughness and grit, and their dominant defense in the paint, especially with Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones returning as their cornerstones. She also knows when to get out of the way and allow players to be creative playmakers.

The Sun core is now older, more experienced, and ready to achieve the next level of greatness. White noted at her introductory press conference that “being just on the cusp multiple times of a championship…makes them hungrier than ever.”

During their run of six straight postseason appearances, the Sun were runners-up twice: losing to the Mystics in five games in 2019, and last season, falling to the Las Vegas Aces in four. 

Filling out the rest of the coaching staff are three assistant coaches bringing experience in pro and collegiate sports. Briann January and Abi Olajuwon both played in the W, and assistant coach Austin Kelly played Division II basketball at Georgia Southwestern and football at Duke. 

 

 

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Fourteen-year veteran Briann January is known for her defensive intensity and ability to control the game on the offensive end. Her style fits the tenacity the Sun like to play with, and her sage court vision and expertise will be of value to every position on the roster. January was on the 2012 WNBA championship team when White was an assistant coach. 

Olajuwon, the daughter of Houston Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, played two years in the W before finishing her career overseas. She has a decade of collegiate coaching experience and was the assistant and post coach at TCU from 2018-2022. It’s fitting she’ll be the point person for teaching positioning down low, fine-tuning the angles and continuing the established presence in the paint the Sun are known for.

Kelly and White take it back to their days working at Vanderbilt University, when White was the women’s basketball head coach and Kelly was Director of Recruiting. In his most recent position as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the University of Texas Arlington women’s basketball team, he helped his team reach the 2022 NCAA tournament.

This revamped Connecticut coaching staff has the experience and qualifications to win a championship. The Sun have a good mix of veteran leadership and hungry youth, and White, January, Olajuwon, and Kelly have the dedication to keep play energetic and consistent, and the personality to build the team to achieve it. 

 

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