Professional Basketball

Sun Head Coach Stephanie White named 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year


Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White instructs guard Rebecca Allen during a recent game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

When Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White was presented with the 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year award by league Commissioner Cathy Engelbert last Sunday, it marked the fourth time that the award was presented to a former WNBA player. It also marked the first time that the award was consecutively given to two different former players turned coaches.

“The Sun are where they are today in great part to the effort of its first year head coach Stephanie White, and so it’s no secret that when the season began, some people wondered how the Sun would fare after bringing in a new staff, facing some roster turnover, and then, of course, after the loss of Brionna Jones to injury,” said Engelbert during her presentation remarks.

“Yet Stephanie, you, your staff and these players have focused, fought and delivered on a great season. It’s just incredibly obvious, to at least me, just how much our 60 media members who vote for our postseason awards respect what Coach White has done at her first season at the helm, so they overwhelmingly voted her as the 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year,” she added. “I am proud to say congratulations Stephanie on this well-deserved honor.”

White, a shooting guard/small forward, was drafted in the second round as the 21st overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Charlotte Sting. A year later, she was acquired by the Indiana Fever in the 2000 expansion draft. White began coaching in 2003 as an assistant with Ball State, and then retired from playing at the conclusion of the 2004 season. She then served as an assistant coach with Kansas State and Toledo before returning to the WNBA as an assistant with the Chicago Sky beginning in 2007 for head coach Bo Overton and then stayed on when Steven Key took the helm in 2008.

She parted ways with the Sky after Pokey Chatman was hired as head coach, so White hired by the Indiana Fever to serve on Lin Dunn’s staff in 2011. When Dunn retired after the 2014 season, White was promoted to head coach. In her first season at the helm, she guided the Fever to a 20-14 record and making it to the 2015 WNBA Finals, losing to Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx in a decisive Game 5 at Target Center in Minneapolis. The Fever went 17-17 in 2016 and lost to Sandy Brondello’s Phoenix Mercury in the first round of the playoffs, though White had announced at the beginning of the season that she would be leaving for Vanderbilt University at the conclusion of the season.

The Vanderbilt Commodores had mixed success and numerous challenges during White’s five seasons at the helm, which included injuries and the COVID-induced 2020-2021 shortened season, which would be her last. After taking a year off from coaching, the Connecticut Sun hired her after the previous head coach Curt Miller took the helm of the Los Angeles Sparks.

Since taking over at Connecticut, the team lost Jonquel Jones to free agency, Brionna Jones to injury, and was tasked with uniting the remaining team and building chemistry. She was rewarded with a 27-13 record and the third seed in the 2023 WNBA playoffs. The Sun defeated Cheryl Reeve’s Minnesota Lynx two games to one in the best-of-three First Round series and will now face Sandy Brondello’s New York Liberty in the semifinal round.

Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White holds up the 2023 WNBA Coach-of-the-Year trophy that she received from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert prior to the playoffs Round 1 Game 2 versus the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“A lot of us have been a part of teams and this is a team award. Our players go out and they bust their tails every day to be the best that they can be,” said White. “This really is a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, some of which are seen on the floor every day, some of which are not. I’m just really grateful and thankful for this opportunity.”

Even though being named Coach of the Year is a nice individual award, White maintains that it was never in her mind when she took the job.

“You never go into this thinking about individual awards. It’s about what we can accomplish as a team. It really is a reflection of this group that’s been resilient all year long and they’ve been able to continue to put their best foot forward,” said White.

“Coming in, all I wanted to do was tweak things a little bit that would try to bring out the best in our players. I wanted to be open to their feedback and help them be open to some of the tweaks and changes that we wanted to make to try to get us over the hump,” she added. “I respect this group a lot. They’re incredibly competitive. They hate to lose more than they like to win. They want to be the best they can be every day, and because of that, they’re incredibly coachable.”

The award has been presented annually since the league’s inception, making this the 27th award in league history. Nine men have won the award a combined 16 times [Van Chancellor (three times); Mike Thibault (three times); Dan Hughes (twice); Bill Laimbeer (twice); Curt Miller (twice); Michael Cooper, John Whisenant, Brian Agler and James Wade (once each)] and nine women have won it 11 times [Cheryl Reeve (three times); Marianne Stanley, Suzie McConnell-Serio, Maryknell Meadors, Carol Ross, Sandy Brondello, Nicki Collen, Becky Hammon and now Stephanie White (one each)].

Suzie McConnell-Serio was the first former player to win the award back in 2004 when she coached the Minnesota Lynx. McConnell-Serio played guard for the Cleveland Rockers from 1998-2000.

Current New York Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello won the award in 2014 when she led the Phoenix Mercury to the WNBA championship. She played guard for the Detroit Shock (1998-1999), Miami Sol (2001-2002), and Seattle Storm (2003) before joining the coaching ranks as an assistant for the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2005. Brondello is best known for her years as head coach of the Phoenix Mercury (2014-2021) before moving to the Liberty beginning in the 2022 season.

Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon won the award last year, her first year as a head coach. She played guard for the New York Liberty from 1999-2006 and the San Antonio Stars from 2007-2014. She retired from playing after the 2014 season to become the second female NBA assistant coach in league history when she joined Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs (2014-2022). She resigned from the Spurs to take the helm of the Aces, which had relocated from San Antonio in 2018.

White was asked about how her previous career as a player impacts her ability to coach.

Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White, the 2023 WNBA Coach-of-the-Year, answers a reporter’s question following WNBA Playoff Round 1 Game 2 against the Minnesota Lynx at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sept. 17. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine

“It impacts it in a lot of ways. You understand what the players are going through on a day-to-day. Not just the basketball portion of it but also the lifestyle portion of it – being nomads, traveling and grinding and putting yourself into position for success, sacrificing family time and holidays, all of those things,” she replied. “Also in the way that we communicate. As players, there are some things players see that we don’t. There are some things that we see that players don’t.”

“I love the game. I love this league. I love seeing how much growth we’ve had collectively. I love seeing how our players use their platforms for good, and how our teams and organizations use their platform for good,” White added. “It’s the best basketball in the world. As a former player, I’m proud of that. As a coach to be able to be in that and challenge yourself every day is exacting. It’s motivating. It’s part of the rush of what we do, and I love that.”

White’s current head coaching record for the regular season in 108 games is 64 wins and 44 losses (.593), giving her a ranking of 23 all-time out of the 95 coaches in league history. Her playoff coaching record is 15 games coached with 8 wins and 7 losses (.534), putting her into a tie with Marynell Meadors for 16th place. Her next game will be the WNBA Semifinals on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET/Noon CT at the New York Liberty at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York for Game 1 in the best-of-five series.

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