Hall of Fame basketball coaches have become standard operating procedure in Connecticut, where roundball reigns supreme—thanks primarily to the remarkable success of the UConn men's and women's programs. With three national titles on his resume, Jim Calhoun came to Connecticut a relative unknown and retired after last season as one of the most prolific coaches in college basketball history. So, too, when Geno Auriemma took the helm of the UConn women's program in 1985, he was nothing more than an upstart rookie coach with big dreams and a blank slate. Twenty-seven years, seven (and counting) national championships and an Olympic Gold Medal later, Auriemma is without question a member of the coaching pantheon—and on track to one day be recognized as the greatest basketball coach on any level. Ever.
Perhaps the phenomenal success of Calhoun and Auriemma doomed Mike Thibault from the very beginning. Thibault, who had been the only coach the Connecticut Sun ever knew, was relieved of his duties in November after leading the Sun into the postseason eight times in the past 10 years. But, given the success of both the men's and women's programs in Storrs, the bar is set incredibly high in this basketball-mad state, and one thing—a WNBA championship—eluded Thibault and the Sun in the team's first decade in the Nutmeg State.
Thibault landed on his feet, being named head coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics the week before Christmas. And now, the Connecticut Sun have a new coach—and a Hall-of-Famer no less. Anne Donovan, currently the head coach of the women's basketball team at Seton Hall, was introduced as the Sun's new head coach on Thursday. She will relinquish her duties at Seton Hall at the conclusion of the season.
Donovan brings an impressive resume to Connecticut. She led Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm to the WNBA championship in 2004, and led the now-defunct Charlotte Sting to the Finals in 2001.
“We are absolutely thrilled to bring someone of Anne's caliber to the Connecticut Sun,” said Sun vice president and general manager Chris Sienko. “Anne is a proven winner as both an athlete and as a coach. Our team will benefit greatly from her experience as we move into a new era.”
While the pressure to win—or else—will be great, Donovan's impressive portfolio suggests she is more than up for the task.
“Pressure is something I enjoy,” said Donovan at her official introduction to the Connecticut media on Thursday. “It’s something that, if you are coaching, you better enjoy it and step up to the plate or else you’re not in the right situation. There is always pressure internally from me, no matter what position I am in. At the same time, there is tremendous confidence with my background and my experience and having won a WNBA championship, having some idea of what it takes.”
Overall, Donovan owns a 167-150 regular-season WNBA record, and has led her teams to seven playoff berths in her professional coaching career that has spanned 10 seasons with four teams—Indiana, Charlotte, Seattle and New York. She has earned Olympic Gold as a player (1984 and ’88) and a coach (2008), and has been inducted into both the Naismith Hall of Fame (1995) and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (1999).
A native of Ridgewood, NJ, the 6-8 center became a three-time Kodak All-American (1981-83), two-time Academic All-American (1982-83) and Naismith Trophy winner (1983) at Old Dominion. She led the Monarchs to the AIAW national championship in 1980, and graduated as ODU'S all-time leader in point scored (2,710) and rebounds (1,976). Her 801 blocked shots are still an NCAA record. She inherits a roster with two surefire Hall-of-Famers (Tina Charles and Kara Lawson), surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast that includes five former Huskies (Charles, Renee Montgomery, Asjha Jones, Kalana Greene and Jessica Moore).
Donovan's experience is what led her to Connecticut, the unquestioned capital of women's basketball in this country. And it will allow her to keep her team on an even keel as it seeks its first WNBA title.
“You can line all the ducks up and one duck can fall aside, and things can go awry,” she acknowledges, “It’s my job to make sure we keep the ducks lined up and march down that championship road.
“So it excites me. The challenge and the pressure excite me.”