Connecticut Sun’s Stephanie White named WNBA’s coach of the year

UNCASVILLE – Stephanie White took over a franchise in transition when she accepted the job as head coach of the Connecticut Sun last November, and when she lost Brionna Jones to an Achilles tear 13 games into the season, the job figured to become more challenging.

“That was a blow for us,” White said, “and I look back to that moment, and I’m just so pleased with how our team responded to that, how we, as a staff and a team, retooled how we were going to play at both ends of the floor and we were able to excel.”

With White, 46, in command, the Sun continued to be a WNBA contender, even as “super teams” were assembled in New York and Las Vegas, and her resourcefulness and effectiveness in her first season were recognized Sunday with the league’s coach of the year award.

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The Sun (27-13) earned a No.3 seed in the playoffs, and lead Minnesota 1-0 in the first round. Connecticut can clinch the series with a win in Game 2, Sunday at 1 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena.

“I felt really good when I was able to assemble the staff that I did and about where we were going to be as a team,” White said. “When I’m in the job, I told really take that much time to reflect, it’s on to the next thing. Our being in the position we’re in is great, at the end of the year, when hopefully we’re competing for a championship, I will look back and that’s the time I’ll reflect.”

White, 46, who played on an NCAA championship team at Purdue in 1999, and in the WNBA five seasons, got her first head coaching job with the Indiana Fever and led them to the finals in 2015. Then she went to Vanderbilt, going 46-83 between 2016-21.

After the Sun lost in the WNBA Finals last fall, coach Curt Miller, a two-time coach of the year, departed for Los Angeles, former MVP Jonquel Jones was traded to New York and guard Jasmine Thomas went to the Sparks with Miller. The perception was the Sun were “rebuilding,” but White didn’t see it that way. She blended her faster-paced offensive concepts with the defensive principles Miller left behind.

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“I’ve been in and around this league for 25 years and no team is every the same,” White said. “Every year, there are key moving parts, players, staff members, coaches, every year there is change. Being able to adjust and adapt to change is critical for success, so while I knew that certain pieces might not be here, I knew the core that was returning had championship level experience, competitive spirit, grit and toughness, and when you have that in a core group, and a team that understand what it takes to compete for a championship, you’ve got a good foundation. So we didn’t need to come in and re-invent the wheel.”

White has been named the coach of the year by the AP last week, and also by The Next.

The WNBA award is based on voting of 60 sportswriters and broadcasters. White earned 36 points to 11 for runner up Latricia Trammell of Dallas. Sandy Brondello of the New York Liberty was third with six votes, Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces received three votes, Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx and Tanisha Wright of the Atlanta Dream two each.

White is the fourth former WNBA player to win the award, following Hammon (2022), Brondello (2014) and Suzie McConnell-Serio (2004). For the Sun, Mike Thibault and Miller each won twice.

Contributing to the Sun’s success have been Alyssa Thomas, a first-team AP all league selection, who has five triple-doubles, averaging 15.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. DeWanna Bonner averaged 17.4 points, and former UConn star Tiffany Hayes, acquired from Atlanta, averaged 12.1. Jones was averaging 15.9 points, 8.2 rebounds before she was injured.

“This has been an organization that has been family friendly, able to adjust with the times,” White said of the Sun franchise. “It’s an organization that values its people, and when you feel valued and you’re given the tools to succeed, that’s when magic happens. Getting to see that for myself and see that vision is alive and well with this organization has been refreshing.”