When she played for Fever, he was a practice player. Now they're married and WNBA coaches.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Fever assistant coach Karima Christmas-Kelly didn’t give her eventual husband — Connecticut Sun assistant coach Austin Kelly — the time of day when they first met at Duke in 2007.

First, Christmas-Kelly wanted to focus on getting her bearings on the East Coast.

“I'm coming from Houston, and I'm just trying to like, get acquainted to campus and the course load and everything,” Christmas-Kelly said. “So, I really wasn't trying to make friends, I was just trying to get adjusted.”

But Kelly, who played football at Duke in the same years Christmas-Kelly was on the women’s basketball team, was persistent. They shared a study hall together the summer ahead of their freshman year, and he made every effort to connect with her.

“A couple of times, I tried to talk to her and she kind of just brushed me off,” Kelly said. “You know, so as the summer went on, she started to get more comfortable, and started to talk a little bit more.”

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Karima Christmas-Kelly and fellow members of the 2012 WNBA championship Indiana Fever team were honored at halftime during a game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun on Sunday, May 22, 2022, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Eventually, Kelly’s persistence paid off. Christmas-Kelly and Kelly started dating late in the summer before their freshman seasons, and they’ve been together ever since.

“We just got to a point where we jelled, and I just figured out, like, that was my person,” Christmas-Kelly said.

Now, the pair have been together for 16 years — married for six. They’ll soon have a son, as Christmas-Kelly is pregnant and expecting to give birth in July. But, as assistant coaches for different teams halfway across the country, they’re preparing for their impending addition to the family nearly 1,000 miles away from each other.

No strangers to distance

Kelly and Christmas-Kelly are used to having a long-distance relationship. After they graduated from Duke, Christmas-Kelly was drafted by the Washington Mystics while Kelly took a postgrad year to play Division II basketball at Georgia Southwestern.

After his one year of collegiate basketball, Kelly started coaching. First at the high school level at Kell and South Cobb high schools in Georgia, then up to college basketball as an assistant women’s basketball coach at UT-Arlington.

Christmas-Kelly played for multiple WNBA teams during that time, including the Mystics, Dallas Wings, Minnesota Lynx, Fever, and Tulsa Shock.

While she was playing and he was coaching, their schedules somewhat coordinated.

During the summers off from his high school coaching job, Kelly would come to whichever city Christmas-Kelly was playing in at the time. He would hang out around the team and help with what he could — including becoming a practice player for the Fever for a couple years.

“It was great to have him there,” Christmas-Kelly said of Kelly’s practice player days. “My teammates kind of hated him, because he was always the go-to player, he could always really get in there and score a lot of times, but it's great to have him there hear his voice throughout practice, seeing things that I don't see.”

As a practice player, Kelly also learned how to scout other WNBA teams and was able to make connections with the coaching staff, which eventually helped him gain his first professional position with the Sun in 2023.

But in the winters of Christmas-Kelly’s playing days, they saw each other a lot less. Christmas-Kelly went overseas to play, while Kelly returned to Georgia to coach.

“You're kind of isolated,” Christmas-Kelly said of playing overseas. “You have your teammates over there, but your person is not really there. We tried to at least have one trip where he's come for a little bit of a break, but you only get three or four days with the way you have to travel.”

Christmas-Kelly retired from the WNBA in 2020 after nine years in the league, bridging the long-distance gap between her and her husband.

Kelly landed a job at UT-Arlington as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator starting in the 2021-22 season, so the pair lived full-time in Texas. Christmas-Kelly also assisted on UT-Arlington’s women’s staff, getting her first taste of coaching.

Then, just after finding out she was pregnant in early 2023, Christmas-Kelly got a job offer to join new Fever coach Christie Sides’ staff — an offer she couldn’t refuse.

First-time coaches in the WNBA together, but far apart

Christmas-Kelly was looking for a new challenge, and she saw it as an assistant coach for the Fever.

“This is something new, something challenging,” Christmas-Kelly said. “But I think I got a lot of experience at UT-A with coaching and trying to figure out if that's the next path for me.”

FILE -- Fever coach Stephanie White (then an assistant), talks with Karima Christmas during a break, July 12, 2014, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Christmas-Kelly was hired in January. Soon after, Kelly got a call from Connecticut coach Stephanie White — who he worked with while he was a practice player on the Fever.

“It was kind of like the stars were aligning,” Kelly said. “We would, you know, obviously have to be apart during the summer months, which would be tough, but we get to spend the offseason together.”

But the one wrinkle is their son is due in July — the middle of the WNBA season. Christmas-Kelly is going to stop traveling with the Fever around June because of late-stage pregnancy travel restrictions.

If everything goes to plan, Kelly said, he will be in Indianapolis for their son’s birth. Christmas-Kelly’s due date is around the WNBA All-Star break, which runs from July 13-17, so Kelly will head to Indianapolis to be with his wife following the Sun’s game in Chicago on July 12.

“We put a plan in place just so I can go from Chicago to there,” Kelly said. “We're hoping, you know, our boy sticks to the plan and you know everything is able to go really smooth.”

But first, the couple will be adversaries on the court. They’ve already coached against each other once, when the Sun traveled to the Fever for the season-opener in Indianapolis. The Sun won the game, 70-61.

They’ll face off again Tuesday night, as the Fever travel to Connecticut for a rematch.

“We've never been on opposite sidelines, so that experience in itself was foreign to us,” Kelly said. “But the good thing is it's only three or four games that we have to do that, and then the rest of the season whenever they're playing, I'm 100% in their corner, and I'm sure she's in our corner, when we're not playing each other.”

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Chloe Peterson on Twitter at @chloepeterson67.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: WNBA: Indiana Fever, Connecticut Sun assistant coaches are married