Sun’s Stephanie White named Coach of the Year

Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White
Connecticut Sun head coach Stephanie White was named Coach of the Year for keeping her team in the top of the standings despite injury. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Connecticut Sun first-year head coach Stephanie White was named the 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year, the league announced on Sunday. White and the No. 3 seed Sun can clinch their spot in the semifinals with a win against the No. 7 Lynx on Sunday in Game 2 of the first-round series.

White earned 36 votes of the 60 submitted by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. She is the fourth former player to win the award, joining Becky Hammon (2022), Sandy Brondello (2014) and Suzie McConnell-Serio (2004).

After playing five seasons in the WNBA from 1999-2003 for the Charlotte Sting and Indiana Fever, she became an assistant with the Sky (2007-10) and Fever (2011-14). The 2012 Fever team won the WNBA championship. She became head coach briefly there in 2015.

White was hired by the Sun after former head coach Curt Miller, whose teams were the winningest in the league dating to 2017, left for the Los Angeles Sparks position. Her three assistants (Briann January, Abi Olajuwon, Austin Kelly) are all in their first seasons as WNBA assistant coaches.

White, a former player, first had to adjust following the trade of Jonquel Jones to the Liberty in a three-team deal that brought in Rebecca Allen. She had to pivot 13 games into the season when center Brionna Jones, a former Most Improved and Sixth Player winner, ruptured her Achilles and was ruled out for the season. Connecticut barely missed a beat in covering her absence while Alyssa Thomas averaged nearly a triple-double as a leading contender in the MVP race.

The Sun remained top-four in offensive rating and defensive rating from last year’s team that lost in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals to the Aces. They are the No. 3 seed in the postseason with a 27-13 regular season record.

Trammel, who finished in second place with 11 votes, coached at the high school, collegiate and pro levels for nearly 30 years before her first head coaching job came last offseason with the Wings. She became the fifth Wings head coach since 2018 and righted an at-times tumultuous franchise.

The Wings are the No. 4 seed in the postseason improving from an 18-18 season to 22-18. Collectively, Dallas has done a better job of taking good shots and hitting them. The most notable improvement is on the glass where they’ve improved from eighth (33.8 rpg) to first (38.7 rpg) in large part due to a tenacity on the defensive end not seen last year. And an uptick in steals, a focus of Trammel’s defensive-minded coaching style.

Trammel’s assistants are Courtney Paris, Brandi Poole and April Schilling.

Brondello is in her second year as Liberty head coach following eight seasons in Phoenix that included the 2014 WNBA championship. She earned her one Coach of the Year honor that season and finished third this season with six votes. Her assistants are Olaf Lange, Roneeka Hodges and Zach O’Brien. General Manager Jonathan Kolb was named Executive of the Year earlier this week.

Brondello was tasked with melding all of the pieces of a super-team together in the offseason and building chemistry for a postseason run. The front office added Jones in the trade, and signed free agents Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot to pair with starters Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. It began clicking near the All-Star break when the defense came together.

The Liberty went 16-20 in Brondello’s first season and improved to 32-8 with the No. 2 seed in the postseason. Their offensive rating improved 10 points to move from ninth to second (107.8) and their defensive rating moved from sixth to third (97.0) for a 10.8 point net rating. They’ve improved dramatically in efficiency, rebounding, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio.

The 2023 team now holds the record for assisted shot rate (75.03%), beating the 2022 Sky team (74.32%) also led by Vandersloot. Its average of 11.1 average 3-pointers made per game is also a record. The 2021 Liberty team and 2023 team are the only ones in tWNBA history to average at least 10 made 3s per game over a regular season.

Hammon is in her second year with the No. 1 seed Aces after leading the franchise to its first WNBA championship last fall. She won Coach of the Year honors for 2022 and received three votes this year. Las Vegas brought back four of their standard starting five from the season as well as reserve Kiah Stokes, who stepped in as a starter for the Finals when Dearica Hamby was injured and came off the bench.

The Aces added Candace Parker and Alysha Clark to the mix. But Parker has been out indefinitely since mid-July and key reserve Riquna Williams had not played due to injury. She is not welcome back to the team, Hammon said, after a domestic violence incident this summer.

Las Vegas finished first in offensive and defensive rating this season. Their 113.77 ortg is second in league history behind the 2019 Washington Mystics mark of 114.55. The Mystics won the title that year. Their 97.7 defensive rating bests last year’s seventh-ranked mark of 101.2 from last season. And their 15.3 net rating is more than double that of last year’s squad (6.4).

The Aces are the first team to have four players average at least 15 points per game, according to Across the Timeline. A’ja Wilson averaged 22.8 points, Kelsey Plum averaged 18.7, Jackie Young averaged 17.6 and Chelsea Gray averaged 15.3.

Hammon, a former WNBA star guard, was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame this summer. She is assisted by Natalie Nakase, Tyler Marsh and Charlene Thomas-Swinson.

Reeve, who earned two votes as did Atlanta Dream head coach Tanisha Wright, is in her 14th season as Lynx head coach and earned COY honors three times (2011, ’16, ’20). She is one of three three-time winners (Mike Thibault, Van Chancellor).

The Lynx began the season 0-6 and climbed up the standings to head into the postseason as a No. 6 seed at 19-21. They fared worse than 2021 in most major categories, but Reeve received chatter for the award for the way she brought the team back into playoff contention with a younger, developing roster. It was the first season the Lynx played without Sylvia Fowles, who was the last of the core dynasty era.

Minnesota drafted Diamond Miller at No. 2 overall and Miller missed time with an ankle injury. Second-round steal Dorka Juhász played big minutes. And it was Napheesa Collier’s first full season back after the birth of her first child.

Reeve’s assistants are Katie Smith, Rebekkah Lamar Brunson and Elaine Powell.

Leave a Comment