The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 5, 2021

Breaking down Nicki Collen to Baylor — Kellie Harper talks new hires at Tennessee — Must-click women's basketball links

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Nicki Collen. (photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics)

So a week ago, in this space, I suggested that Baylor call Nicki Collen.

As you might have heard, they did.

So I got this tweet from Em Adler that asked a fairly simple question.

All right Em, challenge accepted. (Em’s also a great follow by the way.)

Let’s take a look at what all sides got out of this.

If you’re Baylor, what do you need after Kim Mulkey? A big enough name to keep your players, someone with both the ability to coach Xs and Os and motivate her players, ideally someone with college experience you can sell to the donors as a significant figure in women’s basketball.

Nicki Collen certainly checks all of those boxes. Though Hannah Gusters followed Mulkey to LSU, it seems NaLyssa Smith, the most important of the Baylor returnees, is sticking around.

We also know players will compete for Nicki, and increasingly, what top players entering college want is the chance to prepare for the WNBA. That Nicki can speak to both experiences is key.

Now at first glance, it might seem like odd timing for Collen, with the WNBA season set to begin on May 14.

But think of it a different way. Collen was hired by Chris Sienko, who was fired, unexpectedly, just after the draft. If your direct supervisor got fired by a new ownership group, just how secure would you feel about your long-term job prospects?

I know if I were Collen’s agent, I’d have been calling around.

And this is no knock on Atlanta, either. New owners want to bring in their own people, that’s their prerogative. I am a little surprised it happened right after the draft, rather than either before it, or after the season. But this also meant that Collen had more complete information to work from when the Baylor job opened.

In his initial conversation with us, Atlanta interim head coach Mike Petersen made it clear that he has no designs on the top job. The good news is that he and Darius Taylor will make a solid team, well-schooled in Xs and Os, Petersen focused on the the offensive end, Taylor on defense. An additional staff member for the coaching bench is likely to come.

It is notable that Petersen talked about adding that person in conjunction with ownership. Just who will be making the final call on things like roster construction is a bit opaque at the moment. What it all means for Atlanta is very much in the air, though, and Petersen could use a strong start to get buy-in from a roster filled with strong personalities and independent thinking.

But Baylor clearly won here. And the reasons it happened are all fairly clear-cut.

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This week in women’s basketball

One of my favorites, Hayley McGoldrick, goes in-depth on the intriguing Ace Konig.

Maitreyi Anantharaman has thoughts on Kim Mulkey you should read.

Pepper Persley profile from Jacqueline LeBlanc? Yes please!

Crystal Dangerfield has an eye on getting even better, Kent Youngblood writes.

Charlie Creme ranks the best players of 2021-22 in college, as of now.

Evina Westbrook has unfinished business, Alexa Philippou writes.

PJ Brown gets you up to speed on Ariyah Copeland, Alabama transfer who is joining Arizona.

Apparently there are some UConn players in the WNBA.

Bryan Kalbrosky caught up with Sabrina Ionescu.

Kate Fagan or Kim Mulkey, who do I believe? (This didn’t take me long.)

If you wish to place your bets on the WNBA season, here’s a guide as to how.

Tweet of the week

Five at The IX: Kellie Harper, Tennessee head coach, talks new staff

Kellie Harper. (photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

Opening Statement:
“I’m really excited today to introduce you to our two new assistant coaches. There’s been a lot of buzz around the program, a lot of excitement, and I tell you what, they’re both fantastic people, first. They’re terrific basketball coaches, very experienced, and they have hit the ground running in the recruiting department, and I’m excited about where we’re headed and the game plan that we have. Coach Samantha Williams I’ve known for many years and really admired her and always kept up with her. I think she’s done a terrific job in every spot where she’s been. Coach Joy McCorvey, I actually did not know personally, but she’s one of those folks that when you’re out recruiting and someone walks in, you notice them. And she was that person. She was always on my short list. She didn’t know it; I didn’t know her, but she was someone I always kept an eye on as well. I’ve really enjoyed the process of getting to know her, and I think all of our visions align, and we’re really excited to move forward chasing national championships here.”

On her lengthy relationship with Samantha Williams and convincing her to leave a head coaching position:
“Jon (Harper) and Sam were at Auburn together, so I played against her and actually did not meet her until Jon and I were married. But I think, again, that’s been one of his girls. He always loved talking about Sam and what she meant to him, and that relationship just kind of passed over to me as well. Like I said earlier, we’ve just kind of followed her wherever she went. You know, one of those things… I think a lot of it is timing, so we were very fortunate to be able to extend that (offer) and be able to bring her in. I know it’s never easy to leave a team, as an assistant or a head coach, but especially as the head coach. I’m just really excited that she said yes, and we’re here now and moving forward.”

On her first impressions of Joy McCorvey:
“My first impression was that she came in very professional, but also, you notice her. I think she immediately gave me the impression that she was someone you gravitate to, that I could see players gravitating to. And talking to her on the phone just confirmed that. She has a great personality, and I’m really excited for our current players and our future players to spend time with her and get to know her better. But also, I’m excited for our staff to work with her, because she’s a hard worker, very professional, and very intelligent, and I think that’s the thing I’m excited about with both our new staff members.”

On chasing national championships and the experience Samantha Williams brings from recruiting at the highest level:
“I think her experience (at Louisville), coaching and recruiting for a national championship, she definitely has that experience, and I think that’s going to be important for us, because obviously, that’s where we want to be. And if we continue to head that way, I think she’s really going to provide that – and not just the recruiting area, to be honest with you – but just all across the board. Her experience, I think, is going to be vital to our current team, our staff and our recruiting.”

On the team’s response to the new staff:
“I think they’re excited. They’ve had just very brief interactions. They had a chance to meet both Coach Sam and Coach Joy very briefly because of the calendar and the way that’s falling, but I’m excited. Our players will be back in June, and we’ll really get out on the court with them. I think that’s when they’ll really enjoy those interactions even more, but I’d say our team was really, really excited. And I think just from the little bit we saw, we have some really great relationships that are about to form.”

On Samantha Williams‘ statement that, “Women’s basketball is better when Tennessee is better,” and the immediate impact she and Joy McCorvey have had on recruiting:
“Well, first, they’re hard workers. They hit the ground running. I know people say that, but that’s really what happened. And two, I think there was a little bit of a philosophy change, and we addressed some things we need to do better. I think what Sam said about Tennessee, I think that’s right. One thing I’ve said several times is that I think we have a responsibility to women’s basketball. The University of Tennessee Lady Vols have a responsibility. And I agree, women’s basketball is better when we’re better, and we’ve got to step up. I think we’ve made great progress. I’m excited about the competitiveness we showed this year, and I’m excited about the future.”

On what was said during the interview process to sell them on Tennessee:
“I think just the vision of where we can go and reiterating that the resources here are unlike any other. The University of Tennessee takes care of women’s basketball and women’s sports. It’s a priority, and again, this is the best place to be a college basketball player. It’s a great place to be. So, I think they recognize that and understand that, and then there’s our shared vision. We want to do it with great people, work hard and really put that ultimate goal out there of getting back to a national championship.”

On having not met Joy McCorvey before the interview process and how she quickly gained her trust:
“Well, one, you do your homework. You know some things before making a phone call, and I think we did that. And then for me, there were a few things that I wanted to talk about and that I wanted to hear, and everything she said was what I wanted to check off. She’s a hard worker; she does it the right way. There were just so many things, and honestly, after the first phone call I knew she was the person I wanted to hire. You’ve probably heard this a lot, but sometimes you just know. So, we did our homework and had the phone call, and it was just the right decision on our part. We just needed to give her an opportunity to meet the staff and visit and make sure it was the right fit for her as well.”

On the coaching changes across the SEC in the off season:
“Well the SEC is the best. Everyone wants to be part of the best. I think there’s been a lot of buzz around women’s basketball, and I think when you’re talking about our sport it’s a good thing.”

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Sarah Kellam @sarahkellam, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.