Stephanie White spent the last year working as a basketball analyst. But at her core, she always knew she was a coach.
White remembers having dinner at restaurants on the road after calling games, and she would move the salt and pepper shakers around like they were players. She could n’t stop drawing up plays, even if spices and condiments were her personnel.
Now, White gets to trade her salt shakers for flesh-and-blood players as she returns to the coaching world, this time as the head coach of the Connecticut Sun.
The Sun are coming off a run to the WNBA Finals, where they lost in four games to the Las Vegas Aces. During the two previous seasons, Connecticut advanced to the semifinals before being eliminated.
“What we want to do is we want to bring a championship here to Connecticut,” White said in her introductory press conference Tuesday. “We have the pieces to do that. We have the mentality to do that. We’re going to put the staff together that puts the best product on the floor and put our players in position to be successful night in and night out.”
White, 45, previously helped the Indiana Fever to a title in 2012 as an assistant coach before she served as the head coach at Vanderbilt from 2016-21. Now she takes over in Connecticut for Curt Miller, who left to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks.
With the Sun, she plans to run a five-out offense using players such as Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas, who can slide into a variety of positions to play a free-flowing attack.
“We want to be a fast-paced, up-tempo, free-flowing offensive team,” White said. “You have a certain structure that can allow players spacing, they can allow them opportunities to be creative.”
But before focusing too much attention on schemes, White is getting to know her players. The coach started reaching out Monday night, she said, and she will chat with each player, fitting the calls into their busy offseason schedules, with many playing overseas.
“I’m looking forward to beginning to build relationships with these players, to letting them know just a little bit about myself, who I am, what my style is, and go from there,” White said.
She will have to work quickly when it comes to building those relationships, and in turn, building a championship team. Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Jasmine Thomas all will be free agents at the end of the 2023 season, and Alyssa Thomas’ contract is up the following year.
The coach will have one season to prove to the Sun core that she has what it takes to get them to a championship. Otherwise, if they leave in free agency, the Sun will need to embark on a total rebuild.
Jones in particular is a player White will want to stick around. Not only does she fit the style of positionless basketball White hopes to implement, but she is also the kind of generational talent to build a roster around. Jones won the league MVP in 2021.
White is fully aware of her situation with the Sun ahead of the pivotal 2023 season for the team, and she’s ready to tackle it head on.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” White said. “We need to add a couple of pieces, we need to retool a little bit. We need to prepare because we know our windows are getting shorter and shorter to win a championship.”
Sun president Jen Rizzotti sees similarities between Connecticut and Las Vegas, despite their contrasting personnel and playing styles last season.
Las Vegas made it to the WNBA Finals in 2020, and then the conference semifinals in 2021, before Becky Hammon came in and coached them to a championship in 2022. The 2022 team did not change drastically compared to the previous seasons, but Hammon was able to make the right changes to propel the team forward.
“I wish I could say there was a formula that we could follow that would guarantee us a championship,” Rizzotti said. “You look at Chicago, and they added a big piece in Candace Parker in order to win their first championship. And then you look at Vegas, and they subtracted a big piece when they traded Liz Cambage to create more open flow in their offense. So there’s different ways of accomplishing your goal.
The Aces also went from Bill Lambier to Hammon. Lambier had success with the Aces, but they didn’t get over the hump until Hammon took over. Rizzotti thinks the Sun could do the same thing with White at the helm.
“It’s going to be Stephanie’s job to figure out the actions that put our players in the best positions to be successful,” Rizzotti said.