WNBA awards: Stephanie White named Coach of the Year for keeping Sun a title contender

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 a key injury on the roster. (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 Sunday. White and the No. 3 seed Sun are looking for a spot in the semifinals with a win against the No. 7 Minnesota Lynx in 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, White 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 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 and defensive ratings 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.

Latricia Trammell, Dallas Wings

Trammell, 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 the Wings have 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 Trammell’s defensive-minded coaching style.

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

Sandy Brondello, New York Liberty

Brondello, who finished third in voting, 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 on Thursday.

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) 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 WNBA history to average at least 10 made 3s per game over a regular season.