WNBA Takes Note of White's Coaching Career
By Tom Rietmann | May 29, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Stephanie White began absorbing the game's subtleties in elementary school. By the sixth grade, she was playing in Sunday pickup games with her father and his friends, who made sure she understood how to read screens, find the open player and switch on defense.
Those lessons still resonate with White, marking the beginning of a career steeped in basketball knowledge.
“It was where I really learned the game, with my dad and all of his buddies,” said White, who is now a talented, 35-year-old assistant coach with the Indiana Fever. “I was just a product of my community.”
The know-how and passion for her craft that started in a gym in West Lebanon, Ind., has grown to the point that WNBA executives are taking notice. In a recent survey of general managers, White was selected as the league's top assistant coach.
She is in her third season as a Fever assistant and her seventh as a coach in the league, but she's been configuring basketball X's and O's in her mind since those elementary school days in western Indiana. She knows the game, inside and out.
“She played like a coach,” Fever President and General Manager Kelly Krauskopf said about White's four professional seasons in an Indiana uniform, and five overall. “She saw the game as she was playing it, always two possessions ahead. It was just obvious she was going to make a good coach.”
As Lin Dunn, the Fever's head coach, put it: “Stephanie's high basketball IQ, it's tremendous.”
White left behind evidence of that cleverness at every stop of her playing career, starting with her legendary high school years at Seeger Memorial, where she was named national player of the year. White, who was recruited to play at Purdue by Dunn, went on to win college player of the year honors with the Boilermakers. White's three head coaches during her time at Purdue -- Dunn, Nell Fortner and Carolyn Peck -- each delivered special lessons about basketball that the young guard soaked in.
After the Boilermakers captured the national championship in 1999, White played her first pro season in Charlotte before landing with the original Fever team in 2000. A few years later, following her stint as an assistant coach at Ball State during a WNBA offseason, White sensed an urge to someday continue in the coaching business.
“I don't think I really started thinking about coaching until my (playing) career started winding down,” said White, who also served as a college assistant at Kansas State and Toledo. “I wanted to stay in the game in some way, shape or form. I felt like I had something to offer and something to give, and could still use the things that made me a good player.”
White's first coaching job in pro basketball surfaced with the Chicago Sky, where she worked four seasons as an assistant. She also spent a lot of off-season time in Chicago while her career as a basketball analyst blossomed with the Big Ten Network. Later, she began adding to her television work, analyzing college games for ESPN.
Even while White built her resume in coaching and media in Chicago, Krauskopf and Dunn watched closely, looking for a chance to bring her back to Indiana.
“She's one of those who just have that special gift,” Krauskopf said.
With the Fever, White works primarily with the perimeter players. After a recent practice, rookie guard Layshia Clarendon took in every word as White imparted instructions on adding a floating jumper and a few other offensive moves to her repertoire. White also is heavily involved in Fever opponent scouting, just like Dunn and veteran assistant Mickie DeMoss.
White sees game-planning as one of her coaching strengths. She says she is still growing in her game management. Dunn gives her every opportunity to learn and make significant contributions as the team designs attack schemes for upcoming opponents.
Besides young players like Clarendon, White also deals closely with Indiana veterans -- some of whom she knew as teammates. Fever guard Katie Douglas played with White on Purdue's national title team. Fever forward Tamika Catchings played with her on Indiana clubs in the franchise's early years.
“(White) just has a great way with players, all of them,” Krauskopf said. “There's a real solid level of respect.”
White is proud of that. And as her coaching career moves ahead, she is hopeful that players continue to enjoy the fruits of their labors with her.
“I want to coach a game that's fun for them to play,” White said. “I like the up-tempo style. I like a lot of what pro basketball is about.
“I think we're going to see a transition of some of the pro stuff to the college game, where you are playing a lot more two-man (pick-and-roll), where you're letting players' natural abilities come through. I want to be structured but not so structured that it takes away from their natural instincts. Sometimes you just have to let the players play.”
Someday, perhaps soon, fans likely will see White using her philosophy and strategies as a head coach. If it happens in the WNBA and she can continue her television work in college basketball, that would be nice. But if a head-coaching job comes in the college ranks and the media business has to go on hold, so be it.
Whatever happens, White is prepared to deal with it.
“I think I'm in such a unique situation, working in a place and with people I love,” she said. “I have a son (1 1/2-year-old Landon Fletcher) now. I'm not trying to climb the ladder so fast that we're moving all over all the time. I certainly would welcome an opportunity whenever it comes, but I'm pretty content with where I am personally and professionally.
“I'm ready when it's there, and I'm waiting and patient if it doesn't come,” she said.
Krauskopf and Dunn view White as qualified for a head-coaching job right now. White will be 36 years old on June 20. Frank Vogel, who has led the Pacers to a berth in the NBA Eastern Conference finals, was officially named Indiana's head coach in July 2011, just after he turned 38.
“To me,” Dunn said, referring to White, “she's the next assistant to get a head-coaching job, wherever there's an opening.”
MORE HONORS FOR FEVER
White wasn't the only Indiana representative tabbed in the WNBA's survey of general managers.
The GMs selected Tamika Catchings as the best leader among players, the toughest player, the top power forward and the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year in the WNBA. The versatile Catchings also tied for the top spot among small forwards with Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, who will make an appearance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday night when the Fever hosts the Dream.
Fever point guard Briann January tied with Washington's Ivory Latta as the top vote-getter for the most underrated player.
Also, the league executives voted Lin Dunn as the best manager/motivator and the head coach who runs the best defense.