Tasked with finding someone to lead the high-profile Lady Bears basketball program, Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades went to the pros.
Baylor announced the hiring of Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen, the 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year, as the new head Lady Bear early Monday evening.
The announcement was made in a press release that went out just before 6 p.m. on Monday. In it, Baylor announced it will hold an introductory press conference at 2:30 Wednesday afternoon at the Ferrell Center.
“Today is an exciting day for Baylor University and our women’s basketball program,” Rhoades said in the press release. “Nicki is a passionate leader of young women and an elite basketball mind and teacher of the game.”
Collen, who played collegiately at Purdue and Marquette, has been in coaching for the last 20 years. This will be her first head coaching position at the college level after she was an assistant at Colorado State, Ball State, Louisville, Arkansas and Florida Gulf Coast from 2001-2015.
Collen took over as the Dream’s head coach in 2018 and promptly led the team to a first-place finish in the WNBA Eastern Conference.
Collen’s roster in Atlanta included former Baylor Big 12 players of the year Kalani Brown and Odyssey Sims, although only Brown actually played under the former Dream coach. Sims was added to the roster this offseason.
“I am thrilled to be the head coach at Baylor University,” Collen said in the school’s press release on Monday. “I believe it is the top job in the country for women’s basketball. I am excited to begin working with this extremely talented team and I am grateful for the unwavering support of President (Linda) Livingstone and Mack Rhoades. The success of this program speaks for itself, and I will begin working today to ensure Baylor women’s basketball continues to be a program that excels at the highest levels.”
Collen will take over a program that has won 11 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. The Lady Bears went 28-3 overall and 17-1 in conference last season to keep their Big 12 title streak alive. Baylor ultimately lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Lady Bears have an experienced roster returning for next season, including Big 12 Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith, whom ESPN tabbed as the top player in the nation going into the 2021-22 season.
Smith reacted to Collen’s hiring with a quote tweet of Baylor’s announcement and added the comment “time to get to work !”
Along with Smith, three other Baylor starters have the opportunity to return for next season — guard Moon Ursin, center Queen Egbo and guard Trinity Oliver. The Lady Bears also return key reserves Sarah Andrews and Caitlin Bickle. Freshman center Hannah Gusters entered the transfer portal and immediately signed with LSU over the weekend.
The new Baylor coach follows departed Hall of Famer Kim Mulkey.
Last week, Mulkey announced she was leaving the Lady Bears to take the head coaching position at LSU. A native of Hammond, La., Mulkey said the Tigers’ job was the only one she would have left Baylor to take.
Although Collen’s was one of several names to be attached to Baylor’s search along with Georgia’s Joni Taylor, Grand Canyon’s Molly Miller and former Lady Bears assistants Sytia Messer and Bill Brock, Rhoades conducted the coaching search without any concrete information pointing to Collen surfacing in the media prior to Monday’s announcement.