Virginia AD: New coach Tina Thompson 'exactly what we need'

Lawrence Kim
April 19, 2018

"The choice of putting me in this chair to lead this team and this program is probably not the easy choice", Thompson said. Professional is just the word that keeps popping into my head.

The second sentence that new Virginia women's basketball coach Tina Thompson said at her introductory press conference at John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday was unprompted, and did everything to address the obvious elephant in the room - the main question circulating the Cavaliers' surprising and gutsy hire.

Perhaps not for the reason you might think.

Yes, she was poised, self-assured and eloquent, products of her University of Southern California bachelor's degree.

There's also the fact that previous head coach Joanne Boyle retired almost a month ago to the date, and Thompson first connected with Williams only several days ago. She knows what she doesn't know and will steer the Cavaliers' once-elite program accordingly - bank on her hiring a seasoned staff with ACC ties.

"First year, [was] really tough", Thompson said.

"You wouldn't know she only had three years of coaching experience, and I don't really see it as her having only three years of coaching experience", Williams said.

At the other end of the line was first-year UVa athletic director Carla Williams, who was joined by one of her top aides, Jane Miller.

Williams, who took over as Virginia's AD in December, says the 43-year-old Thompson is "exactly what we need".

Several players also attended, including 6-foot-9 rising junior Felicia Aiyeotan, who said she went from nervous about who the school would hire to thrilled when she learned it would be Thompson. There was a mutual attraction between Tina Thompson and Virginia's women's basketball program that made for a short courtship.

Consultations with other coaches convinced her to give it a try.

All of them, Thompson said, every Virginia coach in every sport, had reached out to welcome her. "I don't think that's going to be a problem for her at all".

Among those in the audience were former Virginia coaches Joanne Boyle and Debbie Ryan.

Consider Boyle, a central-casting hire in 2011. Though Thompson was a little reluctant to begin a career in coaching, she quickly excelled. Yet for whatever reason, she never gained traction in Charlottesville. "For me, I think all of those things are very important, and they play a role in who she is, and her make-up, and I think that's attractive to prospects, and to our players". But Dave O'Brien, then the athletic director at Temple in Staley's native Philadelphia, sold her on leading the Owls.

All Staley did was guide Temple to six NCAA tournaments in eight years, after which she went to SC, where in 2017 her team won the national championship.

Thompson, 43, has just three years of coaching experience, two as an assistant at Texas, and last year as the Longhorns' associate head coach. Moreover, they signed seven McDonald's All-Americans. She just does her job. I know she was like (that) as a collegian at USC. In her 17 year WNBA career, she was a member of four championship teams and was selected as one of the top 15 players in the league's history.

"She is one of the best to ever play the game and she has experienced tremendous success at all levels of the game".

Of course, these accomplishments didn't come easily - and Thompson's experience with coaching has been no different. Under his direction, she won four consecutive WNBA championships with Houston and a 2004 Olympic gold medal in Athens.

Like Thompson, Chancellor is a big personality, but with a Houston Comets roster of Type A's such as Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper and Thompson, he tempered his style.

Their advice? "Meet them where they are, and kind of slowly pour into them the things that you want", Thompson said.

Plonsky described Thompson as a consummate players' coach, and I asked Thompson if she'll have to change now that she's in charge. In everything that I do, I want to be the absolute best, and I want to lead from the front. "I'm quoting coach [Debbie] Ryan on this". If you're willing to work hard, if you're sharp, and if you're competitive and you care about people and can build relationships, you can be successful.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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