Nicki Collen is headed south for her first job as a head coach.
After two years as an assistant to Curt Miller with the Connecticut Sun, Collen is taking over in Atlanta.
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“I am humbled at the opportunity to become the next head coach of the Atlanta Dream and incredibly proud to be associated with a league that empowers women in such a positive way,” Collen said Monday.
She has been a supporter of the WNBA since it started, even trying out for the Detroit Shock after graduating college.
“I’ve been consistently blown away how good the league is and how good the players are individually,” Collen said. “So proud of the product all these teams put on the floor.”
Collen replaces Michael Cooper, who was fired on Sept. 5 following the team’s worst season since 2008. She is familiar with the Dream’s roster after scouting them this past year with Connecticut.
“I was lucky working for Curt and really understand how we built our culture and getting it done in the locker room first,” she said. “We have got to get everyone on the same page. Let’s face it, individual accolades come when a team succeeds at a high level.”
Collen is looking to direct a turnaround of the Dream following a 12-22 season. The team’s top scorer, Angel McCoughtry, sat out the season to rest. She knows McCoughtry from her time as an assistant at Louisville and hopes to have her back with the Dream next season.
“I coached her for two years and was around Angel in the early years,” Collen said.
In her second season as an assistant under Miller, Collen helped the Sun to a 21-13 record and the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2012. Connecticut improved on a 14-20 finish in 2016, and Miller was named 2017 WNBA Coach of the Year.
“Nicki brings impressive basketball and coaching credentials along with great leadership qualities and we are thrilled to welcome her to the Atlanta Dream,” team owners Kelly Loeffler and Mary Brock said in a statement. “We believe her strong emphasis on player development alongside a disciplined offensive and defensive system will position our talented team to be a playoff contender.
“She impressed us with her vision for building on the decade of growth for the Dream and we are excited about launching our 2018 season with this announcement.”
The longtime assistant isn’t afraid about becoming a head coach for the first time.
“I think that I’ve been really lucky to work for people who really empowered me,” she said. “Curt especially turning the defense over to me, being in the huddle and making in-game decisions on the defensive side of the ball, really being involved that way has helped. There’s more pressure in the first chair and players tend to like you better in the second chair.”
Collen said her phone has been ringing nonstop since the move was announced. She already has talked to All-Star point guard Layshia Clarendon and hopes to talk to the rest of Atlanta’s players soon.