Baylor names WNBA’s Collen to replace Mulkey for Lady Bears

WACO, Texas (AP) — WNBA coach Nicki Collen has been hired as the new Baylor women’s coach, taking over a program that has won three national championships and the last 11 Big 12 regular season titles.

Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades made the announcement Monday night. Collen, who had coached the Atlanta Dream the past three seasons, replaces Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey and will be formally introduced Wednesday on the Waco campus.

“Nicki is a passionate leader of young women and an elite basketball mind and teacher of the game,” Rhoades said. “She is a great mission fit who shares in our vision of Preparing Champions for Life by commanding excellence both on and off the court. Nicki’s professional experience will be invaluable to developing players for the next level. Her addition sustains our commitment to the women’s basketball program at the highest level.”

Mulkey left Baylor last month after 21 seasons to return to her home state to take over at LSU. The SEC campus is only about 50 miles from Tickfaw, Louisiana, where Mulkey grew up.

Collen was the 2018 WNBA coach of the year in her first season with the Dream, when they went 23-11 and made it to the league semifinals. She was 38-52 overall in Atlanta, after two seasons as an assistant for the WNBA’s Connecticut franchise.

“I am thrilled to be the head coach at Baylor University. I believe it is the top job in the country for women’s basketball,” Collen said. “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.”

When Mulkey was hired in April 2000, the Lady Bears were coming off a 7-20 season that was their 13th losing record in 17 years. Under Mulkey, they won national championships in 2005, 2012 and 2019, and 632 games overall in 21 seasons.

Baylor likely would have been a No. 1 seed in 2020 before the women’s NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. The Lady Bears were 28-3 this past season, when they made it to a regional final before a 69-67 loss to UConn with a controversial ending when no foul was called after DiJonai Carrington got hit by two defenders — first on her elbow, then again in the face — before falling hard to the floor with one second remaining.

Carrington and versatile guard DiDi Richards were both WNBA draft picks last month. Hannah Gusters, a 6-foot-5 freshman center, entered the transfer portal last week and immediately signed to join Mulkey at LSU.

All-American forward NaLyssa Smith, who as a junior was also the Big 12 player of the year, has given no indications that she plans to leave Baylor, which also has three other starters eligible to come back: 6-3 center Queen Egbo, and guards Moon Ursin and Trinity Oliver. The Lady Bears last month added Alabama point guard Jordan Lewis, who signed as a grad transfer after starting 130 games the past four seasons for the Crimson Tide.

Collen has never been a college head coach, but was an assistant at Florida Gulf Coast (2014-16), Arkansas (2011-14), Louisville (2003-04), Ball State (2002-03) and Colorado State (2000-02), and was part of four NCAA and four WNIT tournaments. She was an assistant for her husband, Tom, during his head coaching tenures at Colorado State, Louisville and Arkansas.

Her collegiate playing career began at Purdue, where as a freshman she was part of an NCAA Final Four run and then was with the Boilermakers for an Elite Eight appearance as a sophomore. She then transferred to Marquette, where she had 421 assists in her final two seasons, averaging 7.0 per game in her last 60 collegiate games as the Golden Eagles made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998.

The Dream on Monday night promoted Mike Petersen as their interim head coach, and thanked Collen for her time with the team.

“We are grateful to Nicki Collen for her hard work coaching the Dream over the past three years,” the WNBA team said in a statement. “We wish her great success at Baylor University.”

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball

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