Kara Lawson on becoming Duke’s head coach: “This is a dream come true for me”
Former WNBA player Kara Lawson is already in hallowed territory as part of a wave of female assistant coaches in the NBA. However, being named the head coach of Duke women’s basketball puts her in even more elite company. Currently, she’s in Orlando with the Boston Celtics as the team prepares for a restart of the season. She expressed her wonderment at her new position as a college head coach during a Monday morning videoconference with media.
“What an incredible moment that is still pretty surreal for me,” Lawson said in her opener after comments from the school’s athletic director, Kevin White, and the school’s deputy director of athletics, Nina King.
“This is a dream come true for me. I’ve wanted to be a coach since I was a kid. I took a circuitous route, but I’m here now. I’m so excited about the opportunity to shape young women, grow their games and their personalities through their collegiate career.”
Even though Lawson is in Orlando, she has made time to reach out to current Duke players virtually.
“I’ve tried to spend my first couple of days reaching out to our players, past players, and hopefully future players,” Lawson said. “We’re really excited, and I can’t wait.”
Duke announced the Lawson hire Saturday, July 11, nine days after former coach Joanne P. McCallie stepped down. The school hired a search firm, Collegiate Sports Associates, on the same day as the McCallie announcement. King oversaw the search process.
“Our main priority was to work swiftly, and as efficiently as we could, given the nature of the times we’re experiencing,” King said.
The school vetted nearly 20 candidates.
“From there, we had conversations with six,” King revealed, “and then invited to for finalist interviews before everything our selection on Saturday.”
Both King and White emphasized Lawson’s interpersonal skills, adaptability as well as her basketball pedigree as reasons why she rose to the top of the candidate pool.
“Kara Lawson is the perfect fit for Duke University, Duke athletics and, more specifically, Duke women’s basketball,” King said. “She has an incredibly high basketball IQ. She knows the game, having played it and coached it at the highest levels. She’s a teacher, a mentor leader and a champion, and I have no doubt she’ll have a measurable impact on past, present, and future Blue Devils.”
White commented on Lawson’s “distinctive track record” of “developing very strong, as well as deeply rooted relationships.” He continued that she is “also is truly gifted in maintaining, if not enhancing those highly valuable relationships.”
Lawson’s collegiate basketball journey began as a guard at Tennessee under legendary head coach Pat Summitt where she helped continue the Lady Vols’ successful track record with four straight SEC titles and three NCAA Final Four appearances. Her list of accolades is long and impressive and includes a WNBA title with the Sacramento Monarchs in 2005. She has a 22-year track record with USA Basketball as a player and coach and won a gold medal as a guard on the 2008 National Team. In addition to her duties with the Celtics, she also coaches USA Basketball’s 3×3 women’s team.
During the videoconference, Lawson discussed some of the lessons she’s learned over the years and shied away from giving an exact plan on what types of coaching strategies she plans to implement. She recounted a story about coaching the 3×3 team and how she learned about the disadvantages of using a one-size-fits-all approach across different squads.
“I’ll tell you a story,” Lawson began. “I was coaching a 3-on-3 team in 2018. We went down to Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Youth Olympic Games. We had some really good players on that team, young players, high school players, that were really talented. We ran certain offenses; obviously, you look at the skills of your players and see how can you adjust to their skills and strengths. We won the gold medal. Great team, very dominant team. The next year, we had a new group of players. I brought them over to Mongolia to play in the World Cup. During the first couple of days of practice, I started to implement a lot of the actions that were very successful for us the previous year, but with different players. It was not a fit. It did not work. I remember going home after the second night of practice and ripping up the playbook, saying this is not going to work. We had to find something that worked for them and aligned with their skill sets. We changed.”
That experience gave her insight on how to approach coaching at Duke.
“I’m not going to make any grandiose statements about what we’re going to do, who we’re going to be,” she said about coaching at Duke. “I just think we’re going to figure out what works for us, and we’re going to strive to master that.”
Watch the entire press conference video: