Nicki Collen promised a “new brand of basketball” for the Baylor Bears during her appearance at Big 12 Women’s Tip-off in Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon.
Collen, who is about to start her first season as Baylor’s new women’s head coach admitted that her brand of basketball may look a little different than her predecessor, Kim Mulkey.
“It’s going to be a new brand of basketball,” Collen said. “It’s not going to look the same, it’s not going to feel the same. Do we hope the results are the same? Absolutely.”
Collen is building her program and her life as if she intends to stay in Waco for a while. She said she’s building a house in Waco and should be in it by the end of the year. Her kids, however, are still in Atlanta, at least for the foreseeable future as they continue in their schools and with their extra-curricular activities.
Collen spent the past three years as the head coach of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, and her experience at the professional level could play a role in the different look that the Bears could take on this season.
She’ll also have to juggle a roster that has just nine players at the moment, though three of them are among the most talented players in the Big 12. Collen has had to modulate her practice schedule, based on her experience in the WNBA and given her short roster.
Collen said at the college level you can work on more things than you can in the WNBA due to the runway for practices. She said the Bears are further ahead offensively oddly enough but noted that she’ll be leaning on the Bears’ long-time reputation as a defensive team early this season. But, Collen is adding some tweaks on offense, including more pick-and-roll offense, along with spacing, cutting and movement.
Even at that, there still isn’t enough time.
“You know when you spend five years in the WNBA and you average 12 practices before your first game with training camp and you have to limit the load — you really have to load manage at that level — you know, I saw this schedule and I certainly thought 30 practices in 42 days was going to seem like a lot. But what you realize is there’s so much teaching to do,” Collen said.
Collen has talent to work with. NaLyssa Smith and Jordan Lewis led the Preseason Big 12 Women’s Basketball Awards, with Smith named Preseason Player of the Year and Lewis named Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Smith was last season’s Wade Trophy award winner as the best player in women’s college basketball. Queen Egbo was also named to the All-Big 12 preseason team.
Collen obviously has big shoes to fill in Waco. Mulkey won 632 games and led the Bears to three national titles before taking the LSU job last spring.
Upon her hiring in May, Collen had the immediate endorsement of former Bears players, including Kalani Brown, who played for Collen in Atlanta, and Odyssey Sims, who was set to play for Collen in Atlanta before the coaching change.
Collen knows the pressure to deliver right away is there.
“There is certainly a lot of pressure, but I didn’t take the job expecting there not to be pressure,” Collen said.
Collen coached the Dream for three seasons, earning 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year honors after leading the Dream to a 23-11 record and a trip to the WNBA playoff semifinals.
Before that, she served as an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. At the college level, Collen was an assistant coach at Colorado State, Ball State, Louisville, Arkansas and Florida Gulf Coast. Those teams went a combined 214-74 and went to the NCAA Tournament four times.
She played at Purdue and helped the Boilermakers to the 1994 Final Four and the 1995 Elite Eight before transferring to Marquette, where she led the Golden Eagles to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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