The Connecticut Sun's Stephanie White has been named the 2023 WNBA Coach of the Year in her first year at the helm of the team, the league announced Sunday.
White led the Sun to a 27-13 regular-season record and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, where they are tied 1-1 in their best-of-three first-round series after an 82-75 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday. She was hired in November following the departure of former coach Curt Miller to the Los Angeles Sparks and as Connecticut was coming off a second WNBA Finals appearance in four years. The Sun are still seeking the franchise's first WNBA title.
Outside expectations for the Sun were mixed after they lost 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas in the offseason. But if onlookers thought the Sun would be rebuilding, White never did, given the competitive, experienced pieces the team returned -- Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner, Brionna Jones and Natisha Hiedeman -- and the ones they would later add in Tiffany Hayes and Rebecca Allen.
It was clear from the onset of the season that the Sun were contenders, as they started 9-3 and were the first team to beat the first-place Las Vegas Aces before losing Brionna Jones, a two-time All-Star, to a season-ending Achilles tear in late June.
But the Sun barely stumbled after Jones' injury, earning a seventh consecutive playoff berth, marking the longest active streak in the league. Along the way, Thomas has emerged as an MVP candidate and Bonner has had a career season in Year 14.
"We could have easily thrown in the towel, but that's not the makeup of these players," White told ESPN this weekend. "... [After Jones went down] it's like, 'OK, how can we sort of revamp and retool what we want to do to keep us in contention?' And so I think all along, our team, our players, our coaching staff, our support staff, everyone here has had the expectation that we want to compete for a championship, and that's just our mindset."
The Sun finished the regular season with the third-best net rating in the league (4.4 points per possession) behind the Aces and Liberty, while their defensive rating (98.8 points per possession) ranks second behind the Aces.
White has spent 16 years in the WNBA as a player, assistant and head coach (for the Indiana Fever in 2015 and 2016), bringing the perspective of a former player that Sun leadership sought in their new coach. She is the fourth former WNBA player to win Coach of the Year.
She describes her culture as building off where they've been, particularly when it comes to the franchise's trademark "grit and toughness and resilience and competitiveness," but made her stamp by "enhancing communication styles" between the team and staff.
"Just retooling what the dynamics between players and coaches and within our own roster, what that looks like," White said. "We're honest. We're transparent. We expect a lot, they give a lot, and they expect a lot from each other, and they expect a lot from us. And I think that allows us to, I guess for lack of a better term, overachieve when people think that we might not be or would have been in the position that we're in."