Fever's loss is SEC's gain -- and good for women's basketball overall

Stephanie White, 38, will finish the season as coach of the Fever before taking over at Vanderbilt. Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

Stephanie White is going to have a lot on her plate the next few months, as she finishes her time coaching the Indiana Fever and prepares for a new job guiding Vanderbilt.

She isn't the only "Fever connection" who was announced this week to be headed to the SEC. Lin Dunn is going to Kentucky to be an assistant to Matthew Mitchell.

Thus, White and Dunn -- the latter was an assistant to the former when the Fever won the 2012 WNBA title -- are returning to the college game, and they will be strategizing against each other when the Commodores meet the Wildcats.

White will be 39 in June; Dunn celebrated her 69th birthday earlier this month. They are at opposite ends of their careers, yet they bring a similar thing to the college game: the understanding of what it takes to succeed in professional basketball. White said more college coaches are realizing that there is a lot to learn from the pro game, in which she has been immersed for so long.

"Having this experience has helped me be willing to make changes and adjustments a little bit quicker," she said of pro coaching. "I think it's going to help because we do things a little bit differently. We look to exploit things differently. It's not quite as structured and scripted.

"In the WNBA, teams don't just run plays to run plays. They run plays to exploit specific weaknesses in your defense. And defenses try to take away your plays. I think it's a different way to approach your offensive and defensive game planning."

Dunn recruited Indiana sensation White to play at Purdue back in the mid-1990s. There, White won an NCAA title as a senior in 1999, at that point playing for Carolyn Peck.

Peck will return to her alma mater, Vanderbilt, as an assistant to White. Peck has been a college and WNBA head coach, but she most recently worked as an analyst for ESPN.

"I'm really looking forward to going into the SEC -- so much tradition, so many amazing coaches and players," White said. "And of course, the rivalry with Tennessee." Stephanie White

White is quick to compliment both Dunn and Peck for how they helped her develop her coaching style. White said Dunn gave her a lot of responsibility as a Fever assistant, which helped make the transition last season -- White became the first coach in league history to lead a team to the WNBA Finals in her first year as head coach -- so smooth after Dunn retired from the WNBA in 2014.

The way Peck managed a Purdue team led by a senior backcourt in 1999 influenced the way White has dealt with players as a coach.

"One of the great lessons I learned from Carolyn is two-way communication," White said. "She allowed us to be a part of the process and voice our opinions.

"Players sometimes see and feel things on the floor that we can't simulate on the sidelines, and you have to trust them. You have to vet them ... get them to really think through the process. But that communication style has had an impact on me. It's part of the reason that I'm the coach that I am."

Dunn was head coach at Mississippi for one season, 1977-78. Peck was in charge at Florida from 2002 to '07. The SEC of today is very different than that of Dunn's time -- when the league had yet to officially sponsor women's basketball -- and it has even changed since Peck was in the conference.

There are now 14 SEC teams, with Texas A&M and Missouri joining in 2012. The SEC remains a premiere women's basketball league, but other than eight-time national champion Tennessee and the one NCAA title that Texas A&M brought from its days in the Big 12, SEC women's hoops programs have not been able to get over the final hump for a title.

The SEC had the most berths (nine) in the NCAA tournament this past season but did not get a team to the Final Four.

"You've got to be seen and be out there. I look at what Dawn Staley did at South Carolina. You have to reach out and establish a connection and have a dialogue." Stephanie White on engaging Vanderbilt's fan base

Vanderbilt has been to the Final Four once, in 1993. The Commodores have missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. That, along with a steady drop in attendance, ended Melanie Balcomb's 14-year tenure as Vandy's coach.

"You've got to be seen and be out there," White said of engaging with the Commodores' fan base. "I look at what Dawn Staley did at South Carolina. You have to reach out and establish a connection and have a dialogue. One of the things that was so exciting about my college career at Purdue is that the fans were a part of our lives. We knew them by name. We made them part of the family. That's what makes it fun."

White is from Indiana and has a long association with the Fever, but it was known that she wanted to be a college head coach at some point. However, she wasn't going to make just any move. She and her wife have three young children, and White wasn't going to uproot her family unless the job was a great fit for her. Vanderbilt should be.

"I'm really looking forward to going into the SEC -- so much tradition, so many amazing coaches and players," White said. "And of course, the rivalry with Tennessee."

Fever star Tamika Catchings, a former Lady Vol, teased White about going to "the other school in Tennessee." In reality, though, it hasn't been much of rivalry; the Lady Vols lead the series 67-9. That's something White will work on too.

As for Dunn's coming out of retirement to go to Kentucky, it's a move that capitalizes on her vast knowledge of the game and her teaching ability. The Wildcats' alarming number of transfers, recruits' de-committing and staff turnover the past several months prompted Mitchell to make wholesale changes, with the transparency of a lengthy Q&A session with the media in late April.

Despite all the turmoil at Kentucky, the Wildcats were 25-8 this past season and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, in which they lost in Lexington to Washington. Now Kentucky is in the process of regrouping as a program and trying to re-establish some degree of calm with a re-made staff that includes Dunn.

Where does all this put the Fever? With Dunn leaving in 2014 and White and Catchings (who is retiring at season's end) departing in 2016, that's a lot of experience and identity lost in a short time.

Even so, this team has had the stability of Fever president and chief operating officer Kelly Krauskopf in the front office since the franchise began. She has time to search for the right Fever coach for 2017 and beyond.

The Fever's loss when this season ends looks to be the SEC's gain. That, overall, should be good for women's basketball.