As she takes on the challenges of being head coach for the Connecticut Sun, Stephanie White is excited about the season, the team, Connecticut and the drive to win championships. A star player for Purdue during her college years, she was named the top female basketball player in the U.S. She previously coached in the WNBA for the Indiana Fever and at Vanderbilt and is known to basketball fans for her great analysis of college hoops on ESPN. She officially hit the boards in April.
White joins an increasing number of out-and-proud people in sports and women in the WNBA. Outsports reports that more than 20 percent of players and several coaches are LGBTQ+, the highest percentage of any professional sports league. The publication defines out as individuals either explicitly stating that they are LGBTQ+ or living publicly as such. Moreover, the WNBA continues to lead in diversity and inclusion in all areas according to reporting in ESPN. White is a leader in this area, but she’s also dedicated to being great on the courts.
Asked what excited her about coaching, she said, “just about everything. I love competition. I love strategy. I love studying the game. I love being in a gym. And, you know, it’s funny because the things that I miss not being in a gym, little things like the ball bouncing and sneaker squeaking and, practice planning… Just, all of those things.
“It’s much less about, about wins and losses, and it’s about competitiveness and helping put people in positions to be successful, in relationships that you build with players and staff and community and, and quite honestly, being a part of, of something bigger than yourself. When I was just working in television, I didn’t have that, and I miss that.”
White’s lifelong love of basketball began when she was a kid, but there weren’t many young girls playing at the time, so she had to play with the boys—who weren’t always keen on letting her play. White, though, says that the experience made her tougher, adding, “I had to earn my stripes.” When she was ten, some of her dad’s friends who played at the local gym allowed her to join them, and they didn’t take it easy on her, but White says that’s how she learned the game. “It’s not just skills like dribbling and passing and shooting. It’s little things like how to come off screens and pass ahead, different defensive angles, shot fakes. These guys weren’t going to take it easy on me, and all the little things that it takes to be a really good basketball player, I learned playing with those guys.”
White sees her role as a coach largely as putting her players in a position to be successful. “Every day you’re responsible for bringing your best,” she says. She adds that her job is to strategize what’s going to make the team the best on the floor and continue building relationships—one area that White has felt was one of her strengths.
White sees herself as a “straight, two-way communicator,” and that success means managing many different voices and perspectives to build a team. “At the end of the day, I’m the one who makes the decision—good, bad, or ugly—and I don’t have a problem doing that.
“One of the biggest things with professional athletes is you’ve got to be honest and shoot straight. As a player, I always wanted to know where I stood. I’m always going to have your back, but I’m always going to push you to be the best you can be—and create the best team we can be.”
It’s the same approach White takes to her role as a mom. In addition to coaching, with her partner in a blended family, White is mom to four boys (twins age 11, and a 9-year-old and a 10-year-old stepson) and she says that her decision to come to the Sun was made as a family. The only concern of one of her sons was that White could still coach his YMCA team. With that settled, everyone was on board. Still, White says it may be tough to miss some of the daily activities, during the school year, and it will be new for everyone, but the family plans to be in Connecticut during the summers.
White is as nurturing with her family as she is with her team, helping her kids find their passions and know that they have to work for what they want. “I think so often young people see athletes or actors, or people they admire, and they think they just ‘got there,’” she says, laughing. “They don’t see the daily work, structure, and habits it takes to get there.” White says one of her roles as a parent is to model that—whether it’s schoolwork, sports, or even playing Monopoly.
Knowing that Connecticut can be, well, a little intense about its basketball, White is ready. “I think one of the things that makes Connecticut really special is that the community love basketball, and a lot the credit goes to Geno Auriemma and what he’s done at UCONN and how he’s impacted the community.
“That’s a blessing and a curse sometimes when the expectation is always to win championships. But it’s also what you want as a player—and those are the hopes, too. And that for me—for us—is being a part of something that’s really exciting.”
The Sun’s 2023 season kicked off in May, appropriately enough against White’s old team the Indiana Fever. They’ll play 40 games this season, with 20 of them at Mohegan Sun Arena. For more information and tickets, visit connecticutsun.com.