Duke hires Lawson as women’s hoops coach

Duke has hired former Tennessee and WNBA guard Kara Lawson as its women’s basketball coach, the school announced Saturday.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant with the Boston Celtics before taking over at Duke. She will replace Joanne P. McCallie, who announced on July 2 that she wouldn’t return for a 14th season. She’d entered the final year of her contract without an extension.

“Well, it is a dream come true for me,” Lawson said in a statement. “I have wanted to be a coach since I was a kid. To have an opportunity to lead a group of young women at a prestigious university like Duke — I have run out of words; it is unbelievable and very exciting.

“… Everybody I spoke with and had a chance to interact with, I immediately felt a great connection. It wasn’t a decision based on emotion, but there was a lot of emotion involved in it because of how excited I am and how ready I am to get started and to work with the players.”

Lawson is the first Black head coach in program history. She is also the fifth Black coach in the ACC, along with Syracuse’s Quentin Hillsman, Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks, Virginia’s Tina Thompson and Niele Ivey, who took over at Notre Dame in April.

Thompson and Ivey are also former WNBA players.

“A highly-seasoned champion at multiple levels within the basketball landscape, Kara Lawson is the ideal fit for Duke University,” athletic director Kevin White said in a statement. “Throughout the process, it became abundantly clear that her authenticity, passion, contemporary vision and unwavering commitment to the student-athlete experience align seamlessly with the values of the institution.

“With her high degree of emotional intelligence, Kara’s astute ability to connect with future, current and former student-athletes, as well as the passionate and dedicated supporters of Duke women’s basketball, will have an immediate and profound impact on the entire program.”

At Tennessee from 1999 to 2003, Lawson played under Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, leading the Lady Vols to NCAA championship game appearances in 2000 and 2003, losing to UConn both times. Lawson is on the board of trustees at her alma mater.

Lawson played in the WNBA from 2003 through 2015, winning the 2005 championship with Sacramento, and was part of the gold-medal-winning 2008 U.S. Olympic team. She worked as a TV commentator for NBA and college basketball games before the Celtics hired her in June 2019.

McCallie was 330-107 in her 13 seasons and was a three-time league coach of the year. Her teams won at least a share of the regular-season title four times and three ACC tournament titles, while also making 10 trips to the NCAA tournament, including four consecutive trips to the Elite Eight (2010-13).

But with the arrival of Notre Dame and Louisville to the ACC, Duke’s success began to wane. The Blue Devils have not finished among the league’s top three teams in the regular season in four of the past seven seasons.

McCallie had taken over from Gail Goestenkors, who took over at Duke in 1992 and had seven straight 30-win seasons — along with making the Women’s Final Four four times — before leaving for Texas in 2007.

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