Duke has hired Boston Celtics assistant and former WNBA player Kara Lawson as head coach of its women’s basketball team, the team announced Saturday. With the move, the 39-year-old becomes the first Black head coach in program history and the fifth in the ACC. Lawson is the second Black woman to be hired in the ACC this offseason after Niele Ivey — also a former WNBA player and NBA assistant coach — was promoted to head coach of Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team.
Welcome to Duke, Kara Lawson! pic.twitter.com/0IIV5WprPD
— Duke Women’s Basketball (@DukeWBB) July 11, 2020
Lawson replaces Joanne P. McCallie, who announced earlier this month that she would be stepping away from the role following 13 season at the helm. Last season, Duke finished with an 18-12 overall record and 12-6 in the ACC. While the Blue Devils did expect to play in the 2020 NCAA tournament before it was canceled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the team has struggled in recent years. Duke endured its first non-winning season in 25 years when it finished 15-15 in the 2018-19 season, and the program’s run of 21 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances came to an end in 2016.
Additionally, Duke has fallen behind in its recruiting efforts, consistently missing out on the top 25 recruits, according to ESPN. Fans and analysts alike hope that the addition of Lawson, with her basketball background, will help boost the school’s reputation and change the overall culture of the team in a way similar to what Dawn Staley has done with the Gamecocks since she arrived in South Carolina in 2008.
Lawson has spent the past season in the NBA as an assistant coach for the Celtics — the first female assistant coach in team history — but prior to that, the Virginia native shined as a point guard at the University of Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summitt. Lawson helped lead the team to three Final Four appearances and two NCAA Championship games during her time as a Lady Vol. She went on to play in the WNBA for 12 seasons, winning the 2005 WNBA Championship with the Sacramento Monarchs and a gold medal with Team USA at the 2008 Olympics. After she retired from the WNBA in 2015, the star guard pivoted to working full-time as a television analyst for the Washington Wizards.
Several players have welcomed news of Lawson’s hire on social media, with Celtics rookie Grant Williams, Duke alumnae Alana Beard and Haley Gorecki all tweeting out their congratulations.
One of the best people i know for one of the best programs in the world! I am Proud of you and Happy for you and I wish you success. I’ll miss you and our daily hugs🥺 #Gobluedevils @karalawson20 https://t.co/1OcZ5RO8wA
— Grant Williams (@Grant2Will) July 11, 2020
— Alana Beard (@Alanabeard20) July 11, 2020
Ticha Penicheiro, who played alongside Lawson on the Monarchs, was also a major supporter of the move.
— Ticha Penicheiro (@TichaPenicheiro) July 11, 2020
In a video posted to Twitter by the ACC Network, ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said that the move was a “home run” for Duke.
“When I think about the Duke brand, I think integrity, winning mentality, pursuit of excellence, and Kara Lawson has been all of those things for as long as I’ve known her,” Robinson said.