New Duke Women’s Basketball head coach Kara Lawson, Duke Athletic Director Kevin White and Duke Senior Deputy AD Nina King addressed the media today via ZOOM.
In case anyone thinks there’s no interest in Duke women’s hoops, over 70 media members participated.
Here are some highlights.
Duke used an outside agency—Collegiate Sports Associates—to do some early legwork but King was the point person.
King said that Duke had interest from over 20 “serious” candidates, cut that to six and then to two before selecting Lawson. King wouldn’t name the other five but Lindsey Harding was on that short list.
Current Duke players Jade Williams, Onome Akinbode-James and Mikalya Boykin had a chance to talk to Lawson and offer their opinions.
Lawson, of course, has been in the public eye for sometime, first as an All-American at Tennessee, then a star in the WNBA and the Olympics, then working with ESPN and finally a one-year stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics.
In other words, she knows her way around a basketball court.
But I was struck by how much of the day was spent discussing intangibles, qualities and values that could apply to people in numerous professions.
“Kara’s very authentic . . . She’s extraordinarily comfortable in her own skin, which is one of the truly great leadership characteristics. . . . She is a natural leader . . . She possesses a contemporary vision. . . . Kara is highly empathetic and possesses what I call the ‘adaptability gene’. She has continually demonstrated situational leadership and flexibility.”
While praising Lawson’s “incredible basketball IQ,” King added that Lawson is a “teacher, mentor, leader and a champion.”
White also elaborated on his earlier comments about Lawson’s “emotional intelligence.”
“I find Kara to be somebody that’s very instinctive, very worldly . . . experienced and my instinct is that . . . I think she knows where the buttons are, I think she knows how people operate, I think she can put herself in people’s positions.”
So, what does Lawson have to say about all this?
She acknowledged that Duke was one of a few schools that could make her give up her dream of becoming an NBA head coach.
Describing discussions with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, Lawson related “I will say one of the places I would have loved to have an opportunity to coach was for Duke. I didn’t share that with very many people. . . I knew that if it ever came open I would put my best foot forward and try and secure the position. That’s how highly I thought of the institution and the job. I certainly had no idea it would happen a year after I went to Boston but when the right opportunity comes along, you take it.”
Lawson touched on being one of a wave of young Black women entering the coaching ranks, the support she has gotten from the Duke community and Mike Krzyzewski in particular and her desire to learn about her new team and her new conference.
What can we expect from a Kara Lawson-coached team?
That word “adaptability ” again seems apropos.
“I’m not going to sit here and say we’re going to play this way or that way. I think the ability to be adaptable and have players that are adaptable is vital. . . . I am going to figure out what works for us and strive to master that. If you keep it simple in terms of your goals that gives you a chance to really achieve them.”
Lawson wouldn’t discuss specifics in putting a staff together except that she will prioritize “Experience. That’s what I’m looking for. Just like playing, you want to put together a group that fits together.”
Seems like a good idea for a young coach.
But a recurrent theme is that Kara Lawson is a people person, whether we’re talking about fans, alumni, former players, media and most of all, her players.
“I think my philosophy would be relationships and building relationships. . . . If you want to be able to push players to achieve, to push them to be great, I think you have to have a strong foundation with them. So, I would say, philosophically, a relationship-based program.”
Lawson still has a couple of weeks left in Orlando before taking over a Duke team that has fallen from its elite status. It remains to be seen if she’s the person to return Duke to its former glory and perhaps even surpass it. But the early returns are off-the-charts positive. There’s no doubt that Coach Kara Lawson is off to the kind of start that should provide the kind of jumping-off point that will pay big dividends down the road.