UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Anne Donovan believes the Seton Hall University women’s basketball team is in a better place now than when she arrived in 2010.
But if the Pirates are to become competitive in the Big East, or wherever the “Catholic 7” end up in the future, it will be under another coach.
Donovan was introduced as the head coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun Thursday. She will finish out her third season with Seton Hall before heading to Connecticut.
“I signed a five-year contract at Seton Hall (in 2010) and my goal was to go there and understand the challenges at Seton Hall,” Donovan said. “I knew full well going into that how hard it was going to be. But progress has been made and I’m sure I’ve left the program in better shape. It was as difficult as I thought it would be going in. I’m disappointed, truthfully, that I’m not going to finish the process but I know the next person taking over is getting a program that’s well on its way.”
Donovan, a Hall of Fame player and the coach of the 2004 WNBA champion Seattle Storm and 2008 United States Olympic Team, has compiled a 21-53 record at Seton Hall since replacing Phyllis Mangina.
She informed her players of her decision Thursday morning, though news of her move came out Wednesday night.
The school will begin a national search for a replacement at the completion of the 2012-13 season.
“We thank Anne for the time and dedication she put forth in representing the women’s basketball program over the last three years,” Seton Hall athletic director Patrick Lyons said in a statement. “We believe her hard work has put the team in excellent position for future success.”
Seton Hall has struggled since making its only NCAA tournament appearances in 1994 and 1995. The Pirates have not reached double figures in Big East wins and have not had a single 20-win season since.
Donovan’s success at the professional and international level has not translated to success at the college level.
“But she was trying to build a program,” Sun general manager Chris Sienko said. “With pro players you’re talking about the best athletes in the world. In college, in the Big East, when you’re competing with UConn and Notre Dame and you’re at Seton Hall, you don’t get the premier players. You get players that want to play against them. At the pro level you have the best of the best.
“For us it was perfect timing. The Big East is falling apart so I have to guess from a recruiting perspective that it will be more difficult for Seton Hall in the future.”
Donovan admitted the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, particularly following the decision by the “Catholic 7” — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova — to leave the league made it easier for her to make her move.
“The job I signed up for and the job that it has become are very different,” she said. “At this landscape changes in basketball you have to be willing to adapt.”
Kara Wolters, SNY’s studio analyst for its coverage of the University of Connecticut women, played for Donovan with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever a decade ago.
“There’s a huge difference between coaching pros and coaching college players,” Wolters said. “There’s more a teaching aspect in college. At the pro level the players can speak their minds and I think there’s more trust and faith in a player because they’re older and more experienced. The players know the difference.
“I like Anne and I think she’s a good coach. From a personal standpoint she could relate to me as a 6-foot-8 woman post player. I enjoyed my time with her. She’s filling some big shoes with the Sun but I’m sure she understands the expectations with being here. This is a unique place for the sport.”
Donovan replaces Mike Thibault with the Sun. Thibault led the Sun to two WNBA Finals in 10 seasons. The Sun were the top seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs but were soundly beaten at home in a deciding Game 3 of the Eastern finals by Indiana. Thibault has since been named the coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics.
That Donovan has a WNBA title to her credit was important to Sun management. Ironically, the championship came at the Sun’s expense as Seattle defeated Connecticut 2-1 in the best-of-three series.
Next on her to-do list is Seton Hall’s Big East opener against Pittsburgh Saturday at Walsh Gymnasium. The Pirates’ lone league win last year came against the Panthers. Donovan expects her players to be ready to go.
“They’re competitors,” Donovan said. “So when the ball goes up we’re all after a win. There’s too much at Seton Hall that’s mutual that we know we’ll battle to the end.
“When I took the job at Seton Hall, I really thought that was going to be my last stop. But when you talk about the Connecticut Sun and you talk about basketball here at the Mohegan Sun, this roster, this leadership, it’s just an opportunity that’s too exciting to pass up.”