By Marquis Cooley | Reporter
Just eight days after the departure of Kim Mulkey, Baylor found its new women’s basketball head coach in WNBA coach Nicki Collen, who comes to Waco after three seasons as the head coach of the Atlanta Dream.
Vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics Mack Rhoades had the tough assignment of trying to pick someone to continue the standard of excellence that Mulkey had set for the program, but after interviewing Collen, Rhoades said he knew she was the right candidate for the job.
“Her combination of high intellect and humility, her faith, her belief, the way her Christian values align with Baylor and her unbelievable passion and wisdom about the game of basketball and the way she pours in to her players is why we selected Nicki as the fifth head women’s basketball coach here at Baylor University,” Rhoades said.
Collen said she enjoyed talking with Rhoades and the rest of the search committee, but it wasn’t until her phone call with men’s basketball head coach Scott Drew, who Collen calls “Baylor’s ultimate salesman,” that Collen knew Baylor was where she wanted to be.
“At the end of the conversation, of course he offered to FaceTime my kids and make everything OK,” Collen said. “But he asked if he could pray over me. It was that moment that I knew this is the right place. This is the right place for me, it’s the right place for my family.”
Many Baylor fans may have never heard of Collen until she was selected as the next head coach of the women’s basketball team, and Collen said she understands and is fine with that. The first thing Collen wants people to know about her is like most fans and athletes, she’s just a person that fell in love with the game.
“I’m a kid that fell in love with basketball in fifth grade when I hit a game-winning shot in a rec league game and my dad was coaching,” Collen said. “I played for Pizza Hut when we beat American Family Insurance. It was that moment. That was my ‘aha’ moment. Because every step of my life since then has been defined by that orange ball.”
Those steps included playing college basketball at Purdue and Marquette as well as playing a year professionally in Greece. Collen then went on to be a successful assistant coach at multiple universities before moving on to the WNBA to be an assistant coach under the 2017 WNBA Coach of the Year Curt Miller. After two seasons under Miller, Collen got her first head coaching job with the Atlanta Dream. In her first season as head coach, Collen led the Dream to the playoffs with a franchise-best 23-11 record, earning her 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year.
Being the head coach of the Lady Bears, however, was never a step Collen planned to take. At the end of April, she was preparing for her fourth season in Atlanta, not even considering coming to coach college basketball in Texas. But for Collen it’s never been about following a plan. She said it’s always about following the next best opportunity, which led her to Waco.
“I haven’t had the same trajectory as a lot of people in this profession,” Collen said. “And it doesn’t look like anybody else’s path, but I loved every step of the way, because it got me here.”
And now that she’s here, Collen plans to stay for the long haul. She knows it’s going to be difficult following Mulkey’s footsteps, but Collen also knows the way to approach this challenge is not being like Mulkey, but rather carving out her own legacy within Baylor basketball.
“The people of Baylor believed that I am the right person right now. So I’m going to be Nicki Collen. I’m going to be authentically me,” Collen said. “The expectations haven’t changed. Maybe how we do it has changed, but the expectations haven’t changed.”
While there may still be some questions as to how the Lady Bears will perform under Collen, the new coach made one thing certain: this new era of Baylor women’s basketball will be defined by her commitment to her players.
“I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to coach [the Lady Bears],” Collen said. “I’ve watched you from afar. You will always be the priority. If there’s one thing I learned with the WNBA, it’s a players-first league. It’s about the players… I can’t wait to get started, whether it’s in the locker room or diagramming plays on the court. My goal is to make you the best players that you can be. My goal is to hang more championships in here. And my goal is to help you achieve your dreams, whether that’s basketball, on the court, off the court, or whatever it is. This will always be about you.”