5 fast facts: Get to know new Baylor women’s basketball coach Nicki Collen
Nicki Collen was publicly introduced as the fifth head coach in Baylor women’s basketball history on Wednesday. As we’re all becoming familiar for the first time with our new coach — a fact she addressed head-on in her first comments in Waco — here are five things Baylor fans should know about Coach Collen:
1. People are her priority. This came up over and over again on Wednesday during the introductory event (which is really worth watching). To the players: “You will always be the priority.” To the fans: “Thank you for setting the standard for what it looks like to show up for a team day in and day out.” And to her family (as she visibly choked up): “They’re my why. They’ve helped me follow my dreams.” Collen’s answer to multiple questions — about why she came to Baylor, how she will approach things as head coach, etc. — was about valuing and working with people as individuals. It clearly drives everything she does.
2. She recognizes the legacy she’s following. The first person she mentioned Wednesday was Kim Mulkey, followed shortly by comments honoring the program’s former staff and players. She noted the banners hanging in the Ferrell Center rafters, and that “Baylor” has for years been synonymous with “Kim Mulkey” in the women’s basketball world — that the program is where it is because of Mulkey’s leadership. At the same time, “I’m not trying to be somebody I’m not, and I’m not going to try to be Kim Mulkey,” Collen told the AP. “I’m just going to be me.”
3. Those who know her best rave about her. During his introduction of Collen, Baylor Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades read a letter from Chris Sienko, Collen’s former boss as GM for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun and Atlanta Dream: “She was nurturing, a teacher, a great observer, respected, and willing to help on any front… Loved by the athletes, staff and fans alike.” Her former head coach with the Sun, Curt Miller, called it “a home run hire.” Dream forward Monique Billings described Collen as “fiery and passionate, with a deep love of the game… Baylor is so fortunate; I wish I had some eligibility back.”
4. Her faith played a big role in her coming to Baylor. It wasn’t the only reason — but it came up multiple times as she spoke Wednesday. “My faith is incredibly important to me,” she said. “This is a place where there’s such a beautiful intersection of academics, athletics, character formation, and spiritual growth. And it’s celebrated — and that’s really, really cool to me.” Later, she described men’s basketball head coach Scott Drew’s role in recruiting her to Baylor: “He talked — Baylor’s ultimate salesman — and at the end of the conversations, of course he offered to FaceTime my kids and make everything okay, but then he asked if he could pray over me. It was that moment that I knew, that I knew, this is the right place for me, the right place for my family.”
5. She loves the game. Perhaps nothing came across more clearly on Wednesday than just how much Collen loves the game of basketball. “Every step of my life since [her first game as a kid] has been defined by that orange ball — from falling in love with the game, to getting a college degree, to playing overseas, to getting involved in coaching and meeting my husband and having kids and following my husband’s career and then making this mine, truly mine,” she said. “It’s been about that orange ball. It was my first love — not my only love, but my first love. And I’m still in love with it. … That’s who I am. I live the game, I love the game, and I care about the people. … I will always define myself by the relationships I build with our players, with my staff, with the people that I surround myself with every day.”
Want to know more about Coach Collen? Watch the complete introductory press conference, and/or read these features from ESPN and the Waco Tribune-Herald. Then start making your plans to return to the Ferrell Center this fall to cheer on the Lady Bears; season tickets are on sale now!
Sic ’em, Coach Collen!