For Sandy Brondello, being offered the New York Liberty head coach was the obvious next step in her well-deserved WNBA career.
As a former player, she will be able to connect with the team’s young talent in a way that other coaches do. And as a longtime league coach, she knew what needed to be done to get the team closer to their ultimate goal of the franchise’s first championship.
As Brondello put it, this concert was as close to a “dream job” as could be.
“I mean, that’s it,” she recently told reporters. “Of course I raised my hand. I just thought it would be the perfect situation to lead a team that is very talented and close to success.”
And what is the path to success? It kicks off this weekend as the WNBA plunges into free agent frenzy, and contract negotiations could begin on Saturday. As Brondello and other team executives have hinted, Liberty may be looking to make some key roster changes that will help the franchise open a successful new chapter.
Earlier this month, the Liberty named Brondello as the franchise’s new head coach, replacing former coach Walt Hopkins. The Liberty finished last season 12-21, advancing to the playoffs only to suffer a one-point loss in the first round to the Phoenix Mercury, the Liberty’s first post-season appearance since 2017. Brondello was at the helm of the Mercury.
Brondello is also part of a growing class of women and former players who are taking over WNBA head coaching jobs at a rate not seen in recent years. One of the most high-profile hires in the league came in late December when Becky Hammon was named head coach of the Las Vegas Aces, where she was a star player for eight seasons.
A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon became the first female assistant coach in NBA history in 2014 with the San Antonio Spurs. And in 2020, Hammon became the first female acting head coach in NBA history after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. ,
There are currently six female head coaches among the 12 WNBA teams, and the Mercury have yet to fill their vacancy following Brondello’s departure.
“We are all coaches. We are not female coaches. We are not male coaches. We are basketball coaches,” Brondello said. “But especially for the WNBA, it’s great to see a lot more women getting opportunities because I think there are a lot of great coaches out there – all over the world. It’s just about getting those opportunities and showing how good you really are.”
Having a former player as head coach can also act as a lifeline for current players, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said. These players will one day think about “life after basketball” — and Brondello could be an example of what that path looks like, Kolb said.
“Having access to a former player who now has a leadership role in the program as head coach is inspiring,” Kolb said. “So the players not only inspire us, but I think Sandy is able to inspire them. And they can start asking questions earlier. What will be required for this? Do I want to go down this path?
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A rich experience
Brondello comes to the Liberty with 17 years of WNBA coaching experience. Most recently, she served as head coach for the Mercury, leading the team to the WNBA Finals last year, where they lost to the Chicago Sky.
She was with the team for eight seasons, making the playoffs every year. In 2014, in their first season as head coach, the team won the WNBA championship. This feat earned her the coveted Coach of the Year award.
Brondello is also a member of the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame and was named head coach of the Australian national team in 2017. In this role, she coached current Liberty defensemen Rebecca Allena and Sami Whitcomb. Last year, she was at the helm of the Australian team at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
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Prior to her coaching career, Brondello played in the WNBA from 1998 to 2003 as a point guard and was an excellent hitter from three-pointers. She is a former All-Star. She also represented Australia in competition for 17 years, earning two bronze medals at four World Championships and two silvers and one bronze at four Olympic tournaments.
Kolb said it was this wealth of experience that made Brondello such an attractive candidate to run the New York Liberty.
“The owner and management were in complete agreement on the qualities and characteristics we were looking for in the next leader of this team and the next leader of this franchise,” he said. “Number one on that list was experience. Experience in the coaching chair – in the chair of the head coach.
According to her, one of the factors that attracted Brondello to Liberty was the level of investment the team had made in their franchise.
Billionaire Joe Tsai and his family bought Liberty in 2019. His wife and co-owner Clara Wu Cai is the governor of Liberty. During this time, Tsai took the franchise to an impressive turn, securing a new home for the franchise at Barclays Center and signing superstars including Sabrina Ionescu right out of college.
“Everyone talks about ownership in the league, and I just knew they were totally invested,” Brondello said. “They are very interested. They are passionate about the growth of not only the New York Liberty, but the WNBA.”
“I’m going, I think this could be the best organization in the WNBA,” she said.
One of the league’s founding franchises, this is an organization that will likely continue to push the boundaries as the off-season picks up pace.
Melanie Anziday is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the latest news, subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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