Tanisha Wright eager to face rebuilding challenges as Dream’s coach

New York Liberty's Tanisha Wright plays against the Los Angeles Sparks during a WNBA game Saturday, July 20, 2019, in White Plains, N.Y. The Atlanta Dream hired longtime WNBA player Tanisha Wright as their new coach Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The 37-year-old Wright played 14 seasons with the Seattle Storm, New York Liberty and Minnesota Lynx. (Gregory Payan/AP)
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New York Liberty's Tanisha Wright plays against the Los Angeles Sparks during a WNBA game Saturday, July 20, 2019, in White Plains, N.Y. The Atlanta Dream hired longtime WNBA player Tanisha Wright as their new coach Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The 37-year-old Wright played 14 seasons with the Seattle Storm, New York Liberty and Minnesota Lynx. (Gregory Payan/AP)

Credit: AP

Tanisha Wright’s aspirations to step into the professional coaches’ box started a handful of years ago. She has 16 years of WNBA playing experience on her side and realized a new role as her on-court days dwindled and mentorship came into focus.

Wright took plenty of pride in leadership, and it held more weight than the typical coachspeak term of a “leader.” Wright had plenty of involvement as a guard who had days essentially as a player-coach. She worked with younger players who have now emerged as viable stars in the league, and took bits of advice on coaching philosophies in the meantime.

When Wright was a member of the New York Liberty, then-coach Bill Laimbeer let her sit in on a coaches’ meeting. From there, it transpired into a job as an assistant coach collegiately with the Charlotte 49ers.

“I loved being able to give back in that capacity. It started to resonate with me at that moment, but I don’t think it was always like that,” Wright told the AJC about her coaching dreams. “You’re a player, and you think you’re going to play for 40 years.

Wright, 37, transitioned into professional coaching after retiring from the league in 2019. She joined Laimbeer in his next stop, Las Vegas, as his assistant for two seasons and consecutive runs in the WNBA playoffs.

Her experience, along with advice and mentorship from some WNBA greats including Cheryl Reeve, Ann Donovan and Brian Agler, led her to progressing to the highest rung of the coaching ladder with the Dream.

“I think my experience counts,” Wright said. “I played for 16 years in the WNBA, so I have a wealth of experience. That matters for something.”

The Dream announced the hiring of Wright on Tuesday morning, and she became the franchise’s fifth full-time head coach. She joins the Dream after a turbulent 2021 season which ended with an 11th-place finish in the league, with an 8-24 record, multiple interim head coaches after the departure of Nicki Collen and plenty of off-the-court issues raising questions around the organization.

Wright, however, immediately brings potential for continuity to an organization that has made that a priority under a new ownership group led by Larry Gottesdiener and former Dream guard Renee Montgomery. She is the second major hire in recent weeks, following the addition of Morgan Shaw Parker as the franchise’s president.

The statuses of former interim coach Darius Taylor — who could fill another role in the organization — and his assistants LaKeisha Frett and Daynia La-Force are unknown.

“Words cannot express how excited I am for a rising talent like Tanisha to join the Dream,” Montgomery said in a release. “Tanisha is widely respected across the league, and as with all great leaders, she will set a strong example for our team.”

Wright and all parties around the Dream are aware that the organization is in the midst of a full-on rebuild. There are plenty of changes that the Dream want to make from a culture standpoint and leadership standpoint while continuing their initiatives for social justice and making them a priority.

The Dream struggled to exhibit those qualities in 2021 after former fourth-overall selection Chennedy Carter faced a suspension for conduct issues July 4 and did not return. The Dream struggled to build chemistry throughout the season, which led to numerous dry spells. Over recent weeks, a video circulated around the internet of Dream players Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford, soon-to-be free agents, getting into a fight. Multiple reports said Williams and Bradford are not expected to return to the organization.

There are plenty of challenges that the Dream face. There’s no brisk timetable for a solution, either, but Wright played for organizations, she said, in Seattle, New York and Minnesota with a top-notch culture and can pull from those experiences.

“There’s an opportunity to get in at the ground level, so of course that’s exciting. I can really put my own imprint on it,” Wright said. “I can have an influence on the type of organization and culture we can build and the types of people we want this organization to be surrounded with.”

Wright is in the midst of her move to the Southeast after recently leaving Las Vegas. She will arrive in Atlanta “sooner rather than later,” and will place her priority on building a strong culture. That might involve building relationships with ownership and potential staff members who hold the same ideas and values of accountability and integrity.

Wright is aware, though, that the Dream have more overhauling they must do. Four players — Aari McDonald, Cheyenne Parker, Tianna Hawkins and Carter — are under contract for the 2022 season. The rest are free agents.

“It’s all part of the game. That’s going to be an exciting time, but we’ve also got plenty of time before that happens,” Wright said. “Free agency doesn’t start until January, so it’s not an immediate priority right now. The most immediate thing is getting in to meet people and establish that culture.”