Updated May 25, 2020 - 6:50 pm
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer knew exactly whom he wanted on his coaching staff when he was hired in 2017.
He would retain Vickie Johnson, the veteran assistant who had served as the team’s head coach that same season. And he would hire Tanisha Wright, a veteran guard who was named to the WNBA’s all-defensive team seven times.
But there was one minor issue for Laimbeer amid his vision.
Wright wasn’t done playing.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll still be standing there,’” said Laimbeer, recalling his recruitment of Wright. “I fulfilled my promise to her and that promise, my desire, for her to be a part of my staff.”
Albeit two years later.
Wright, 36, delayed the inevitable start of her WNBA coaching career to play two more seasons, then was hired by the Aces this month after announcing her retirement. The 5-foot, 11-inch guard played 14 years in the WNBA, including two under Laimbeer with the New York Liberty.
She spent three seasons on the University of Charlotte’s coaching staff, gaining invaluable experience and honing her approach. And she’s ready now to coach at the professional level.
“She’s the best of the best. She does the right thing. She says the right things and backs it up all the time,” Charlotte coach Cara Consuega said. “She never does anything halfway. She worked her tail off in her three years here in learning the business a little bit. And she’s put so much work into growing as a coach and learning what all goes into it. The Aces are really smart to hire her.”
Wright was raised in the Pittsburgh area and grew up playing a variety of sports before focusing on basketball. She played from 2001 to 2005 at Penn State, earning All-America honors and emerging as the No. 12 overall pick in the 2005 WNBA draft.
She played her first 10 years with the Seattle Storm and started for their 2010 championship team. She was a capable scorer and creator, but thrived more on the defensive end by pairing her physical profile with a calculated, cerebral approach.
“It became my niche. It became my job. It became a way that I could stay on a roster,” Wright said. “And it was something I always took pride in. … Some days are great, and some days aren’t. But having that competitiveness is something that’s always been in me.”
Wright signed as a free agent with the Liberty in 2015, and Laimbeer said he immediately noticed her potential as a coach. She operated as New York’s lead guard in 2o15 and 2016, but sat out the 2017 season to rest.
Laimbeer sought to groom her as a coach and invited her to his coaches meetings during the 2017 season. She began her coaching career that fall under Cara Consuega at Charlotte, where she maintains a home during the offseason.
“Obviously there’s a huge respect factor for a WNBA player coming on your staff, even if she hasn’t coached before,” said Consuega, who met Wright while working at Penn State as a graduate assistant. “Our kids gravitated toward her right away. She did a great job establishing relationships with them.”
Yet Wright wasn’t satisfied with the way her career had concluded, so she returned to the WNBA for the 2018 season, playing for the Minnesota Lynx.
Laimbeer reached out again after the 2018 season, and she declined again. But she retired after playing for the Liberty in 2019.
“She’s going to be her own person. She has to find her own way,” Laimbeer said. “I’m going to encourage that in every moment.”