Tall Order

Anne Donovan, a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee with two gold metals, returns to New Jersey and attempts to revitalize Seton Hall University's women's basketball team.

AP Photos/Tom Strickland.

Anne Donovan has never backed down from a challenge on the basketball court, and not just because she stands 6 feet 8, has two Olympic gold medals and is an inductee in the Basketball Hall of Fame. After coaching in the Women’s National Basketball Association for six years, Donovan, 49, who grew up in Ridgewood and starred at Paramus Catholic High School and Old Dominion, returned to New Jersey with a mission to revitalize the women’s basketball program at Seton Hall University. As expected, the first season has been tough; at deadline the team was 7-14 overall and 0-8 in the Big East. But Donovan says she is just getting started.

Would you have taken this job if it had not been in Jersey?

I don’t think so. I came to Seton Hall because I was curious about the college game again. For me, at this point of my career, every aspect of the next job had to fit. Seton Hall fits, because it brings me back closer to my family, closer to my roots. It gets me into a tremendous recruiting area, which New Jersey is. This school is a reflection of my own values. The intimacy that we have at Seton Hall is something I connect with.

What are the biggest challenges?

The beautiful thing here is that there are five freshmen recruited by the former staff. They don’t have the experience of not winning. They come in as winners. The upperclassmen are not used to winning enough. The challenge is to get everybody on board with the competitiveness, the intensity, the drive and the work ethic we need in order to be successful. Changing the culture of thought, more than anything, has probably been our biggest challenge.

Does it help that New Jersey is a girls’ basketball hotbed?

It was one of the strongest points of taking this job. I’m a product of girls’ basketball in New Jersey, and the history of girls’ basketball in New Jersey goes back a long way. This was one of the few states that supported girls’ basketball much earlier than a lot of other states. So the coaching has been better. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut—this whole area is loaded with great coaches and great traditions of programs, and just a ton of students coming up. If we can keep just one or two players a year here, we can build this program.

How different is coaching professionals and college players?

Vastly different. When you’re in the pro game, you just coach basketball. It’s the players’ job—if they don’t get it done, they move on and find a new job someplace else. Here, there’s so much more development than just basketball. It’s just one aspect of it—but there are the academic, the social and the mentoring areas that I have a hand in. There are a lot more areas you have to control. The talent level is night and day. In the pro game, you can kind of lay out a plan and play around that plan. Here, you almost have to control every pass.

How responsible are you for making the team more visible to the public?

It is part of the job. I know I’m visible with my background and reputation—I can be a high-profile person who can go out and sell the program. You throw in my 6-8 stature, so I can be pretty visible, a strong proponent. Now we need to do something with it. There’s a brand-new energy around the program, a new vibe. Even the students on campus are paying closer attention to what we’re doing. Out in the community, I’ve had a ton of feedback. Some of that has been awesome to me, coming back in New Jersey as a Jersey girl.

How do you feel about your first season with the program?

Although we haven’t had much success in wins and losses, I feel good about the intangible growth in the program. Our kids are very willing to get into the battle and stay the course, and if the battle doesn’t go our way, to pick yourself up and get at it again. The bottom line is that we are trying to add some small victories here and there to get the victories on the scoreboard. Are we seeing signs of that? Absolutely. Has it been frustrating? Absolutely.

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