The New York Liberty hired 34-year old Walt Hopkins to be their new head coach back in January 2020.
In a somewhat quirky move, the Liberty hired someone who isn’t old enough to be President and the youngest head coach in the WNBA by a decade. Hopkins replaces Katie Smith who spent two years as the Liberty’s head coach. Smith is now the head assistant coach for the Minnesota Lynx.
Hopkins got involved in professional basketball in 2013 when he was hired as director of player development for the Tulsa Shock (now Dallas Wings) in 2013.
In a press release by the Liberty, Hopkins spoke about how he got started in basketball.
“I started coaching high school in Sparks, Nevada (Reed High School) for boys and then girls. I worked in player development for both high school and college players, and had the opportunity very early on to be around some great player development coaches.
I did my masters program at Harvard. I was initially going to study teaching but once I got into the classroom, I realized that I really wanted to coach. I started studying player development, moral development and social psychology to learn the optimal way to create buy-in with players and motivate people.
From Harvard, I went to Tulsa where I worked in player development. I was also an assistant coach at Utah Valley, which was also a great experience. Those experiences made me really want to study more and focus on coaching. That is when I went back to school at Berkeley. I focused completely on coaching.
After owning my own business doing some individual player development with WNBA, NBA, college, and high school players, I got a call from Cheryl (Reeve) and ended up having an amazing run there. That’s what led me to this moment.”
Reeve told Erica Ayala of The Athletic, “I pushed him (Hopkins) to throw his hat in the ring because I believe it’s the first step. The first step to becoming a head coach is actually interviewing to be a head coach, so we talked about that. That was the goal this offseason, to see where it might work, where it might go. And obviously, in New York, he was found to be a fit.”
Hopkins takes over a Liberty club that has gone a combined 17-51 over the last two seasons. The WNBA franchise has made a lot of changes in that time. The team was bought by Joe Tsai and moved from the Westchester County Center to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.
The Liberty’s roster even looks a lot different. Highlighted by 1st overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty are rebuilding with seven rookies on the roster.
Hopkins said at his Barclays Center news conference, “The ownership, the No. 1 pick, the new arena, the move to Brooklyn, all of it are factors. Had this team been in Westchester with this ownership, I still would have jumped at it. Those are the icing on the cake. Things that are really nice, I didn’t need them to help make the decision; it was more about the people.”
Hopkins will be the guy for this new era of Liberty basketball. Hopefully, there will be a useful change of culture in the Liberty’s lockerroom with Hopkins running the ship.
Barbara Barker of Newsday reported that Hopkins created what he calls a “quarterback club” among Liberty players. The club consists of a rotating cast of three leaders. Coaches meet with leaders to explain, for example, some aspects of the offense. Those leaders then teach that offense to a group of three players underneath them.
We will see when the season starts if Hopkins ideas and coaching philosophy translate into organizational growth.
The young Walt Hopkins coaching a young Liberty squad is an interesting storyline to follow when the WNBA season begins in late July.
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