2018 Atlanta Dream

This post is part of a series on WNBA coaching staffs in order to better understand each staff’s history and experience in women’s basketball and the game of basketball more widely.

Head Coach: Nicki Collen

Nicki Collen is a relative newcomer to the WNBA, but she has left her fingerprints are all over women’s basketball history for over 25 years. Growing up in Indiana and Wisconsin, Collen spent time playing college basketball in both states. As a point guard, she was a part of the 1994 and 1995 Big Ten champion Purdue women’s basketball teams. Those teams advanced to the Final Four and Elite Eight, respectively. She then transferred to Marquette University to finish out her college career and made appearances in the NCAA Tournament her final two years. Nicki ranked third in NCAA Division I in assists (7.4 per game) her senior year before graduating with a mechanical engineering degree in 1997.

Following her college playing days, Collen bounced around the game, spending one year overseas playing for BCM Alexandros in Greece, where she led the team in assists and steals and was second in scoring.

After her professional playing time, Collen spent nine years as a collegiate assistant coach, starting at Colorado State, where she coached under her future husband Tom Collen. Tom was an assistant at Purdue from 1986 to 1993 and helped recruit Nicki to West Lafayette. While at Colorado State, she also worked as a color analyst for women’s basketball during the 2000 – 2001 season that saw the Rams win the Mountain West Conference Tournament. She then spent a year as assistant back in Indiana at Ball State University before reuniting professionally with Tom at Louisville. She would spend several years away from the game while focusing primarily on raising a family. Her return to the game was as part of Tom’s staff at Arkansas, where she spent three seasons as assistant.

Her last stint in college coaching was at Florida Gulf Coast University under Karl Smesko from 2014 to 2015, including consecutive 30-win seasons and the Eagles’ first NCAA Tournament victory. In 2016, she moved on to coaching in the WNBA as part of Curt Miller’s staff for the Connecticut Sun.  After two seasons, including a 21 – 13 record in 2017, Collen was hired by the Atlanta Dream to replace Michael Cooper as head coach.

Some interesting connections:

  • As mentioned in this feature by Matt Foley, Collen went to University of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s basketball camps. At the time, Ryan was head coach of Division III University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he coached for 15 seasons and won four national championships.
  • Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller, who Collen coached under as assistant for two seasons, also spent four seasons as assistant coach at Colorado State University under Tom Collen, overlapping briefly with Nicki.
  • Collen’s sophomore year at Purdue was the freshman year of Indiana legend and future Indiana Fever head coach, Stephanie White. White also spent several years as an assistant coach at the college level, including time at Ball State shortly after Collen’s time there.
  • Her time at Louisville included recruiting and coaching Angel McCoughtry (2005 – 2009), who was drafted by the Atlanta Dream first overall in 2009 and has returned to the WNBA this year after a year off and will play for head coach Nicki Collen.

Assistant Coach: Mike Petersen

Mike Petersen was a longtime college basketball coach, spending time with both men’s and women’s basketball teams over three decades. Petersen played collegiately at the College of the Redwoods in California before closing out his college years at NAIA Northwest Christian College in Oregon, finishing in the top 10 all-time in scoring despite playing just two seasons there.

Petersen stayed in Oregon as assistant coach for his alma mater before moving on to the University of Oregon, helping take the Ducks to the NCAA Tournament in 1984. The following year, he accepted his first head coaching position at Gonzaga University. His four year tenure included the Zags’ transition from NAIA to NCAA Division I and a WCC Title in their first season there. He compiled a 65 – 48 record in his time at Gonzaga.

From 1989 to 1992, Petersen served as assistant coach for Oregon’s men’s basketball team. He would later be named Associate Head Coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s basketball team from 1999 – 2004. In the intervening years, he was head coach for the New Mexico State women’s basketball team from 1992 to 1996 (81 – 38) and the TCU women’s team from 1996 to 1999 (42 – 41).

Petersen’s longest stint at the collegiate ranks was at Wake Forest, where he served as women’s basketball head coach from 2004 to 2012, winning 125 games and leaving as the program’s winningest coach. His last college coaching job was at the University of North Texas, where he spent two-and-a-half seasons before being let go in 2015 after going 5 – 24. Petersen most recently served as an advanced scout for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

One interesting connection: Petersen coached current Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby at Wake Forest.

Assistant Coach: Darius Taylor

Darius Taylor is making his WNBA debut on Nicki Collen’s staff, but he has spent a couple of decades around women’s basketball and the game of basketball overall. He played collegiately for Steve Fisher and Brian Ellerbe at the University of Michigan from 1996 to 2000.

Immediately post-college, Taylor was a team leader for the Chicago Bulls Basketball Schools from 2000 to 2002, immediately followed by his time as assistant director of competitive programs for USA Basketball from 2002 to 2004. He then got his first assistant coaching job when he joined Dawn Staley’s staff at Temple University in 2004, where he stayed until 2008, winning consecutive Atlantic 10 Tournament titles and making four NCAA Tournament appearances.

Taylor spent two years away from women’s college basketball, working from 2008 to 2010 with the NBA Development League as manager of community and player programs, developing a prgram to educate players about nutritional health, money management, and career development with a focus on understanding life outside the game. In 2010, Darius returned to college coaching as part of Staley’s staff at the University of South Carolina where he was assistant coach until 2016.

Before joining the Dream staff, Taylor was an advisor for AthLife, Inc., an organization serving athletes after their professional careers.

Some interesting connections:

  • During his time at Temple, Taylor worked with WNBA veteran Candice Dupree, now with the Indiana Fever.
  • While at South Carolina, Taylor worked with Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever), Alaina Coates (Chicago Sky), and A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces).
  • Darius is married to University of Georgia women’s basketball head coach Joni Taylor.

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