The Vanderbilt women’s basketball program didn’t do a lot of winning in Stephanie White’s four-plus seasons, so Athletic Director Candice Lee looked for a proven winner in her search for the Commodores’ next coach.
She found exactly that as Lee announced Tuesday the hire of Connecticut assistant Shea Ralph as the sixth Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach in school history.
“Coach Ralph has earned the opportunity to take the reins of our women’s basketball program and transform it into what we all know is possible,” Lee said in a release. “She knows what winning looks like, and she has the background and experience — as both a player and a coach — to develop our student-athletes into champions.”
Ralph comes to West End with 13 years under her belt working alongside Geno Auriemma. She has been a part of six national championships teams and 13 Final Four appearances with UConn, which went 462-22 with Ralph on staff. She worked primarily with the team’s guards and assisted with recruiting and player development.
“It is with great honor and a full heart that I join Vanderbilt University as the next women’s basketball head coach,” Ralph said in a team release. “I have always been motivated and inspired by people who have a passionate pursuit of excellence. Vanderbilt’s rich, storied tradition of excellence speaks for itself, but I believe what sets us apart is the people.
“I am so excited to work alongside our amazing community in elevating our women’s basketball program back to an elite level. Together we will invest in each other and build a greatness that transcends the game of basketball.”
Ralph, who started her assistant coaching career at Pittsburgh in 2003, has coached 14 All-Americans, four National Player of the Year winners and 21 WNBA draft picks — including three No. 1 overall picks and nine top-five picks. She has mentored notable players such as Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Paige Bueckers.
A graduate of UConn, Ralph played four seasons for Auriemma and the Huskies. The team went 130-10 with a 66-2 conference record, winning the Big East regular-season and tournament championship all four years. Ralph was named the Big East Player of the Year in 2000 and won a national title.
"I would like to congratulate Shea on being named the head coach at Vanderbilt University," Auriemma said in a statement. "I know everyone here at UConn is incredibly excited for Shea. It's an amazing opportunity to be at such a great university in a great city. Shea has had a huge impact on the UConn women's basketball program, as both a player and a coach. We're going to miss her tremendously — she brought passion and energy to everything she did in Storrs. But we know she's going to do amazing things at Vanderbilt and we wish her the best."
While VU's top three leading scorers — Koi Love (transfer portal), Chelsie Hall (transfer portal) and Enna Pehadzic (graduation) — are gone, along with 2019 starter Autumn Newby, Ralph does have some talent to work with.
Riverdale alum Brinae Alexander, who averaged 11.8 points and 5 rebounds per game, plus Brylee Bartram (9.3 points per game) and Yaubryon Chambers (5.8 points, 5.9 rebounds per game) will return in 2021-22.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_