The new executive director of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association has moved closer to home to make a national impact on the game she loves.
Danielle Donehew, who grew up in an Atlanta suburb, became the leader of the Atlanta area-based organization in August, just in time to take part in a dynamic period for the sport. The game’s leaders, spurred by the release of the NCAA-commissioned Women’s Basketball White Paper in June 2013, are engaging in conversations about how to grow the success of women’s basketball.
“I need to understand the recommendations, feedback and impressions of our organization,” said Donehew, who is spending her first 100 days on the job on what she calls a “listening tour,” where she is gathering input from members of the coaches association. “As I get the feedback, I can put an appropriate plan in place. We have to show our members that there is a value to being a member of the WBCA. We meet their expectations as to what we can provide.”
Donehew spent a successful college career in women’s basketball at Georgia Institute of Technology but also counts legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt among her early mentors. They first met when Donehew accompanied a high school teammate, LaShonda Stephens, on a recruiting trip to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Now, Donehew is part of a new generation of women’s basketball leaders.
“This is a special time in women’s basketball where all of us want to unite,” Donehew said. “We are finding ways to harness our talents and energies to move the game forward.”
1996-2001 // Georgia Tech
Danielle Donehew was recruited to Georgia Tech women’s basketball by then head coach Agnus Berenato, whom Donehew calls a mentor. She worked summer camps at Tennessee, where she got to know Pat Summitt.
Donehew made 241 three-point shots in college and ranks second on the Yellow Jackets’ all-time list.
She became a Georgia Tech student-assistant coach while finishing her bachelor’s degree
in industrial and systems engineering. “Going to Georgia Tech was valuable to me because I was in an environment where academics were a priority,” she said.
2001-08 // Tennessee
After graduating from Georgia Tech, Donehew called Summitt to see if she had a graduate assistant position available on her staff. “A few weeks later she called back and said she had an opening and asked if I would like it,” Donehew said. “I almost drove off the road. It all fell into place.”
At Tennessee, Donehew was a graduate assistant for a year; director of basketball operations for five years; and assistant athletics director for women’s basketball operations for one.
2008-09 // Atlanta Dream WNBA expansion franchise
After Tennessee, Donehew became a consultant to a private investment group in Atlanta whose goal was to bring a WNBA franchise to the city. She was later named executive vice president for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream expansion team.
“It was a great time period for me because I got to learn the pro basketball model,” she said. “We started with a blank piece of paper and began developing what the Atlanta Dream would be.”
2009-13 // Big East Conference
When Atlanta Dream owner Ron Terwilliger sold the franchise, Donehew moved to the Big East Conference to become associate commissioner for women’s basketball. The job put her in position to work with legendary coaches such as UConn’s Geno Auriemma, C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers and Muffet McGraw of Notre Dame.
“The strategy at the conference office was important to learn,” Donehew said. “You have to build relationships with television networks and have game management expectations throughout the league. It was also valuable for me to learn how important it is to have consistent branding across the league.”
2013-14 // American Athletic Conference
When the Big East Conference non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools split from the conference, Donehew was part of the reconstitution of her league office, which eventually became the American Athletic Conference. She remained the associate commissioner for women’s basketball. The league was successful: UConn won both the Division I men’s and women’s basketball championships, and the University of Central Florida won the Fiesta Bowl.
“What I learned at the American was the importance of immediate branding and getting the message out and clarifying the next steps,” Donehew said. “It was a huge challenge to rebrand.”