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Silver Anniversary Award winner: Jennifer Azzi

The former basketball star gives back to the sport that gave her so much

As a player, Jennifer Azzi helped pave the way for professional women’s basketball in America. And though she retired from the WNBA in 2004, she hasn’t stopped contributing to the game.  Now the head coach at University of San Francisco, she is impacting a new generation of players. 

Following her team’s national championship at Stanford University in 1990, Azzi was one of the few American players talented enough to pursue a professional career overseas. At the time, women had few opportunities to play the sport professionally and had to grow accustomed to living abroad.   

But following the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team’s romp through 1996 Games in Atlanta, Azzi and many of her fellow Olympians jumped at the opportunity to join the new American Basketball League that grew from the Olympic team’s surging popularity.

The league’s first games were held shortly after the Olympics – and before the first WNBA game tipped off – and helped sustain the momentum for the sport domestically. Though the ABL folded after two and a half years, women’s basketball in America had taken root and Azzi would go on to play in the WNBA for four more years.

Now a coach, Azzi has built her program on the same simple foundations she established as a player at Stanford: teamwork and discipline. She strives to teach her team the importance of hard work and being mentally engaged in a world filled with distractions. The Dons won only four games in the first year of her tenure, but have steadily improved every season since, including winning five of their first six this season. The woman who flourished at every level on the court is learning to do the same on the sidelines.

“[I’m most proud of] building a program,” she said. “There is a lot of progress.”