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Vanderbilt hires Shea Ralph from UConn as new women’s coach

NCAA Womens Basketball: Tulane at Connecticut

Feb 19, 2020; Hartford, Connecticut, USA; UConn Huskies assistant coach Shea Ralph reacts as the team comes off the court before the start of the game against the Tulane Green Wave at XL Center. UConn defeated Tulane 74-31. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vanderbilt has hired Shea Ralph away from UConn to help revive the Commodores’ struggling women’s basketball program, which hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2014.

Athletic director Candice Lee announced the hiring a week after firing Stephanie White following five seasons. Ralph will be introduced at a news conference Wednesday.

“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. “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 has been an assistant with the Huskies since 2008, and she helped lead UConn to 13 consecutive Final Fours and six NCAA championships. She aided in recruiting and player development. She spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, which won at least 22 games in each of her last three seasons.

She said she’s always been motivated and inspired by people passionately pursuing excellence.

“Vanderbilt’s rich, storied tradition of excellence speaks for itself, but I believe what sets us apart is the people,” Ralph said. “I am so excited to work alongside our amazing community in elevating our women’s basketball program back to an elite level.”

Ralph, who graduated from Connecticut in 2001, was captain of the Huskies’ 2000 national championship team and was named MVP of that Final Four. She also was an All-American and the 2000 Big East Player of the Year.

A knee injury kept her from playing in the WNBA after she was drafted by the Utah Starzz in 2001.

“The West End just got another dose of eastern NC’s finest! Let’s give a big Commodore Welcome to Shea Ralph-Garrick and family!” Vanderbilt men’s coach Jerry Stackhouse wrote on Twitter of the coach who grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Ralph will leave a big void in the Huskies’ program but deserves a shot at what he called a big job.

“Her drive as a student, as a player as a coach, her intensity level in how she played and coached and recruited, those are staples of who Shea is and I know that’s what she will bring to Vanderbilt” he said.

Ralph takes over a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament in seven years despite a history featuring 26 berths, 15 trips to the Sweet 16, five Elite Eights and a Final Four in 1993.

Vanderbilt opted out of the season in January with a roster thinned because of COVID-19 issues, injuries, one player with myocarditis and another recovering from an ACL injury. Three starters transferred after the season, two of them graduates.

Auriemma said it will take time for Ralph to turn around the program, but he believes she can do it without sacrificing the school’s high academic standards.

“Stanford just won a national championship with that kind of kid that is looking for that kind of experience,” he said. “So those kids are out there. It’s not easy, but they’re out there and Shea knows where to look. She’s been recruiting at that level for a long, long time now.”

Lee, who had the interim tag taken off last May as athletic director, played basketball for Vanderbilt from 1998-2002, when the Commodores made back-to-back Elite Eights.

Vanderbilt recently announced a $300 million project to improve football and basketball facilities and a new Vandy United Fund to raise money for athletics programs. Women’s basketball is slated to get its own dedicated practice court along with improvements to the locker room and offices.