How many division one assistant coaches can say they spent their summer donning a jersey for WNBA championship franchise, the Minnesota Lynx? Just one. Of course, that’s not necessarily what she had planned.
Tanisha Wright inked a free agent deal with the Lynx following the completion of her first season as an assistant coach for the Charlotte 49ers and spent the summer playing for the four-time WNBA Champions. The 2010 WNBA Champion is now a 13-year veteran and continues to help coach the Niners, constantly perfecting her craft both on the sidelines and on the court.
Wright earned a degree intending to become a teacher following school, never expecting to have the length of a basketball career that she has. Certainly, though, she’s incredibly thankful to have been given the opportunities that she has had and to still be playing, and now coaching, as well.
“The staff and everybody was super, super great. It was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to my wanting to go back and play and again; that’s just a testament to Cara and her leadership here. They say the first thumb of being a good leader is being a good servant, and she really wanted to allow me to be able to do that for me and my career,” said Wright. “The assistant coaches…the staff…everybody really allowed me to go and do that and kept up with me throughout the year. Even the players; the girls were excited about it too, so I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation than the one that I’ve been in and that I’m in now, and was able to be in for that opportunity.”
Wright was an incredible force for the Seattle Storm and that’s not just based upon her 2,591 points. She led the team in free throw percentage in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 seasons as well as in steals in the 2009 and 2012 seasons. Wright spent the two seasons prior to signing on to Charlotte in 2017 with the New York Liberty, where she ended the 2015 season as the leader in assists with 119.
As a testament to her skill on the court, she was selected to the WNBA All-Defensive Team seven times over the course of her career, including to the Second Team in each of her two seasons with the Liberty.
“I think it adds to her knowledge of the game especially. I know there are a lot of coaches that haven’t really played basketball and they don’t really know a lot, but she has a great understanding of the game by itself and she always knows what’s gonna happen here, and as far as her coaching us, she tells us what’s going to be here for the future, how they work out or if we’re having a bad day in the gym or something. She kind of knows what to do to help. I feel like she puts all of her experience into her coaching.” said sophomore guard, Octavia Jett-Wilson.
The guard played for Penn State from 2002-05 before being drafted No. 12 by the Storm, becoming the highest drafted player in Lady Lions history.
Among her many accolades as a Lady Lion were three All-Big Ten First Team honors, being named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team in 2002 and 2003, becoming the first player to receive back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2003 and 2004, and then earning the Big Ten title once again in her senior year. Wright also helped the U.S. Young Women’s National Team to claim a gold medal in 2003.
Charlotte 49ers head coach, Cara Consuegra, found her first job out of college in Penn State’s director of operations from 2001 to 2004 and hired Wright as an assistant coach for the Niners just thirteen years later in September of 2017.
“I’ve known T. since she was 18 years old, so I felt very comfortable in knowing who she is, what she values and what she could bring to the team. So, it was an easy decision. I think first and foremost, she’s a great person, and I knew that she would fit in with our culture of wanting to grow young women into awesome adults and that she would be able to contribute to that,” said Consuegra. “But I also know that she always played with such a high competitiveness and passion for the game, and those are the types of coaches I want around us and that’s somebody that’s going to compete, that’s gonna work hard, that’s gonna prepare the right way in order to prepare our young ladies because they love the game. And that’s all Tanisha.”
The Niners came out of a tough 7-8 preseason last year and turned it around into their best Conference USA finish since rejoining in the 2013-14 season, finishing with a third-place tie and a 10-6 record. Currently, the Niners boast a young team, a deep bench and a 4-1 record with seven non-conference games to go until Charlotte’s Conference USA season begins in January.
“I think she had an immediate impact because, obviously, she brought a lot of credit to who she is and the type of player she was to our team initially from just being a WNBA player. But, also her personality, you know. I mean, right away our kids gravitated to her,” said Consuegra. “And I’d say probably the biggest impact right away was just teaching them another level, right? I mean, as coaches, we can harp on them about their work ethic and what they put into it and the extra work they do. But, Tanisha lived it; she lived it for 12-13 years in the league and she played at the highest level, so who better to explain that or to show you the way than somebody who’s been in the shoes that you may want to be in? So, I think that just creating that type of mindset of what it takes to be the best, what it takes to be a pro…I think that she was able to instill that right away.”
Having tremendous experience, Wright translates her skill on the court to her skill in coaching as well. Overseeing guards and helping them to improve every day, Wright’s passion for getting better personally reflects on the players in an abundance of ways.
“As a coach, I think she really pushes us to our full potential, and even when we’re practicing, if there’s something she thinks we could’ve done better, she tells you. She takes the time, as far as with me and with everybody else too, she really takes the time to get everybody to work out if we need to work out with her,” said Jett-Wilson. “And just as a person, I feel like she’s really caring. Even aside from basketball, she really cares about what we do outside of basketball, how we take care of our bodies and school. I know she stays on top of me about my school; she’s always asking me and she’s just genuinely a good person to be around.”
Much like Jett-Wilson describes, Wright makes a point to be an outstanding coach in and out of the arena. Even during her most recent stint with the Lynx, the assistant coach has made it her mission to give the Charlotte 49ers her very best.
“Typically, I’m a person that doesn’t really keep up with people very much, even my friends. They know that, but we all have those great relationships where you pick up right where you left off. But, I made a real conscious effort this year to stay in touch with all of the girls throughout the summer, and I was able to do that. And I really found myself missing them, like really missing them, and reaching out to them. I really just missed being around them and the opportunity to really help them grow and to teach them.” said Wright.
This past year, Wright coupled her passion for the game with her love for each player that steps a foot in the Charlotte 49ers locker room each and every day.