Lady Bears

Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen, who was hired Monday to be Baylor’s new head coach, calls out instructions during a game last July.

WACO — Nicki Collen was hired by Baylor as its new women’s basketball coach, taking over a program that has won three national championships and the last 11 Big 12 regular-season titles.

Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades made the announcement Monday night. Collen, who coached the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA the past three seasons, replaces Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey and will be formally introduced on campus Wednesday.

“Nicki is a passionate leader of young women and an elite basketball mind and teacher of the game,” Rhoades said. “She is a great fit who shares in our vision of excellence both on and off the court. Nicki’s professional experience will be invaluable to developing players for the next level. Her addition sustains our commitment to the women’s basketball program at the highest level.”

Mulkey left Baylor last month after 21 seasons to return to her home state and take over at LSU.

Collen was the 2018 WNBA coach of the year in her first season with the Dream, when they went 23-11 and made it to the league semifinals. She was 38-52 overall in Atlanta after two seasons as an assistant for the WNBA’s Connecticut franchise.

“I am thrilled to be the head coach at Baylor University. I believe it is the top job in the country for women’s basketball,” Collen said. “I am excited to begin working with this extremely talented team and I am grateful for the unwavering support of President (Linda) Livingstone and Mack Rhoades. The success of this program speaks for itself, and I will begin working today to ensure Baylor women’s basketball continues to be a program that excels at the highest levels.”

When Mulkey was hired in April 2000, the Lady Bears were coming off a 7-20 record that was their 13th losing season in 17 years. Under Mulkey, they won national championships in 2005, 2012 and 2019, and 632 games overall in 21 seasons.

Baylor likely would have been a No. 1 seed in 2020 before the women’s NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the pandemic. The Lady Bears were 28-3 this past season, when they made it to a regional final before a 69-67 loss to UConn.

Baylor’s DiJonai Carrington and DiDi Richards were both WNBA draft picks last month, and Hannah Gusters — a 6-foot-5 freshman center — entered the transfer portal last week and immediately signed to join Mulkey at LSU.

All-American forward NaLyssa Smith, who as a junior was the Big 12 player of the year, has given no indications that she plans to leave Baylor, which also has three other starters eligible to come back in 6-3 center Queen Egbo, and guards Moon Ursin and Trinity Oliver. The Lady Bears last month added Alabama point guard Jordan Lewis, who signed as a graduate transfer after starting 130 games the past four seasons for the Crimson Tide.

Collen has never been a college head coach but was an assistant at Florida Gulf Coast (2014-16), Arkansas (2011-14), Louisville (2003-04), Ball State (2002-03) and Colorado State (2000-02) and was part of four NCAA and four WNIT tournaments. She was an assistant for her husband, Tom, during his head coaching tenures at Colorado State, Louisville and Arkansas.

Her collegiate playing career began at Purdue, where as a freshman she was part of a Final Four run and then was with the Boilermakers for an Elite Eight appearance as a sophomore. She transferred to Marquette, where she had 421 assists in her final two seasons, averaging seven per game in her last 60 games as the Golden Eagles made consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998.

The Dream on Monday night promoted Mike Petersen as their interim head coach and thanked Collen for her time with the team.