Marquette Wire

Nicki Collen brings Marquette experience to professional level

Marquette+basketball+alumna+Nicki+Collen+is+preparing+to+take+over+the+WNBA%27s+Atlanta+Dream.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Atlanta+Dream.%29
Marquette basketball alumna Nicki Collen is preparing to take over the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Dream.)

Marquette basketball alumna Nicki Collen is preparing to take over the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Dream.)

Marquette basketball alumna Nicki Collen is preparing to take over the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Dream.)

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Marquette women’s basketball has yet to establish a strong presence in the Women’s National Basketball Association, but that is beginning to change. In October, the Atlanta Dream hired former Marquette guard Nicki Collen, formerly Nicki Taggart, as their head coach.

“It is a little exhilarating and terrifying at the same time,” Collen said. “I like meeting new people. I like selling our league and selling our team. I think there are a lot of great things about the opportunity to be the head of an organization.”

Collen is the first former Marquette women’s player to be a head coach in the WNBA. The last time any Marquette alum went to the WNBA as a player or coach was in 2011, when point guard Angel Robinson went to the Minnesota Lynx.

“Nicki brings impressive basketball and coaching credentials along with great leadership qualities, and we are thrilled to welcome her to the Atlanta Dream,” team owners Kelly Loeffler and Mary Brock said in a statement at the time of Collen’s hiring.

Since taking the job last fall, Collen has found the job different than any previous coaching stop.

“It is a different perspective on everything when you move over a chair because you are responsible on a totally different level, and you have to answer for a lot of things,” Collen said.

Collen came to Marquette in 1995 in search of more playing time after transferring from Purdue University. The 5-foot-5 guard helped the Golden Eagles win its first NCAA tournament game in 1997, upsetting Clemson 70-66. In her senior year, Collen was second-team All-Conference USA and finished third in the nation in assists with 7.4 per game.

After graduating from Marquette with a degree in mechanical engineering, Collen played professionally overseas with BCM Alexandros in Greece for one year. She then returned to the U.S. to begin her coaching career. Collen worked her way up the college basketball ladder and held jobs as an assistant coach at Ball State University, Colorado State University and the University of Louisville.

Collen stepped away from the game for six years to raise her family before joining her husband Tom’s staff at the University of Arkansas. After Arkansas, she went to Florida Gulf Coast University and then, she moved up to the professional ranks in 2016 to work for Curt Miller and the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA.

Since moving from college to the pros, Collen has noticed a marked difference between the two.

“The difference (is) you are less of a mentor,” Collen said. “You are coaching adults at this point. This is their job. You still build relationships, but you don’t have to make sure they are going to class. They are just more independent.”

Last year, the Dream finished with a 12-22 record, the franchise’s worst season for the franchisesince 2008. There is optimism in Atlanta after finding out that Angel McCoughtry, who was the team’s highest scorer before taking a year off from basketball last season, will return.

“Their season (last year) — they were hovering with the opportunity to make the playoffs heading into August and then had a tough stretch in August that put them out of playoff contention, but I think the pieces are in place roster-wise,” Collen said.

Collen will make her head coaching debut May 6 when the Dream takes on the Chicago Sky.

“There is not a lot of downtime,” Collen said. “My Netflix binge-watching ended when I took the head coaching job.”

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