Phoenix hires Scottsdale native, Stanford grad, former WNBA player
PHOENIX – The three-time WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury today named Vanessa Nygaard (NYE-guard) the 10th head coach in franchise history. Nygaard, born in Scottsdale, Ariz., has nearly two decades of coaching experience at the high school, college, WNBA and international level, following a six-year playing career in the WNBA and standout run at Stanford.
Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman: “Over the last several weeks, we have spoken to and spent time with more than a dozen coaching candidates and conducted more than 20 interviews with a pool of incredibly qualified coaches, the majority of whom played Division I college basketball, many of whom played in the WNBA, and all of whom had coaching experience across women’s or men’s international, college or professional basketball. It is incredibly gratifying to see a candidate pool deeper than any time in the history of our league, and we are grateful for the time spent with each of them.”
“That process, and discussions with both internal and external members of the basketball community, ultimately led us to Vanessa Nygaard, who we are thrilled to name our head coach, and who we believe positions us for immediate and long-term success in Phoenix. We were looking for a teacher of the game, a master tactician, and someone with the temperament to lead a roster that mixes veteran experience with youthful potential, that has championship aspirations every season. We found that coach in Vanessa, whose enthusiasm for building relationships and holding players to the highest standards separated her in this process. Beyond that, she is committed to growing the women’s game on and off the floor in Phoenix and wants to be a part of the Valley basketball community yearround. We are excited to welcome her and her family back to Arizona and to the Mercury family.”
“I am grateful to Robert Sarver and Jim Pitman for the opportunity to join this great organization and lead this team,” said Nygaard. “This is an organization that has set the standard on and off the court in the WNBA for 25 years. When I looked at the commitment to winning here, the resources from ownership, the partnership with the Suns, and the roster in place, I knew this was where I wanted to be. The goal here is to win championships, and I look forward to getting this team back to the top of the WNBA mountain.”
Nygaard is a 1998 graduate of Stanford where she helped to lead the Cardinal to three Final Fours while a standout under Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, the all-time wins leader in NCAA women’s history. Originally selected by the New York Liberty (39th overall) in 1998, Nygaard’s six-year WNBA career saw her play for the Cleveland Rockers (1999), Portland Fire (2000-01), Miami Sol (2002) and Los Angeles Sparks (2003).
While her best statistical season came in 2000 with Portland, perhaps the most impactful stint was in Miami where then-Sol head coach Ron Rothstein saw a future coach in Nygaard and encouraged her to pursue it as a career.
Nygaard’s coaching career is a study in dues paid and opportunities earned after 19 years of player development work, front-bench Xs-and-Os, culture-building, and teaching the game. Most recently, in 2021, Nygaard was a top assistant to Bill Laimbeer with the Las Vegas Aces, helping to lead the team to the league’s second-best record, the top-scoring offense, and the second-best field goal defense, before being eliminated in the Semifinals in a thrilling five-game series with the Mercury.
Her coaching career began while still an active WNBA player as an assistant at Long Beach State University (2003), and then the following season at Pepperdine University (2004). She returned to the WNBA as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Silver Stars (2008) and helped guide the franchise to its only Finals appearance.
In search of what she called “head-coaching reps,” Nygaard took over as head coach of one of the premiere California high school programs at Windward School in Los Angeles (2012-present), and in her tenure has won two California state titles (2017, 2018) and five CIF Southern Section Championships. The program has graduated star WNBA guard Jordin Canada (Seattle Storm), and Charisma Osborne, three-time LA Times Player of the Year and the current leading scorer at UCLA. Nygaard was named the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year in 2020.
Held in high regard as a teacher of the game due to her success at Windward, Nygaard is a part of USA Basketball coaching circles, serving as an assistant coach for both the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championships and the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup.
Led by the 2021 Olympic gold-medal winning trio of Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, and coming off the club’s fifth WNBA Finals appearance in franchise history, the three-time WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury return to Footprint Center this summer, tipping off the season with Fry’s Food Stores Opening Night on Friday, May 6, against the Las Vegas Aces.