Itoro Coleman had hoped that the phone might ring one day and that Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington might be on the other end of the line.
A year removed after her three-year stint as head coach at Clemson had ended, Coleman got that call.
And now she’s headed back North to once be a part of Washington’s coaching staff, which was made official by Penn State on Wednesday.
“I am thrilled to have Itoro come back home to Penn State,” Washington said in a university release. “She is going to bring head coaching experience to our staff, and her familiarity with our program will allow her to hit the ground running. She has an infectious energy and enthusiasm that will help Lady Lion basketball climb to the next level."
Coleman replaces Maren Walseth, who was named head coach at North Dakota State a month ago. Coleman and Walseth were both part of Washington’s first staff in 2007.
“It’s familiar ground,” Coleman said via telephone from South Carolina. “We love Penn State and had great experiences there. My husband Harold loved it. My children loved it. It was kind of a no-brainer that if Coquese ever called and asked me to come back that I would do it. Not to mention, but they’ve been doing really well.”
Coleman played a part in that success. She was Penn State’s recruiting coordinator from 2007-2010. Included in those recruiting classes were Alex Bentley, Nikki Greene, Maggie Lucas and Ariel Edwards, who helped lead the Lady Lions to three consecutive Big Ten regular-season titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances.
“I kept up with them, every victory they had, every NCAA Tournament they went to, every Big Ten championship they won,” Coleman said. “I communicated with the coaches because I was just happy and proud for them. I know that there were a lot of blood, sweat and tears that happened before you guys were able to see the product.”
Coleman left Penn State after the 2010 season to take over a struggling Clemson program. She had a 25-63 record at her alma mater before being replaced after the 2013 season.
The former Tiger standout, who is in the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame, said she benefited from running a program.
“Oh my gosh, did I learn things,” Coleman said. “Sometimes you have very hard lessons to learn. I learned a lot about myself. As a coach in a stressful environment, I understand what head coach goes through on a daily basis. My hat’s off to every head coach out there. It’s a different type of beast. When you’re an assistant coach, you have one or two things that you’re responsible for. A head coach is responsible for a whole program. That consists of a lot of time and a lot of multitasking. I understand what Coquese is going through which will help me be a better assistant for her.
“I just learned a lot,” she added. “We could sit here and talk for five hours about the lessons that I learned. I think what would be beneficial to Coquese is the fact that I’ve been there. I wasn’t as successful as she was, but I know how to help her better. I really think it’s hard for assistants to understand what head coaches go through until they move over that one seat. I think then they’ll have a very different perspective on it.”
Like Washington, Coleman also has the perspective of being a mother. She and Harold have daughters Jada (10), Jordyn (4), Jasmine (3) and Harold III, nicknamed Dutch, (2). She and Washington were both pregnant during one of her seasons at Penn State.
“That’s crazy, right?,” Coleman laughed when asked about coaching and having four children. “That’s just been my whole life. Coaching has been a huge part of my life and my kids are a huge part of that. It is a balancing act. That’s why I’m very thankful and blessed to have my husband Harold because without him I know I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
During her year off from coaching, Coleman traveled, spent time with her family and even officiated some basketball games.
“I always knew that coaching was still in me,” said the former WNBA player and Nigerian Olympian. “I just didn’t know how soon or how later it was going to happen.”
Coleman, who scored 1,409 points and dished out 459 assists in her career at Clemson, previously worked with guards at Penn State. She’ll arrive on campus next week and discuss her new role with Washington.
She looks forward to rejoining Washington and meeting a young Lady Lion squad that lost four starters to graduation.
“I’m looking forward to spending time with the team and getting to know them and have them get an opportunity to know me and my family,” Coleman said. “I definitely want to help them get to where they want to go.”
And she can’t wait to work with Washington, again.
“Quese is just one of those people that garners a lot of respect in the coaching community,” Coleman said. “She’s someone that I’ve always respected. I consider her one of my mentors.”