menu close twitter facebook snapchat instagram youtube article basketball gallery graph left-arrow right-arrow search star trophy video net clipboard shield-check shield-star stopwatch filter reset Share
Nell Fortner

Nell Fortner Back at Home on the Sidelines Teaching and Coaching

  • Author:
    Maggie Hendricks, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Oct 11, 2019

Now that she is back coaching basketball after seven years as an analyst for ESPN, Nell Fortner is getting used to recruiting again, and all the things that come along with it. Even during the course of this interview, Fortner had to duck out to take a call from a recruit. The clock never stops.

Fortner was hired to lead the Georgia Institute of Technology’s women’s basketball program in April. She previously had served as head coach of the 1999-2000 USA Basketball Women’s National Team, and the gold medal winning 1998 USA World Championship and 2000 Olympic teams. Fortner, who also was head coach of the WNBA Indiana Fever, and a collegiate head mentor at Auburn University and Purdue University, found herself missing the sidelines. 

“Once you're a coach, it doesn't just leave you,” said Fortner, 60. “I felt like I still had the energy to do it, because it does take a lot of energy. I had been watching it, talking about it long enough, that I was ready to get back in and coach. I told myself if the right job came up, then I would be interested in it. I didn't know if anyone would hire me at this point, because I'd been out for a while. But then Georgia Tech opened up, it was the right fit. So, here I am.”

During her time at ESPN, Fortner found herself in the position where she continually could learn about basketball from some of the sport’s most successful coaches. Though she hasn’t coached since 2013, Fortner has had the chance to improve her basketball knowledge. Now, she gets to put that knowledge to work in working with her new team.

“I was able to watch a lot of practices over the years, to hear coaches teach things in a variety of ways, there's not just one way to be a successful basketball coach,” she said. “There's many ways to get players to be their best. There's many ways to play defensive schemes, and teach the game of basketball. So to be able to hear from different coaches along the line, very high level coaches, I loved it. I loved listening to it. Took notes. Continued to go to clinics to keep up with where the game was headed, where the changes were. I was fortunate to have time to do all that, and to have to doorways to walk into.”

Fortner is joining forces with several women who work in athletics as a part of USA Basketball Women in the Game conference that is taking place this weekend in Atlanta, with the support of the Atlanta Hawks. The event will expose attendees to the different avenues women can take with sports careers, give practical advice and help attendees find mentors. Fortner said she is taking part to give back to the sport that has given her so much.

“To mentor young people, to be a source of information, a source of inspiration for someone young, it's important. It's what everyone should do. You reach back and take a hand, and you help them up,” she said.

One of the more nerve-wracking parts of any conference is networking. Fortner recommends working through nerves to talk to powerful people in your career field, because you never know where a connection is going to take you. 

“It's hard for a young person to walk up to someone whose been successful,” she said. “'They don't want to talk to me! I'm nervous!’ You've got to do it. It’s incredibly important. I'll never forget the first time I met Pat Summitt. I was so nervous I could hardly talk to her. She turned out to be one of my best friends. You never know what direction something's going to turn. You can't be afraid of it.”

Inspiring young people and helping them find their way in their crucial collegiate years is one of the reasons Fortner wanted to get back into coaching.

“The reason I coached in the first place was for the kids,” she said. “I really enjoy coaching and teaching. I enjoy making a difference in a kid’s life, off the floor as well as on the floor. I really missed being around them, and having a team of my own and being a part of a team. That part never leaves you.”

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Fortner played volleyball and basketball at the University of Texas, and took her first coaching job at Killeen High School in Texas in 1983. Over the years, she has coached successfully at multiple levels all over the country, including as an assistant coach with the historic 1995-96 USA Women's National Team and helping the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team bring home the gold medal. She has found one constant over her decades of coaching.

“Players are players, kids are kids, and nothing has changed in that regard,” she said. “The one thing I've heard over the years is that kids are different. No, they're not. Kids are the same. The world is different, but the kids are the same. They still need a lot of guidance. They need mentoring, they need teaching, they need discipline. They need everything they've always needed in helping them mature in that age range. That is the absolute same.”

 

Maggie Hendricks is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

 

 



Related Videos

Dawn Staley, playing in her third Olympic Games, was elected by her peers - all U.S. team captains - to carry the flag and lead the U.S. delegation into the 2004 Opening Ceremony. She reflects back on her selection and what it meant to her.

Several notable athletes on the USA National Team sat out most, if not all, of the 2019 WNBA season and are gearing up to get back on the court with their pro teams as the league launches the 2020 season.

USA Basketball National Team standouts Nneka Ogwumike and Napheesa Collier offer their thoughts and insights to seven of the nation's best collegiate athletes in USA Basketball's first Junior National Team panel discussion.

The 2018 USA Basketball Women’s National Team overcame a 16-point deficit in a 74-68 win over Canada on Sept. 8, 2018 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The USA outscored Canada by 18 points in the final two quarters to avoid its first loss on home soil since a 65-64 exhibition defeat at the University of Tennessee on Nov. 7, 1999.

Four years ago, after the 2016 USA Basketball Women’s National Team had been together for less than a week and played one exhibition against the USA Select Team (a game that will be re-aired in two weeks), the USA squad traveled from Los Angeles to Newark, Delaware, for an exhibition game against France. Tina Charles finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists, and the U.S. used a potent second half performance to seize an 84-62 victory.

The home of the Blue Hens also was home to Elena Delle Donne during her collegiate career. It was where during her four years, she helped lead UD to a 104-32 record (.765 winning percentage), the 2013 NCAA Sweet Sixteen, 2012 NCAA second round, a pair of WNITs, two Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles and two CAA tournament crowns.

Related Content

Brittney Griner has won three gold medals and compiled a 34-2 record in a USA Basketball jersey.

The dynamic duo of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart were the one-two punch that helped lead the Seattle Storm to a fourth WNBA title – all four of which featured Bird.

Seimone Augustus has won seven gold medals with USA Basketball.

In recognition of her selfless act to defer her athletic career to pursue criminal justice reform, two-time Olympic and two-time FIBA World Cup gold medalist Maya Moore has been named as the recipient of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s 2020 Jack Kelly Fair Play Award.

One of the most decorated athletes in USA Basketball history, Sue Bird has a career 142-6 record in a USA jersey.

Coach Licensing & Organization Accreditation Login



Forgot Password?