Jennifer Rizzotti Turns Attention to USA Women’s AmeriCup Team in Busy Summer
Jennifer Rizzotti might need a hat rack in order to keep track of all her different basketball responsibilities.
With USA Basketball just this summer, she is an assistant coach for the USA Women’s National Team that will play in the Olympic Games, an assistant on the AmeriCup team that will play June 11-19 in Puerto Rico and chair of the USA Women’s Junior National Team Committee.
The latter of those three jobs encompasses selecting coaches and players for the AmeriCup, FIBA U19 World Cup, FIBA Americas U18 Championship and the Pan American Games.
She added another hat this spring when she was named president of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun after being let go as the head women’s basketball coach at George Washington University. Joining the Connecticut Sun was a homecoming for Rizzotti, who went to high school in Fairfield, Connecticut, and then starred in college at the University of Connecticut.
“Well, there is no typical week for me right now,” Rizzotti said with a laugh. “Three weeks ago, I was in Denver with the U19 World Cup team, as a member of the selection committee. And then I went home, and the following week I spent getting my house ready to put on the market in Virginia, and then this week I’ve actually been up in Connecticut all week, so I’m just finishing a full week up here with the Connecticut Sun and also looking for a new house in Connecticut. And then Monday, I leave to go to South Carolina.”
Her trip to Columbia, South Carolina, will be with her AmeriCup assistant coach hat on. She will be on head coach Dawn Staley’s staff that also includes assistant Adia Barnes, who is the head coach at the University of Arizona. Staley, the University of South Carolina coach, also is the Women’s National Team coach. Training camp began June 1 and the FIBA Women’s AmeriCup is June 11-19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Four teams will advance from that tournament to the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup Qualifying Tournaments in February.
Rizzotti, who compiled a 388-290 as a college coach at the University of Hartford (1999-2016) and GW (2016-21), has been immersing herself in her new role as a WNBA team president. While she has executive experience on USA Basketball selection committees, this is her first role that includes taking charge of the day-to-day business decisions of an organization and how that translates to the product that is on the court.
“There’s part of it that feels so natural, thinking about the team and being competitive and wanting to put the team in the best position to be successful, right?” Rizzotti said. “Then part of it is a complete unknown for me, like how to run the business side. But I will say that part of what I’m learning is that you have to build culture and you have to have a vision, and that’s exactly what I did for 22 years as a coach, too.”
Listening is a big part of her early days with the Sun. Learning how to run a professional sports franchise has its complexities, so she is bouncing ideas off different people to find out what might and might not work. Adding another level to that is how the basketball operation is integrated with the Mohegan Sun, the casino that owns the team.
Becoming an executive wasn’t necessarily on Rizzotti’s mind. But when her tenure at GW came to an end — which included her husband, who was an assistant coach — Rizzotti felt she “needed a break from coaching in college.” Then she was approached about becoming the Sun president.
“It took a little bit more thought, because it was a complete shift from what I was used to, and it meant I had to move my family,” said Rizzotti, who also cited the ability to boost women in sports and social issues as an attraction to the role. “But as I talked to more people and I got more information about the job, it just seemed to make more and more sense. Then when I came up here to visit and talked to everybody, it just felt right. It felt like home. It felt like a family atmosphere, and I really believe they want to put the resources in and have the support to really make this a successful franchise.”
Rizzotti is relying on her experience selecting coaches and players for USA Basketball as the basis for launching her career with the Sun.
“The Selection Committee is a totally different scope than a coaching position at USA Basketball,” said Rizzotti, who also just finished a stint as president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. “You’re dealing with other really high-profile coaches, and as a group really trying to be thoughtful about the decisions that are made, that really impact people’s lives. Just kind of managing that group and having conversations through it with Carol (Callan, Women’s National Team director) about all of it, like the implications of every decision we made. From whom we picked as a coach, to who we put on the team, to how we prepared and everything. So, I got a really good look at the behind the scenes of what the USA Basketball staff had to do to put on trials and training camps and everything.”
But for the next few weeks, much of her work is with the USA AmeriCup team, something she is very happy to do. With the help of Lisa Boyer and Hudson Jacobs from Staley’s South Carolina staff, Rizzotti already was breaking down film on opponents before arriving on campus. A particular challenge is Puerto Rico, which Rizzotti said is likely to field its Olympic team, and Canada, which could have a handful of its Olympians. Meanwhile, the U.S. is fielding a team comprised of college players.
“Two potential Olympic opponents and then obviously the urgency for us to finish in the top four, so that we can advance to the next round,” Rizzotti said. “We want to be in the FIBA World Cup in 2022, so there is a lot of pressure on these college kids, and just making sure that as an assistant coach, I do what I need to do to make sure that defensively we’re prepared with who we’re going to play, and that I put Dawn in the best position to feel really prepared heading into this tournament."
Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.