For the second straight offseason, the Minnesota Lynx are losing one of their assistant coaches on head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve’s staff.
A little over a year after the Lynx lost one assistant coach with James Wade being named the head coach and general manager of the Chicago Sky, the four-time WNBA Champions have lost yet another assistant coach to a head coaching job.
The New York Liberty announced Wednesday morning during a press conference that they have hired Minnesota assistant coach Walt Hopkins as the organization’s new head coach for the 2020 season.
Hopkins, who finished up his third year as an assistant in Minnesota this past summer, becomes the eighth coach in Liberty franchise history and will replace former Lynx player Katie Smith as the head coach in New York. Smith’s contract wasn’t renewed following the 2019 season after being at the helm of the Liberty for two years, compiling a combined record of 17-51 in 68 games.
“New York, in particular, is special to me because I have New York roots. My dad was actually born in Brooklyn,” Hopkins said in his introductory press conference Wednesday morning. “Of all the places I have been in the last five or six years, Brooklyn has that special connection with me. The fact that this opportunity was available to me with this team and this group of people setting it up, it just couldn’t be more special and more perfect.”
Prior to the start of the 2019 campaign and following the departure of Wade to Chicago at the end of the 2018 calendar year, Hopkins was promoted to a full-time assistant coaching position in Minnesota to pair alongside assistants Shelley Patterson and Plenette Pierson on Reeve’s staff.
During his time with the Lynx, Hopkins spent a bulk of his time working with Minnesota’s wing and post players, building some strong relationships and a solid reputation with players and coaches both within the Lynx organization and around the WNBA.
“I want to start by thanking Minnesota for everything that I’ve gotten from them. Thanking Cheryl Reeve for giving me the opportunity that has led to this. And thanking all the players and fans in Minnesota, because it has been a great three years there and it’s bittersweet to leave,” Hopkins said in his press conference. “It’s almost as bittersweet as it is exciting to come here (to New York).”
Throughout his career, Hopkins has spent over a decade as a basketball coach at the professional, collegiate and high school levels. Before arriving in Minnesota, he worked in the WNBA as a Player Development Coach for the Tulsa Shock and was also an assistant coach for the Utah Valley women’s basketball program.
Hopkins now heads to New York to lead a Liberty team that finished the 2019 season with a record of 10-24 overall, resulting in the organization landing the first overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft in April.
The Liberty, which will play their home games at Barclays Center in 2020, hold a nice young nucleus that — as of now — consists of players such as Kia Nurse, Amanda Zahui B., Brittany Boyd, Asia Durr and others. That could, of course, change depending on how free agency and the offseason unfolds.
“It’s not just, as an assistant coach, you’re going to jump at the first head coaching job you get. I think that’s the way some people would do it, but I didn’t have any need to do that because I had a great situation in Minnesota. I was learning from one of the best coaches in history,” Hopkins said. “Then this opportunity came up and the more that I talked with the people in charge here and the more that I sat down and looked at how I would use this roster and how I could maximize the people that are already here, it was quickly apparent that it was the job and it was the one place I really wanted to be.”
There has been no word from the Lynx as far as what they plan to do for a replacement for Hopkins on the Lynx assistant coaching staff. Minnesota could certainly look to promote Pierson on its staff or look outside of the organization for another assistant to add to the mix.