Kahleah Copper of WNBA's Chicago Sky returns to Rutgers as assistant coach

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Kahleah Copper is heading back to Rutgers as an assistant on the women's basketball team, where she played during her college career.

The Chicago Sky's star wing will become the Director of Athletic Culture and Professional Development. Copper averaged 14 points and 5.8 rebounds when she competed for the Scarlet Knights from 2012-16 under coach C. Vivian Stringer.

“I think it's crazy that I've been having some full circle moments,” Copper said in a phone interview. “I'm super excited to be back and pour into the program that molded me into the player and person I am. I'm excited to go back to my roots where it all began for me. Give back to that program and help develop the next generation of pros.”

Rutgers coach Coquese Washington said when she told her players that Copper would coach them — a player who won the 2021 WNBA title with Chicago — their eyes were “big as saucers.”

This isn't Copper's first foray into coaching. She was an assistant on the Purdue University Northwest basketball team in 2020-21. She said the experience helped her gain a greater appreciation for coaching.

“I appreciate scouts more, being a leader and being a player that is consistent,” she said. “You see the difference in what that makes. A leader comes in every day and is consistent.”

Copper said she received a call from Washington this summer, asking her if she wanted to return as a coach.

“We talked about her journey as she was still playing and her becoming a coach. What inspired her to do that,” Copper said. “We talked about what I did at Purdue Northwest and how it made me feel. I got a love for it.”

Washington said she got into college coaching as an assistant at her alma mater Notre Dame while playing in the WNBA for the New York Liberty, Houston Comets and Indiana Fever. She was recruited for the job by her college coach, Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw.

“Talking to Kahleah, I told her I came from the same place. I understand what you're thinking in the offseason,” Washington said. “You want to stay in shape, the marketing and business responsibilities. Those were the conversations we had.

“She's a finals MVP, a WNBA champion, plays on the national team. This is as good as it gets of what it takes to be an elite level player."

The player from Philadelphia was drafted seventh by the Washington Mystics in 2016 and traded to Chicago in 2017. Copper earned MVP honors after averaging 17.7 points and shooting 52% from the field in the playoffs that season.

Copper, who played in Belgium, Turkey and other overseas spots in the offseason before the coronavirus pandemic, is the latest WNBA player to join the college coaching ranks this season. Rhyne Howard is working at Florida, Ariel Atkins at Michigan, Rachel Banham at Minnesota and Brionna Jones at Maryland.

___ Get poll alerts and updates on AP Top 25 basketball throughout the season. Sign up here ___ AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball