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Anne Donovan dead; Olympic gold medalist, Basketball Hall of Famer was 56

Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan watches her players

Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan watches her players in a WNBA game against the Storm in Uncasville, Conn., on July 31, 2015. Credit: AP/Jessica Hill

Anne Donovan, the Basketball Hall of Famer and former Liberty coach who won a national championship at Old Dominion, two Olympic gold medals in the 1980s and coached the United States to gold in 2008, died Wednesday of heart failure. She was 56.

Donovan’s family confirmed the death in a statement. “While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being,” the statement said.

Liberty coach Katie Smith won a gold medal with the 2008 Olympic team that was coached by Donovan. “Yeah, it’s tough, yeah,” Smith said, choking back tears. “Just saw her this weekend (at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Tennessee).”

Liberty forward Tina Charles played for Donovan with the Connecticut Sun in 2013. “It hurt,” Charles said of the news. “It hurt bad. To be totally honest, she was the only coach that I played for that coached me and challenged me and forced me to be better. At a young age, I didn’t understand it.”

Donovan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, was part of the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted in the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015.

The 6-8 center coached both in college and the WNBA. She became the first female coach and the youngest person (42) to win a title in the WNBA, guiding the Seattle Storm to a championship in 2004. She also coached the Liberty, Indiana Fever, Charlotte Sting and Connecticut Sun, working there from 2013-15. The New Jersey native also coached at Seton Hall for two years.

Donovan was a member of three Olympic teams as a player. The 1980 team did not go to Russia because of a boycott. The team won gold in 1984 and ’88.

After playing at Old Dominion, Donovan played professionally in Japan and Italy. After retiring, she was an assistant at Old Dominion and then coached at East Carolina University from 1995-1998.

With Brian Heyman

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