It didn’t take Hofstra Athletic Director Rick Cole very long to see that Danielle Atkinson was precisely the coach he wanted for his women’s basketball program. He described his feeling as “gut instinct” and said “she had the exact right balance: expertise, motivation and commitment.”
Cole, since he became AD, has made a priority of keeping top coaches, like women’s soccer’s Simon Riddiough, and bringing in the best. And for the Pride’s top-to-bottom rebuild this year, it was an essential hire.
“We had a person who knew our program,” Cole said of Atkinson, who was a Pride assistant coach from 2006-10. “She had a plan A-to-Z. She had the ideals and was aspirational, which is what we wanted.”
Atkinson came over from Pittsburgh, where she was associate head coach. Before that she was on the staff of an exceptionally successful Florida State program and on the staff at Kentucky. Hofstra will be her first head coaching post. It was also her first assistant coaching post from 2006 to 2010.
“This is a great place to be and I am looking forward to the challenge, but I think we’ve already got some great chemistry going among our players,” Atkinson said.
Few debut seasons go as a new coach would like, but Atkinson’s was something no one could count on. She set about hiring the best staff Hofstra might attract and, perhaps, overachieved by asking Cathy Inglese to be associate head coach. Inglese had been a head coach who took Boston College to seven NCAA Tournaments and before that took a pair of Vermont teams to perfect regular seasons.
“I wanted a former head coach on staff, just to be able to help and navigate the waters; you don't know what you don't know coming into a [head coaching] position the first time,” Atkinson said. “I felt like every basketball person in the country told me I needed to look at her and she was a great fit.”
On July 18, tragedy engulfed the Hofstra program. Inglese took a spill on a campus stairway, reportedly en route to a summer workout, and suffered a brain injury. The 60-year-old women’s basketball savant died about a week later. She was about 11 weeks into the job, just enough for the players to make a connection.
“It was a lot. It was a very tough loss for us as a team,” redshirt sophomore Jaylen Hines said. “We were all close to her. Everyone kind of sort of had their own special [connection]. It was a lot of adversity.”
The Pride — which will honor Inglese, perhaps with a designation on their uniform or footwear or bench — soldiers on through the rebuild.
“It was phenomenal working with her. She'd been a head coach forever and so she didn't feel the need to be overpowering or to be overbearing, she truly just wanted to help [us] be successful,” Atkinson said. “The back-and-forth was great. She challenged me, which I appreciate, and helped me see things from a different perspective.”
Boogie Brozoski, the team’s only double-figure scorer, has graduated and the Pride (11-22 last season) seeks to use a balanced attack with several players that could be the team’s top scorer on any night as it begins the rebuild.
“We've got 13 players returning but all 13 of those players are going to have a different role coming into this year,” Atkinson said. “We're not going to have somebody that's going to average 20 points for us this year — that’s just not the type of team that we are.”
What they will do is find a way to honor Inglese and begin the rebuild. As Hines said “we believe in our future.”