By Harry Minium

Former University of Florida All-American and WNBA star DeLisha Milton-Jones was named Old Dominion University's new women's basketball coach on Friday.

She comes to ODU from Syracuse University, where she was the recruiting coordinator and an assistant coach last season. Previously, she coached three seasons at Pepperdine University, including the last two as head coach.

She engineered a remarkable turnaround for the small, elite private school in California. She won 10 games in her first season, the most victories by a Pepperdine team in six years.

In 2018-19, she led the Waves to a 22-12 record and the Sweet 16 of the National Invitation Tournament. She won more games that season than anyone at Pepperdine since 2002.

Milton-Jones succeeded at every level in which she was competed. She won the Wade Trophy, given each year to the nation's top senior, at Florida. She and the Gators lost 53-51 to ODU in her final college game in 1997, an NCAA regional final.

She was a three-time WNBA all-star and won two Olympic gold medals, including 2008 in China for a team coached by the late Anne Donovan, a former ODU All-American.

She retired in 2016 after 499 WNBA games, which was then a record, and she remains among the league's top 10 career scorers.

In many ways she is a clone of former coach Nikki McCray-Penson. Both were All-Americans and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in college, three-time WNBA all-stars and two-time Olympic gold medalists.

She was a tireless worker on the court known for her physical defensive skills. During the WNBA offseason she would either play for USA Basketball or a foreign country.

She won five international medals playing for USA Basketball and also played professionally in Russia, Italy, Czechia, Spain, Turkey and South Korea.

President John R. Broderick was the last to interview her during the coaching search. He said he's excited that ODU was able to hire a coach with her playing and coaching experience.

"The women's basketball program is a point of pride for Old Dominion University and has a strong legacy of national prominence," he said. "I'm confident that under DeLisha's leadership, our student-athletes will continue to excel on and off the court."

ODU Athletic Director Camden Wood Selig led the search committee, whose selection needed approval from Broderick and the Board of Visitors. Milton-Jones was hired six days after McCray announced she was leaving for Mississippi State.

"DeLisha has been a successful intercollegiate head women's basketball coach, so she knows firsthand what the job entails," Selig said. "She will provide a seamless transition for a program on an upward trajectory toward national prominence. DeLisha will be an excellent role model for the young women in our program now and in the future.

"She will also connect instantly with all our women's basketball constituents who make ODU women's basketball the national brand that we are. I welcome DeLisha and her husband, Roland, to the Monarch family and cannot wait for the Hampton Roads community to get to know them both."

Former ODU All-American and two-time Wade Trophy winner Nancy Lieberman-Cline was among those who praised the decision to hire Milton-Jones. Lieberman has been friends with Milton-Jones since she played at Florida.

"I can't think of anyone else who would be better for Old Dominion than DeLisha," Lieberman said. "With what Nikki has done with the program, you had to hire someone with credentials. You had to hire someone with cachet and DeLisha has that. Google her name. Her record speaks for itself. She's going to do great things at ODU."

Milton-Jones said she knew she wanted the ODU job as soon as it opened, and not just because of ODU's legacy. McCray led a meteoric rebuilding of the Monarchs in just three seasons.

In 2017-18, ODU was 8-23. This past season, which just two recruiting classes under McCray's belt, the Monarchs were 24-6 and were almost surely headed to the NCAA tournament when the Conference USA and NCAA tournaments were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Milton-Jones told the selection committee that she has followed McCray's rebuilding effort closely and aims to improve on her success.

"My heart is filled with excitement as I step up to lead the women's basketball program at Old Dominion," Milton-Jones said. "I'm tasked with the responsibility of maintaining or superseding the exceptional work that is currently in place due to the relentless work of Nikki McCray and her staff. The history of this prestigious program is one that I'm intent on continuing with even more success.

"I'm very thankful for President Broderick and Dr. Selig for entrusting me with this grand opportunity to lead the women's basketball program and invest in the ODU community wholeheartedly. My husband Roland and I couldn't be happier.

"To our women's basketball alumni including Nancy Lieberman-Cline, Ticha Penicheiro, Clarisse Machanguana, Mary Andrade and the late Anne Donovan, it's an honor to know that you all have paved a path of excellence for future Lady Monarchs. Thank you for your contributions, and your legacies will forever live on.

"I can't wait to get to work with this phenomenal group of current players. Let's go Monarchs!"

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