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The Interview Issue: Stephanie White

September 26, 2015
stephaniewhite-1-092815-15col.jpg White says she’s open but demanding with players, including Briann January. (Photo courtesy of the Indiana Fever)

Stephanie White has a lot of balls in the air.

She has three young sons and two full-time jobs—one coaching the Indiana Fever and another working in the broadcast booth for the Big Ten Network, ESPN and Fox Sports Indiana.

The 38-year-old product of West Lebanon is arguably the most iconic figure in Indiana women’s basketball. She averaged 36.9 points and 13.1 rebounds per game while being named Indiana Miss Basketball and the 1995 national high school player of the year by Gatorade and USA Today.

As a Purdue University senior, she averaged 20.2 points and 4.5 assists while earning college player of the year honors and leading Purdue to the 1999 NCAA championship.

After retiring from the WNBA in 2004, she went into coaching and was an assistant with the Fever when they won the league title in 2012. In 2014, she replaced Lin Dunn as head coach.

What’s the difference between being a player and coach?

As a coach, you have to think big picture in terms of what allows your team to be successful: How do you bring out the best in each one of your players? How do you put them in positions to be successful? As players, we’re all very self-involved. I studied the game as a player, but nothing like I study it now.

Which role best suits your personality?

Probably coaching. They both do to a certain extent. I’m an extreme competitor and I love playing the game. But my strength has always been my mind for the game as a player.

Which role do you like best?

As I get older, of course, I like the coaching role better because physically I can’t do the things I used to do playing. No matter what role it is, we get to be a part of a kid’s game—and do it for a living. I think I have the best job in the world and I just can’t believe I get to do this every single day.

What surprised you most when you transitioned from playing to coaching?

That it’s very physically as well as mentally taxing. As an assistant coach, I didn’t feel everything I physically feel now, and I think it’s a part of the mental, emotional stress, the extra preparation, the travel.

Do you physically train to coach?

I work out every day before practice and do my players a favor by making sure I get all my stress out before I see them.

I also train myself by watching (basketball). I watch the NBA. I watch college. I’m always looking for new, innovative things we can do with our team. Last year, I went to the Boston Celtics training camp.

Describe your coaching style.

I’m demanding. I expect certain things and a lot of those things are effort-related. I’m open. Being a player, I understand the need for feedback and players are actively involved. I’m blunt and honest. As a player, I didn’t want any gray area. I want our players to know where they stand every single day. I’m high-energy.

Are you more Gene Keady or John Wooden?

I’m a mix of both. I’m a little more high-energy, intense and animated than John Wooden, but I also believe in a lot of things John Wooden believed in.

I’m very process-oriented. I’m very much improvement-based, intangible improvement as much as tangible improvement. I don’t want our players focused on winning and losing. … I want our players focused on continual growth and improvement.

Indiana Pacers radio play-by-play announcer Mark Boyle said if he could pick one person to replace Slick Leonard as his broadcast partner when Slick’s career is over, you would be at the top of the list. Would you be interested in that job?

Wow! Holy cow! What a compliment coming from Mark Boyle.

Absolutely I’d be interested. I love the game and I love to watch it and I love to talk about it. Broadcasting helps me become a better coach and coaching helps me become a better broadcaster. I can see things that the average fan might not see.

It’s pretty well-known you have a same-sex partner. Do you consider yourself an outspoken advocate for gay rights?

I consider myself an advocate because I have a platform to influence people.

One of the reasons I decided to start being an advocate [is] because there are a lot of people in this state who know me—who know who I am. Not who know Stephanie White the coach. Not Stephanie White the player. But who know Stephanie White the person.

And I am the same Stephanie White the person who was married to a man as the Stephanie White the person that is married to a woman. If you can get people who may not know or don’t know they know someone in a same-sex relationship to have an appreciation for a person versus the type of relationship they’re in, I think it hits home.

And more than anything, because I have kids, and I want my kids to see the world through a little bigger lens. I want my kids to see our family the same as any other family.

Do you think parenting is any different in a same-sex marriage than in a heterosexual marriage?

Whether you’re raised by a grandparent, a single parent, a heterosexual couple or a homosexual couple, I think all parenting is the same.

You want your children to be better than you are. You want to protect them and love them. You want them to understand what it means to be kind, to be considerate. You want them to be good people and good citizens. You want them to have responsibility and accountability. You want them to have all the same values our parents wanted for us.

Is it more hectic here dealing with the team or at home with your three sons?

(Laughter) At home! No question. We call it Crazytown. The oldest of our boys is 4 and the twins just turned 2.

My oldest is extremely competitive. He knows when we win and lose.

I’ll come home and he’ll give me a hug and say, “Mommy, what happened? You lost. Did you not rebound? Did you not play defense?” And the other two are like, “Aaaaaah, Mommy’s home.”

They keep me grounded and help me to understand that, while winning and losing and coaching is what I do, it’s not who I am.

How disappointed were you in Indiana in the way the RFRA thing came down?

I felt it was an attack on me, because it is who I am. I was very happy and proud—and not surprised at all—about our state for coming together and saying that [discrimination] is unacceptable. Because at the core, that’s who we are.

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