Banghart wins Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year

It seems Courtney Banghart has reached the top of the college basketball coaching world.

On Tuesday, Banghart was named the Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year. She led the Princeton Tigers to a perfect record during the regular season, as the team won all 30 of their games. She took her program to its first NCAA win, defeating the University of Wisconsin — Green Bay.

It appears that a perfect regular season was a prerequisite for winning the award this year. The winner of the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year, the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari, also failed to drop a game during the regular season. Also, just like the Tigers, the Kentucky Wildcats would fall to a no. 1 seed, losing to the University of Wisconsin Badgerson Saturday.

The Naismith Coach of the Year award is arguably the most prestigious award given out to a college coach. As Banghart receives this honor, she will be adding her name to a list of legendary coaches. Previous winners of the award include the University of Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and the University of Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, both of whom have been named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Indeed, Auriemma was named along with Banghart as one of the finalists for this year’s Naismith award. Auriemma’s Huskies are currently in the finals for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship tournament. The fact that Banghart was selected despite the Tigers’ falling in the Round of 32 speaks volumes to the respect she has garnered as a coach and a leader.

Of course, Banghart has earned the attention of the college basketball world through her many seasons of success, but the number of awards she has received in the last few weeks alone defy belief. She was already named Ivy League Coach of the Year back in March. In the past two days she received both the US Basketball Writers Association Women’s Coach of the Year and the Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year awards.

When reached for comment, Banghart described the difference between winning the USBWA’s award and the Naismith award.

“[It’s about] the prestige of the Naismith, it’s the premier coaching award out there,” Banghart said. “It’s the Super Bowl [of coaching].”

Banghart also described the overwhelming joy she naturally felt when receiving the prestigious honor.

“To be able to be amongst my peers, and have people so genuinely happy for me what my team of players did, it was the perfect time to get this award,” Banghart explained. True to form, she continued to put her team first when accepting it, saying, “I accepted it on behalf of my fifteen players.”

Banghart received the award in Tampa, Fla., where the final game in the tournament is taking place. She said it was one thing to win the award — it was another to win the award while surrounded by so many other prominent figures in coaching.

“I was somewhere where people understand the value of the award,” Banghart said. “It [was] great to see.”

Banghart’s legacy at Princeton

With this award, Banghart makes a strong case as one of the best coaches Princeton has seen. She is the first Tigers coach to receive the Naismith award.

Moreover, Banghart expressed the immense pride she felt by being able to connect Princeton to such a prestigious honor.

“[It’s great] to have Princeton’s name forever attached to the Naismith legacy,” Banghart said. “I’m proud to have been someone who can have Princeton notarized like that.”

She explained how it’s an honor to bring the legacy of Princeton Athletics together with the legacy andgravitasthe Naismith carries in college athletics. She spoke about having gotten emotional upon hearing her name called.

“The Naismith carries with it such a legacy. I don’t get emotional very often. When I found out, I teared up,” Banghart said. “I know what the legacy stands for, how much of a difference these coaches have made in their teams and universities.”

The difference Banghart has made in Princeton women’s basketball has been nothing short of eye-popping. She boasts a 169-67 record overall and a 92-17 record against Ivy League opponents, and she now has the most wins of any Princeton women’s basketball coach in history. She had her team at the end of the regular season ranked 13thin the country (per the AP poll) — the highest ever ranking for an Ivy League team.

Ask those who work with her on a daily basis, and you will hear accounts of a focused coach hungry for more success. Sophomore guard Vanessa Smith spoke to the kind of presence and influence her coach has with the team.

“She's the perfect embodiment of what a driven, group-oriented leader can do,” Smith said. “At the core of all [the success] isour incredible coach who's devoted first to her players and then to our goals.”

Banghart driven for another run next season

Assistant Coach Milena Flores, who like Banghart joined the team in 2007, expressed how inspiring it is to see Banghart’s competitiveness and desire to succeed up close.

“Being an assistant for her, it's really special to see her competitive drive [and] unending enthusiasm,” Flores said. “[She’s] always wanting to be better.”

Despite a season filled with high after high, Banghart continues to focus on the ultimate prize — an NCAA championship. Her gift of coaching appears to be matched by her gift of self-improvement.

“She’s someone who always wants to learn. [She’s] incredibly willing to adapt,” Flores said. When asked what in particular about Banghart’s comportment this season impressed her, Flores added, “Her main improvement was game management. She knows her players really well, [and] just has a really good feel for what to do in games.”

Banghart herself noted that as she grows, she must be aware of the new team she’s coaching.

“Every year, you’re coaching that team, that particular team. We start on the court this year with next year’s team,” Banghart explained. “I have to be the best version of me for next year’s team. You have to evolve. I have to be prepared and ready to bring this team where it needs to go.”

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