Raising the Standard

Former Lady Lion Tanisha Wright is leading a steady rebuilding project with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

Tanisha Wright holding a basketball by Rob Foldy Getty Images

Basketball was always simple for Tanisha Wright, the player. For Tanisha Wright, the coach, it’s been more challenging. “As a player, you can be told, ‘Do this, this, and this,’ and I know exactly how to do those three things,” says Wright ’06 Edu. “But as a coach, I need my players to do these three things, and when they’re not doing them, it’s way more frustrating.”

After playing 11 seasons in the WNBA, the former Lady Lion All-American—who had long been reluctant to get into coaching—joined the staff of former Penn State assistant coach Cara Consuegra ’04 MEd Edu at UNC Charlotte as an assistant coach in 2017. In 2021, after one season as an assistant with the Las Vegas Aces, she landed her first head coaching job, with the Atlanta Dream; last fall, in her first season, Wright became the first former WNBA player to earn the AP Coach of the Year honor.

Led by league rookie of the year Rhyne Howard, the Dream finished just 14-22. But that represented six more wins than the team had managed in any of the previous three seasons, and the Dream holds two top-10 selections in April’s WNBA Draft. Wright saw growth last season. She wants to see improved results this year. “The standards are the same, but the goals change,” she says.

Wright credits her head coach at Penn State, Rene Portland, with instilling a toughness and grittiness in her that has helped her as a player and a coach. Consuegra, who was the Lady Lions’ director of operations during Wright’s first three seasons in Happy Valley, taught her how to prepare a team for an opponent. Wright says she has embraced coaching strategy and the chess-match aspect of the job.

Wright, who signed a five-year contract extension in December, is excited about the opportunity to continue building on what the team has already accomplished. “The most gratifying part was the buy-in from every single person within our organization from top to bottom in terms of what we were trying to do,” Wright says. “We established that we are going to be a selfless unit, we are going to give more than we are going to receive, and we’re going to have fun doing that.”