New comets owner Hilton Koch has his new head coach: current assistant Karleen Thompson.
On Feb. 2, Koch contacted Thompson, who was in Prague, Czech Republic, serving as an assistant coach on a team based in Moscow. After that phone call, which came at 4:30 a.m., Thompson realized she was one step closer to fulfilling her ultimate career goal.
"It's hit me," Thompson said. "Probably when I get home, it'll knock me out, I'm sure."
Thompson, who played at Southern California with Comets forward Tina Thompson and Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie, spent eight seasons with the Sparks. After Michael Cooper departed to take a position with the Denver Nuggets, Thompson served as L.A.'s interim co-head coach for the final 14 games in 2004. She joined the Comets the next summer and for two seasons served as an assistant to Chancellor, who resigned Jan. 4.
Renowned as a player's coach, Thompson acknowledged the daunting task of succeeding Chancellor, who led the Comets to four WNBA championships from 1997 through 2000. She also discussed the challenge of serving as Comets general manager, aspiring to combine what she learned under Cooper with the Sparks and with Cheryl Miller and Marianne Stanley at USC into a philosophy that will serve the franchise well.
"I've looked at our roster, and I know where it needs to go," Thompson said. "I know what places we need to fill, what holes and gaps we may need to replace. I know what it takes to win a championship. I want to build our team around defense. I want defense first."
Thompson, who won WNBA titles with the Sparks in 2001 and '02, becomes the fourth female head coach in the 13-team WNBA. Her hiring reverses a recent trend that has seen men with no WNBA ties land opportunities over tenured female assistants.