Kara Lawson coaching timeline: Inside former WNBA star’s rise to lead Duke to Sweet 16 berth in March Madness

The Duke Blue Devils women’s basketball program is headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018. Leading the charge on the sideline is Kara Lawson, who is in her fourth season at the helm.

It hasn’t taken long for Lawson to rise into stardom as one of the biggest names in coaching. The No. 5 pick in the 2003 WNBA Draft, Lawson first got into broadcasting during her playing career, taking over as the Wizards’ primary TV analyst in 2017. She took a small step back from the broadcast booth to join the Celtics as an assistant coach in 2019.

Duke poached Lawson from the Celtics at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 but things got out to a rocky start, to say the least. Less than four years later, the program is four wins away from its first-ever national title.

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How has Lawson made such a meteoric rise in the coaching ranks? Here is a closer look at her path and what she’s done for Duke’s women’s program in four short years.

Kara Lawson coaching timeline

Kara Lawson and Gordon Hayward

(NBAE via Getty Images)

USA Basketball (3×3 head coach, 5×5 assistant coach)

Seasons coached: 2017-Present

Lawson, who, as a player, won a gold medal for Team USA at the 2008 Olympics, has worn several hats for the USA Basketball program.

In 2017, Lawson led the women’s USA Basketball to gold at the 3×3 U18 World Cup and the 2018 Youth Olympic Games and led the men’s team to gold at the 2018 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup. She led both the men’s and women’s teams to gold at the 2019 Pan American Games.

Lawson led the senior Women’s National 3×3 Team to gold at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. More recently, she served as an assistant coach for the Senior Women’s National 5×5 team at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in 2022.

Boston Celtics (assistant coach)

Seasons coached: 2019-20

In 2019, then-Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added Lawson to the staff, making the 13-year WNBA veteran the first female assistant coach in the franchise’s storied history.

“She is as sharp as they come,” Stevens said of Lawson during an interview on ESPN. “We’re excited to have her on board. She’s really excited to get going. … Thank goodness she’s on our staff. I think she’ll do a great, great job for us.”

During the NBA Restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in the summer of 2020, Duke announced that it had hired Lawson as its next head coach of the women’s basketball team.

The news was met with widespread support from the Celtics team, who sent their head coach off with well wishes ahead of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

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Duke women’s basketball (head coach)

Seasons coached: 2020-Present

Lawson’s first season was a tough one as the Duke women’s program decided to opt out of the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Blue Devils posted a 3-1 record but decided to shut things down on Dec. 25, 2020.

In year two, Lawson led the team to a 17-13 record, including a 7-11 record in ACC play but the Blue Devils failed to qualify for postseason play. The first two years set up a major leap for Lawson and company in Year 3.

The 2022-23 Duke women’s team went 26-7, including a 14-4 mark in conference play. After being ranked as high as ninth in the AP poll, Duke earned a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament but was upset by 6-seed Colorado in the Round of 32.

Led by junior Reigan Richardson, Lawson’s fourth team has been her most successful. The Blue Devils posted a 19-10 record in the regular season and an 11-7 record in conference play.

After coming up short in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, Duke earned a 7 seed in the 2024 NCAA Tournament and upset 2-seed Ohio State on its home floor to advance to the Sweet 16.

MORE: Women’s March Madness schedule 2024: Full TV channels, times and more

How good was Kara Lawson at basketball?

Kara Lawson WNBA Finals

(NBAE via Getty Images)

Impressive as she is as a coach, Lawson was quite the player during her career.

A 5-9 point guard, Lawson earned All-American honors during her high school career before moving on to the University of Tennessee, where she would play under Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt.

Lawson was selected fifth overall in the 2003 WNBA Draft and helped lead the Sacramento Monarchs to a WNBA title in 2005. In 2007, Lawson earned an All-Star selection despite holding a reserve role.

In 2008, Lawson was one of 12 members of the United States Senior Women’s National team that won gold in Beijing. Lawson averaged 7.0 points, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals over eight games.

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