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Autumn Johnson | September 9, 2020

Kara Lawson's journey to Duke went through Tennessee, the Olympics and the NBA

Kara Lawson's influences: Coach K, Pat Summitt and her father

Duke Blue has always been enticing to Kara Lawson. 

Lawson's interest in Duke dates back to her high school recruitment days. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, her mother Kathleen wanted her daughter to commit to Duke, while her father William pushed for Stanford. 

Tennessee was also on the table. During a flight delay in Knoxville, she called legendary head coach Pat Summitt after her official visit. When the two hung up, it was easy for Lawson to only see Tennessee orange and she became one of the program's notable guards from 1999 to 2003. Little did Lawson know the offer from Duke would come back around in her future. 

Kara Lawson's head coaching dreams turn to reality

On July 11, 2020, Duke hired Lawson as its new women's basketball head coach. A day 39-year-old Kara Lawson shared in her introductory press conference "is a dream come true for me" as she always had the desire to coach since she was a kid. The hire makes Lawson the fifth head women's basketball coach at Duke University. Former head coach Joanie P. McCallie resigned after serving Duke's program for 13 years. 

"I am thankful for the path that led me here and thankful for the belief of President Price, Kevin White, Nina King, Coach Krzyzewski, Coach Cutlcliffe and everyone surrounding the program," Lawson said in her introductory press conference. "Everybody I spoke with and had a chance to interact with, I immediately felt a great connection. It wasn't a decision based on emotion, but there was a lot of emotion involved in it because of how excited I am and how ready I am to get started and to work with the players." 

Shortly after, Lawson completed her coaching staff by hiring former Notre Dame assistant coach Beth Cunningham and former Rice assistant coach Winston Gandy. In addition, former Miami assistant coach Tia Jackson will rejoin the coaching staff after previously spending two seasons with the Lady Blue Devils during the time they went to the 2006 NCAA championship. 

Amongst the three assistants coaches' tenures, they accumulate 46 years of collegiate coaching experience, one national title and six NCAA Final Four appearances. In Coach Lawson's press conference, she stressed how building relationships with the players will be a high priority in Duke's coaching philosophy. 

Lawson continues to break barriers in her decorative resume 

Before accepting the Duke head coach position, Lawson kept herself around the game in multiple fashions after her collegiate career: a player in the WNBA for 13-years, 2008 Olympic Champion, USA Basketball 3x3 head coach, an ESPN analyst and NBA assistant coach. 

"Having been around the game in a number of capacities is a strength that I bring to this position," Lawson said. "Understanding the game as a player from the college perspective, from the pro perspective, from the women's perspective, from the men's perspective, from a coaching perspective, from a media perspective — there are so many things that I've experienced. I will bring all of that to the position and that's what made me a unique candidate for the position."

Previously, she spent a year as an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, becoming one of the first female coaches in the NBA on June 27, 2019. Trailblazing isn't new for Lawson. She became the first female analyst for a nationally-televised NBA game on Jan. 12, 2007. Continuing to break barriers, she is Duke's first black head coach in program history. 

"This is a day and age that we are talking a lot about diversity," Lawson said. "We are having a lot of needed conversations about diversity. If you really believe in it you know that it creates great value in your organization." 

Late Pat Summit will heavily influence Lawson's coaching career

Lawson said she is eager to use the legendary Coach K, who has led the Duke men's basketball team to five national championships, as a resource. Lawson's resume has united her with some of the best mentors in the game, such as Pat Summit, who will have a great impact on her coaching career.


"What would Coach [Pat] Summitt say to me?," says Lawson. "Oh man … I think she would be really excited. She obviously knew it was a goal of mine to become a coach. That was why I went to play for her because I wanted to learn from the best. That was what led me to Knoxville. I could not have had a better experience playing for her, learning from her and I think she would be pretty excited."

Kara Lawson's NCAA career at the University of Tennessee 

Kara Lawson, Tennessee guard (1999-2003)

Former Tennessee guard Kara Lawson played under the late Pat Summitt from 1999 to 2003.  She led her team to four straight SEC championships and three NCAA Final Four appearances in 2000, 2002 and 2003. Overall, she led the Lady Vols to a 126-12 overall record and and 54-2 in the SEC. Here are some of her accomplishments:

  • 2000-03 Four-time All-SEC First Team 
  • 2002-03 Two-time Naismith Player of the Year finalist 
  • 2002-03 Two-time U.S. Basketball Writers of America All-America honoree
  • 2003 Kodak All-America
  • 2003 Associated Press Second Team All-America
  • 2003 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Student-Athlete of the Year
  • 2003 Torchbearer Award recipient 
  • 2003 CoSIDA/Verizon First Team Academic All-America 
  • 2002 Associated Press Third Team All-America
  • 2001 Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America
  • 2000 Women's Basketball Journal Freshman All-America and SEC All-Freshman Team

Lawson's rankings in tennessee women's basketball History: 

  • 3rd in three-point field goals made (256) 
  • 2nd in three-point field goal percentage (.415)
  • 3rd in career free throw percentage (.847)
  • 6th in career points (1,950) 

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