Women's basketball hall of famer brings national championship experience to Colonials.
George Washington University announced Friday that Jennifer Rizzotti has been hired as head women's basketball coach.
Ms. Rizzotti has spent the past 17 seasons as the head coach of the University of Hartford Hawks, where she built a conference powerhouse in taking the Hawks to all six NCAA tournament appearances in program history. Her teams won a pair of postseason tournament games, and she distinguished herself as the all-time winningest coach in America East Conference history.
Director of Athletics and Recreation Patrick Nero introduced the new coach at a press conference Friday afternoon in the Champions Club at the Smith Center.
"This opportunity at GW is a perfect fit both personally and professionally,” Ms. Rizzotti said. “With my family, I am thrilled to become part of the GW and Washington, D.C., community. GW women’s basketball has an outstanding tradition of excellence, and I’m confident that will continue to grow as we move forward.
“Having spent the last 17 years coaching at Hartford, where we enjoyed considerable success, I have seen what it takes to reach the next level, and I’m excited to do that at GW. I want to thank Patrick Nero, Tanya Vogel and the entire GW administration for already making me and my family feel so welcome.
“We look forward to working with student-athletes and staff that are so committed to success in the classroom and on the court.”
(l-r) GW Director of Athletics and Recreation Patrick Nero, newly-named women's basketball coach Jennifer Rizzotti and George Washington President Steven Knapp celebrate at the press conference announcing her hiring. (Rob Stewart/GW Today)
Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, Ms. Rizzotti is well-known in basketball circles around the world. She took over a Hartford program that went 8-19 the year before she was hired and had never won more than 15 games. During her tenure, the Hawks enjoyed 11 seasons with more than 15 victories and won at least 20 games seven times.
Following the 2009-10 regular season, Ms. Rizzotti was named a finalist for the Kay Yow National Coach of the Year award after leading Hartford to a school-record winning streak of 20 games a perfect 16-0 record in conference play and the program's first-ever national ranking.
“Jennifer has built a reputation of leading and mentoring at every step of her life in athletics,” said Mr. Nero. “She will be an outstanding role model for all of our student-athletes, and as a coach, she knows how to win. Her character, her values and her passion will be infectious within our basketball program and throughout GW Athletics and the larger community.”
Ms. Rizzotti also is deeply connected to international basketball through her involvement with the USA Women's Basketball national program. She served as head coach of 2010 FIBA Americas under 18 gold medal winners as well as the 2011 under 19 World Champions. In 2011, she was named the USA Basketball National Coach of the Year. More recently, Ms. Rizzotti served as an assistant for the 2014 FIBA World Championships and is part of the USA Basketball Women's National Team's staff in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Obviously, I’m partial. But there are very few people I have met in my life who were born to do this,” said Team USA and University of Connecticut women’s basketball Coach Geno Auriemma. “Jen was born to lead people, to set an example for others and to raise young people from who they are to who they want to be. She did that as a player here at UConn, she has done it as a coach at the University of Hartford, she has done it at every level of USA Basketball and she will do it at George Washington University. Jen Rizzotti doesn’t know how to do anything else but lead.”
As a student-athlete at the University of Connecticut, Ms. Rizzotti first vaulted into the national spotlight as the starting point guard for the Huskies’ first national championship team in 1995 with an undefeated 35-0 record. During the run to the national title, Ms. Rizzotti was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
A former All-American and the NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player after her junior and senior seasons, in 1996 Ms. Rizzotti virtually swept the postseason awards as Big East Player of the Year, Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the Associated Press Player of the Year, the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year and the Wade Trophy winner.
As a coach and formerly as a student-athlete, Ms. Rizzotti’s focus on academics always has been exemplary. Under her guidance, Hartford was ranked among the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Academic Top 25 teams on three occasions.
Another accolade from her playing days will be awarded in June when she is officially inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America Hall of Fame.
Ms. Rizzotti played eight seasons of professional basketball following her graduation from UConn in 1996. In addition to five seasons in the WNBA—two with the Houston Comets and three with the Cleveland Rockers—she competed for three seasons with the New England Blizzard in the American Basketball League. In the ABL she was a two-time All-Star.
Ms. Rizzotti and her husband, Bill Sullivan, have two sons, Holden (11) and Conor (7).