November 14, 2023
Bella Alarie finds her way back to basketball as Georgetown graduate assistant
Princeton great tries out coaching as she's getting her masters
WASHINGTON — Bella Alarie is finding joy in basketball again.
Alarie, a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton and a first-round WNBA draft pick in 2020, recently joined the Georgetown women’s basketball staff as a graduate assistant. She is getting her master’s degree in sports industry management and working toward being an executive for a professional basketball team, while also giving coaching a try.
“I think that [Georgetown] just hit the jackpot of getting Bella Alarie,” Princeton head coach Carla Berube told The Next. “… [And I’m] really, really happy for her in this new journey.”
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Alarie joined the Hoyas in September, six months after she had announced her retirement from professional basketball. That announcement took many by surprise, as she was only 24 at the time and seemed to have a long professional career ahead of her. But, she told The Next after Georgetown hosted Brown on Sunday, basketball had lost its luster.
“For a little while, I lost that passion for playing the game that I had in college,” she said. “And professional basketball is no joke … it’s a grind. I really loved my time; I just felt like I needed a little bit of space from it.”
When Alarie took time away from basketball, she realized she missed the team atmosphere. “Being around a team has always been a part of my life, and … there was kind of that empty space there,” she said.
Coaching wasn’t on Alarie’s radar at first; instead, she decided that becoming a basketball executive would be the best way to fill that void, stay involved with the game and advance women’s sports. She got into graduate school at Georgetown, which is just six miles from her hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, and two miles from where she attended high school in Washington, D.C.
But then, through a friend of her former Princeton teammate Taylor Baur, who played one season at Georgetown as a graduate student, Alarie got connected with the women’s basketball staff. She spoke with the late Georgetown head coach Tasha Butts and her assistants, and “the stars kind of aligned,” Alarie said.
“I wish we had grad assistants. I would’ve tried to get her at Harvard,” former Princeton assistant coach and current Harvard head coach Carrie Moore told The Next. “But no, I think she’ll be tremendous. She knows the game. She’s got a high basketball IQ. She’s obviously played at an incredibly high level. That’s a great pickup for Georgetown. And I think she’ll bring a ton to the table.”
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Alarie’s days as a graduate assistant vary tremendously, as she pitches in on everything from scouting to player development. On practice days, she often works with the post players, and at 6’4, she jumps in as a practice player to be “the long defender” on every scouting report.
Her competitive streak still shines through: She pointed to the Hoyas’ scout team as “probably the most elite … in the United States,” and she admitted she’s blocked plenty of shots in practices, just like she did as Princeton’s all-time leading shot-blocker.
On game days, Alarie helps with pregame warmups, including by passing to players and standing in as a screener. Then, from her seat near the front of the Hoyas’ bench, she offers tips to players and coaches based on what she sees during the game. She is also in charge of an iPad that has game film, and she watches replays and flags clips for the team’s video coordinator to review later.
“I’ve been nothing but grateful to have her. She’s been amazing,” interim head coach Darnell Haney told The Next postgame. “… She’s been taking that role to another level.”
Still, Alarie acknowledged that it’s been “an adjustment” for her to go from player to coach and watch the action unfold from the bench. Like many players who enter coaching, she is realizing how much work goes into coaching that players don’t see. She’s enjoying pulling back the curtain and learning a new role on a new team.
“I wanted a little bit of time away from basketball to see where it fit back into my life,” she said, “and this has been the perfect way for me to find my joy for the game again.”
Alarie’s superpower as a graduate assistant has been her ability to relate to and empathize with the players. She is only four years removed from the start of her senior season at Princeton, so she remembers her college days well. And as a former Ivy League student-athlete and current Georgetown student, she can also appreciate Georgetown’s academic demands.
“She’s just being who she is,” Haney said. “And she helps them so much with just stuff that has nothing to do with basketball — how to live as a women’s basketball player. And I think she’s been great.”
Both Berube and Moore used the same word — a “light” — to describe how they see Alarie fitting in at Georgetown. That presence is especially important right now, they pointed out, after Butts’ death on Oct. 23 from breast cancer.
“[Bella is] a very just positive light and brings great energy every day to everything she’s doing,” Berube said. “… I just think that she’s a great fit for them and probably in a season where they could use … a great person to be around.”
In the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Alarie watched as the Hoyas tried to break down Brown’s zone defense. When they did so in textbook fashion, with graduate forward Graceann Bennett passing high-low to junior forward Kaliyah Myricks for a basket, Alarie rose to her feet. And though the loss dropped Alarie’s personal record against Brown to 7-2, she praised her team’s defensive effort postgame and talked about how fun it was for her to get another Ivy matchup of sorts.
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Alarie is one of a growing number of current and former WNBA players to join college staffs, including her former Dallas Wings teammate Katie Lou Samuelson, who is currently Vanderbilt’s director of player development. But it’s not all that common for Ivy League graduates, according to Columbia alumna and head coach Megan Griffith, who helped recruit Alarie to Princeton as an assistant coach there.
“I can count on one hand how many of us are in coaching right now,” she told reporters. “… This game has expanded coaching staffs and abilities to hire people that aren’t just in the primary coaching roles, so I think that amongst the graduate managers, there’s just a lot of opportunity for Ivy League women … to stay in basketball.”
“All of our Ivy League student-athletes, they’re so smart and they have passions outside of basketball and … within basketball,” added Brown head coach Monique LeBlanc. “And so I always think it’s cool having a former Ivy Leaguer coaching.”
After the game, as staffers transitioned the McDonough Arena court from basketball to volleyball and shut off the lights, Alarie enthusiastically answered questions, even though she didn’t have much time to spare. She is trying to finish her master’s degree in one year instead of the usual two, and it was almost time to shift from coach to student. She had a group project to work on.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.