Beth Cunningham, Winston Gandy join Tia Jackson on Kara Lawson’s staff at Duke
In all, Jackson, Cunningham and Gandy have a combined 46 years of collegiate coaching experience.
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Kara Lawson recognizes that she is s first-year head coach and has surrounded herself with a veteran staff for her inaugural season at Duke; a collection of assistant coaches that are far from being rookies.
The Blue Devils announced Friday that Winston Gandy, Tia Jackson, and longtime Notre Dame assistant Beth Cunningham would be joining Lawson’s staff. The Next had previously reported Jackson’s hiring earlier this week.
“Three of the most important decisions a head coach makes are in hiring assistant coaches,” Lawson said in a statement.“The way I approached it was trying to find individually-talented coaches, similar to building a team. I wanted coaches that brought a lot to the table in terms of knowledge of the game, knowledge of recruiting, ability to build relationships, and player development.
“All of these characteristics that you would want in a coach, you want your staff to possess as many of those as possible and be experts in a number of them.”
Cunningham, 45, brings 19 years of coaching experience to Lawson’s staff. From 2012 through 2020, she was Muffett McGraw’s top assistant in South Bend, helping lead the Irish to six straight regular-season ACC titles, five Final Four appearances and a national championship in 2018.
When Niele Ivey took over as head coach this past April, Cunningham was not retained. Fellow former Notre Dame player Coquese Washington joined the Irish staff to fill her spot. Cunningham — who played at Notre Dame from 1993 through 1997 — is still the program’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,322 points. The Irish made the Final Four for the first time in her senior season.
Before returning to Notre Dame to coach under McGraw, Cunningham spent 11 seasons at VCU — the first two as an assistant and the last nine as head coach. In each of her last five seasons leading the Rams, VCU won at least 19 games and made the postseason.
“There is so much (Cunningham) brings to the table for Duke,” Lawson said. “I think that her experience will be helpful for me in a lot of ways.”
Cunningham added in her own statement: “I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work with Kara at Duke. She is a winner in every sense of the word. Kara has proven that with everything that she has done. It is just a perfect fit and I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Gandy was most recently at Rice, where he spent three seasons as an assistant to Tina Langley — who was interviewed for the Duke head coach opening. Gandy was Langley’s associate head coach this past season and helped the Owls go 72-22 over the past three years.
Before coming to Rice, Gandy worked in the NBA as Coordinator of Player Development for the Washington Wizards. Gandy joined the team in 2014 and the Wizards made the Eastern Conference Semifinals three times while he was on staff.
“Winston is a rising star in the profession,” Lawson said. “He’s one of the finest player development coaches in the country; that’s one of his superpowers. Winston is also a very well-rounded coach. He’s coming from an academically intense institution as well. So, he understands the type of kids we want to recruit — kids that have big dreams; kids that want to impact the world in a lot of ways and he’s got a great feel for that. He’s also really, really good at building relationships and really, really good in terms of Xs and Os.”
A graduate of the University of Maryland, Gandy got his start in coaching there in 2013, working as the Director of Recruiting Operations for Brenda Frese’s side. While he was a student in College Park, Gandy was a scout team player for the Terps.
For Jackson, the 2020-21 season will be her 25th in coaching in Division I women’s college basketball. She previously worked at Duke under Gail Goestenkors from 2005 to 2007. Jackson helped Duke land the No. 7 best recruiting class in 2005 and the No. 2 class in 2006. Before this move to Lawson’s staff, she had been in Miami.
“There are not many times in college athletics that you get a chance to return to a place that has been really unique and rewarding, especially for me,” Jackson said in a statement. “I am beyond enthusiastic about coming back to Duke. It has been a place that I have held very near and dear to my heart over the years... I am ecstatic.
“I am honored that (Lawson) even thought enough of me to bring me on board to help her make Duke what it has always been. It has been a pivotal program in the country and people marvel at being here.”
In all, Jackson, Cunningham, and Gandy have a combined 46 years of collegiate coaching experience with 17 NCAA tournament appearances.
“You can have individually-talented people, but you must have a group that fits together. You want a group that is balanced and that will play off one another well. I think we achieved that,” Lawson said. “We’ve got three coaches that are talented enough to run their own programs — two of them already have — and have great experience recruiting the type of young woman we want at Duke.”