Lynne-Ann Kokoski excited to return home, coach at UMass

  • LYNNE-ANN KOKOSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2019 8:22:20 PM

AMHERST — Sitting in her new sparsely decorated office, Lynne-Ann Kokoski couldn’t wipe the smile from her face.

Tuesday officially began Kokoski’s second week as a UMass women’s basketball assistant coach and the excitement clearly hasn’t worn off yet. As she spoke about her new job, Kokoski periodically leaned back in her chair and reflected, “not bad for a girl from tiny Smith Academy.”

Kokoski is Smith Academy’s all-time leading scorer with more than 2,100 points, but reiterated she was perfectly comfortable in her position as an assistant at Williams & Mary. Yet, something in her heart told her to at least investigate the homecoming when Minutewomen coach Tory Verdi gave her a call last month.

“It was completely out of the blue when I got the phone call asking if I was interested in the position,” Kokoski said. “Something in my heart told me, ‘you better go explore it because opportunities like this don’t come around very often.’”

Verdi had previously identified Kokoski as a potential candidate long before he knew Candice Finley would leave UMass for Xavier last month. He said he tries to stay ahead of the phone calls, text messages and emails that flood into his phone when a staff opening occurs by having a list of potential replacements ready at all times.

For this specific hire, he was looking for an experienced coach who would love UMass and be fully committed to the program in the moment. He hit a home run on the latter part with Kokoski, who grew up in Hatfield attending UMass games and has a litany of family members who have at one time worked for the school. Verdi now gets flagged down more often when he’s out and about with people raving about his new assistant coach.

“In the last week or so since we announced it, I’m getting stopped, people do recognize her last name,” Verdi said. “Whether I’m at the grocery store or at a restaurant, I’m being stopped. They had the Memorial Day parade the other day and it was nice to be stopped and asked about Lynne. The common theme around that from everybody who’s stopped me to talk to me about hiring her is that you’re getting not only a quality person, but you’re going to get a hard worker who’s going to represent the university the right way.”

“When you look at Lynne, she represents that,” Verdi added. “Her energy is going to be infectious; that was something else I was looking for — her enthusiasm, her energy and her want to. She wants to be great, she wants to be a head coach down the road, she’s eager and she’s going to do everything possible to help catapult this program to where we want it to be.”

The fact UMass is on the precipice of returning to its form from the mid-1990s was another enticing factor that lured Kokoski back home. The Minutewomen won 16 games last year, their most in more than a decade, which followed a 14-win season in 2017-18 that was the best since 2006.

It also helped that the offices Kokoski walked into inside the Champions Center matched her personality and working style.

“It’s a go-getter environment and that’s what I like because that’s what I’m about,” Kokoski said. “There’s a lot of energy and excitement in this office, and it stems from Coach Verdi then obviously working with Mike (Leflar) and Candice (Walker). I’ve really enjoyed it thus far.”

Verdi said Kokoski will operate as the team’s offensive coordinator next season and Leflar will serve as the defensive coordinator. Walker was promoted to recruiting coordinator last week when Kokoski’s hire was announced. That football-like setup where each assistant has their own discipline to lead was very appealing to Kokoski, who said she enjoyed having autonomy when coaching guards at William & Mary.

She said she spoke at length to Leflar and Walker during the interview process about how Verdi delegates responsibilities to ensure they lined up with her own views. Once she was satisfied with the responses, she said coming to UMass was a logical next step in her coaching career because it would expose her to new ideas and new coaches that will help her reach her ultimate goal of leading her own program.

“The other thing was an opportunity to someone else and learn from someone who has won and built up programs,” Kokoski said. “That’s part of this job when you’re looking for new steps, can I go somewhere where I can learn and grow and expand my basketball knowledge. I was at a point where I was happy, I was comfortable, but it was another opportunity to learn from different basketball minds.”


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