UMass assistant coach Lynne-Ann Kokoski returns to second home when Minutewomen open at Bryant

  • UMass women’s basketball assistant coach Lynne-Ann Kokoski is shown at the Mullins Center during the 2019-2020 season. The Minutewomen open the season at Bryant University on Wednesday. It will be the second time Kokoski will sit on the opposing bench at Bryant, where she played and started her coaching career. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass women’s basketball assistant coach Lynne-Ann Kokoski, second from left, is shown at the Mullins Center during the 2019-2020 season. The Minutewomen open the season at Bryant University on Wednesday. It will be the second time Kokoski will sit on the opposing bench at Bryant, where she played and started her coaching career. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • LYNNE-ANN KOKOSKI

Sports Editor
Published: 11/24/2020 6:56:26 PM

Lynne-Ann Kokoski is heading back to her second home on Wednesday.

When the UMass women’s basketball team opens its season at 3:30 p.m. at Bryant University, it will mark only the second time Kokoski will sit on the opposing bench at Chace Athletic Center in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

The UMass assistant coach spent four years playing for the Bulldogs following a record-breaking career at Smith Academy. She then served on longtime Bryant coach Mary Burke’s staff before embarking on her own college coaching career.

“Bryant will always hold a special place in my heart,” Kokoski said. “Other than the day that I play against them, I’m rooting for them every step of the way. I’m still really close with Mary Burke, having played for her and worked for her as well. It’s going to be really neat to be back there again.”

Kokoski never really spent a lot of time on the Bryant bench as a player. She appeared in 25 of 30 games as a freshman in 2004-2005 and only saw more playing time throughout her career. As a senior she started all 32 games, leading the Bulldogs to 20 wins and an appearance in the Northeast-10 championship. Her career ended in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Division II Tournament.

Bryant, which has since moved to Division I, is led by Burke, who is starting her 30th year on the sidelines.

“When I transitioned to coaching with her that’s where my relationship developed with Coach Burke,” Kokoski said. “I look at her like a second mother to me right now. We talk all the time, probably once every two weeks if not more when her and I need each other, bounce ideas off each other or just checking in just to make sure all is well. ... She’s always been like a mentor to me.”

While Kokoski developed as a player and fondly remembers the 6 a.m. workouts and fitness tests on the track, she learned a lot about coaching from working with Burke. Her knowledge came in handy as the Minutewomen prepared for their opener.

“She always prides herself on hard work,” Kokoski said. “Scouting these guys (Monday), I told them they are going to be gritty, they are going to work hard, they are not going to give up. That was everything that I was all about when I played, too. We were that team that just never backed down. That’s why we were always that problem team for everyone.”

Following her three-year stint under Burke, Kokoski moved on to Providence, where she served as director of operations. During the 2013-14 season, Providence hosted Bryant and beat the Bulldogs, 104-67. The next season Kokoski walked into Chace for the first time as an opponent. This time the Bulldogs beat the Friars, 90-80.

One of Burke’s early coaching lessons to Kokoski was not to get too high after wins or too low after losses.

“I laugh because you think I would have heeded her advice,” Kokoski laughed. “I’m a super emotional person, player and coach. I wear my heart on my sleeve.”

Now in her second season at UMass, Kokoski has her equal in terms of energy and emotion in Tory Verdi. The fifth-year head coach has had the Minutewomen on an upward trajectory over the past few seasons, and there is confidence that it will continue.

UMass opens the season behind forwards Sam Breen and Maddie Sims. Breen, a 6-foot-1 senior, was an Atlantic 10 All-Conference Second-Team selection last season after averaging 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds over 20 games.

Sims, a 6-2 graduate student, averaged 12.1 points and 7.8 rebounds for Siena in 2018-2019 before transferring to UMass and sitting out a year.

Complementing the post players are junior guard Destiny Philoxy and 6-5 sophomore center Maeve Donnelly.

“We’re at the point right now where we just need a game,” Kokoski said. “I feel like we’re kind of at each other’s throat in practice right now and it’s been pretty chippy. It will be nice to play a different face, a difference opponent than your teammates every day. We’re really looking forward to that.”

The different face will still be familiar to Kokoski.

“I loved every second of my time there,” she added. “I talk about it all the time to the point people are like ‘Yes, we know you went to Bryant.’”

NEW GAME — The Minutewomen lost their game on Saturday with UMass Lowell. The River Hawks paused all women’s basketball activities on Friday after a member of the program tested positive for COVID-19.

The River Hawks were also scheduled to play Boston College on Sunday.

Instead, UMass will play at Boston College at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

“This season we just kind of keep telling our girls, ‘Listen, let’s take it one game at a time,” Kokoski said. “It’s ever-changing, it’s such a fluid year that we have to be adaptable, we have to be resilient.”

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.




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