How Brittni Donaldson wants to make her mark in Atlanta as the first female assistant coach in Hawks history

Every season, NBA teams celebrate firsts, milestones and achievements, from players to coaches, on and off the court. For the 2023-24 Atlanta Hawks, perhaps the most significant first has already happened.

Brittni Donaldson, one of 11 coaches employed on Quin Snyder’s staff, is the first female assistant coach in Hawks franchise history.

Donaldson arrives in Atlanta after assistant roles with the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, where she was part of their 2019 NBA Championship teams. She is currently one of five female coaches in the NBA, and there have been 15 total in league history.

“Anytime there’s a first, it’s worth recognizing and celebrating—it’s exciting,” Donaldson says.

“First and foremost, I celebrate the women who have come before me and paved the way for me to be able to walk through the door and have an opportunity like this. You just have to think about those women and also celebrate the organization for prioritizing people with different experiences and backgrounds.”

When she broke into the NBA as an assistant, there had been only seven female coaches on staff around the league. At each of her stops so far, she has been a ceiling breaker – the first in the room yes, but still the only one. It is progress that she recognizes and appreciates, while at the same time wanting to push it further.

“The next layer is to ensure that women are able to be retained for a long period of time and that the environments they are employed in are safe and supportive and are allowed to allow them to thrive,” she says. “Avoid the tokenism of ‘we’ve got our token woman on staff, now we’re good.’ We definitely just want to keep pushing towards a mindset that is: the best person for the job.

“I’m excited to see the day when I get to work with another woman next to me on a coaching staff. I think it’s coming.”

A native of Sioux City, Iowa, Donaldson played four seasons as a guard at Northern Iowa, where she holds the program record for 3-pointers made in a game with 8. When injuries forced her to pivot away from a professional career, she put her degree in statistics and actuarial science to use while working as a data analyst at STATS NBA before making the jump to LLC. Her positions with the Raptors and Pistons focused heavily on analytics and player development, which Donaldson will bring to Atlanta.

While the pairing may appear on the surface to be separate – player development could be seen as a hands-on element on the court, while analytics can be seen as hands off, away from the court – Donaldson is aware that in his approach and experience:

“The two have never been a dichotomy; they’ve always been very intertwined.”

One of her strengths is bridging that gap, whether she’s transferring that knowledge to a player, a fellow coach or the entire team. She describes how that process can play out in several directions:

“So if I look more from a data-driven lens, the things that I know schematically, what we’re trying to do, and the details of being on the field with the player and understanding how they learn best, all of those things kind of inform what I want to worry about when I look at the data. And then vice versa: If I see something interesting in the data like a trend or something that sticks out to me, that can now inform where we want to focus on the field.”

Additionally, Donaldson applies his player development philosophy broadly through a roster of players who are at different stages of their NBA careers while still maintaining one-on-one specificity and connection. She emphasizes meeting the players where they are and deciding how much to distill down the information she and the staff teach.

As a result, established players like Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic, young players like AJ Griffin and Jalen Johnson, and rookies like Kobe Bufkin all receive information under the same umbrella. But it’s tailored to each of their specific levels and learning styles, so it sticks and continues to help them improve.

“With a guy like Kobe, he might not know a lot of our terminology, he hasn’t seen these types of coverages before, whatever it is, we can’t just assume he knows it,” Donaldson says. “We have to be intentional as trainers with our language and how we present information and make sure he’s learning. It takes a little bit of intentionality around learning where people then meet them where they are.”

Since being named to Snyder’s staff, Donaldson has spent the summer moving to Atlanta, working with players during practices and minicamp, helping coach the team in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and developing connections with other assistant coaches in what she calls “one of the most collaborative groups I’ve ever worked with.”

The only thing that can come close to matching her excitement for the upcoming season on the court is getting to know her new home outside.

“The little bit I’ve been able to explore the city, it’s clear that it’s rich in history and culture, and I’m really excited to experience more of that.”

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