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'Second nature': Assistant coach Karen Lange brings experience, familiarity in first year with Duke women’s basketball

Karen Lange is entering her first year as an assistant coach at Duke.
Karen Lange is entering her first year as an assistant coach at Duke.

When Kara Lawson held her introductory press conference as Duke head coach in 2020, she was asked about the task of forming a staff. 

“Experience. That’s what I’m looking for. Just like playing, you want to put together a group that fits together,” said Lawson. 

Karen Lange is the living embodiment of quality experience. After the departure of assistant coach Beth Cunningham to Missouri State, Lawson nabbed Lange, then a Georgia associate head coach, as her replacement. 

“She's a great coach, well respected. It was a great fit for what we needed. We lost an experienced coach, and it's good to add an experienced coach to replace that,” said Lawson at the team’s media day in October. 

Lange is a tenured coach with a variety of experience across the college basketball landscape. After playing at Iowa and reaching three NCAA tournaments, the North Carolina native has served as an assistant coach around the country, along with a season of head coaching experience at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas. 

“As far as what I feel like I can bring, I've been doing this a long time. I've had a lot of different experiences at the college level and I’ve been a head coach,” Lange told The Chronicle. 

Lawson explained that Lange’s character and integrity were key when hiring her, and her values fit the identity of the Duke program. Lange appreciates Duke’s standard of excellence and its academic and athletic quality.

“I've always been someone who's wanted to surround myself with people that have really high standards of excellence,” said Lange. “The type of people that are here at Duke are working and learning. To put myself in that environment was really, really important to me.”

Lange’s tenure as a coach has given her the opportunity to form many connections within the basketball community and not just be a valuable coach, but a mentor for her players. 

“I've had a lot of different relationships with different players. In just building that player-coach relationship, I think I can continue to add value,” said Lange. 

Being 16 hours away from home during her collegiate days, Lange formed bonds with coaches that could talk to her about issues outside of basketball, and she wants to be that coach for her players. One relationship that Lange has already built at Duke is with sophomore guard Reigan Richardson. Lange focused on developing guards at Georgia, and Richardson played at Georgia a season ago. She transferred to Duke after last season along with Lange, and is one of many exciting newcomers into the program. 

“Coach Karen is great … she's always been there for me,” said Richardson. “She's someone I can come to not just for basketball but for other things outside of that. So I love Coach Karen.”

Lange was part of the recruitment process of Richardson throughout high school, and as a result, was able to develop a close relationship with her.

“She's someone that is dear to my heart, because I love her as a person. I think she can be a great basketball player and I'm glad that I can be a person who has the ability to have an impact in her career as a person and as a player,” said Lange. “I’ve known her and her family for a long time. She's the type of person we want here at Duke and I'm glad to be reconnected with her.”

Prior to Georgia, Lange had experience as an assistant coach at UNC Charlotte and Kansas. It will be her second stint in the ACC, as she was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech between 1997-2004. 

During her playing days, Lange was a stellar point guard at Iowa and helped lead the Hawkeyes to their first Final Four in 1993. Ironically, Lange was teammates with current Duke associate head coach Tia Jackson during this Final Four run. Lange noted that already being familiar with a member on the coaching staff was helpful in her transition to Duke 

“The opportunity to work with someone that I was familiar with and had a really long-standing friendship and relationship with was really important to me,” said Lange. “We definitely preach sisterhood here at Duke with our team. And that's how Tia and I were raised growing up through our college careers. I think it's just second nature for us to help each other.”

Communication is key for teammates on a successful basketball team, and Lange and Jackson plan to carry this over to their roles in the coaching staff. 

“We know each other well. We communicate well with each other. We can be honest with each other and transparent. And I think you have to have that on a staff,” said Lange. 

Point guards are known for their vocal presence and leadership on the court, and this has transitioned to Lange’s coaching style off the court. 

“As a point guard in college, what I had to learn was to use my voice more and to be a leader by voice and by action,” said Lange. “I was gritty and I was competitive. So I think that's carried over to me as a coach just in the nature of who I am as a person.”

“She's really good at teaching and our whole team benefits from that. She's an active presence in practice for sure,” said Lawson. 

While point guards use their voice to be a leader, they also can be a calming presence in times of pressure. This is important from a coaching standpoint, and Lange is strong in this skillset. 

“I was always that point guard who just kept everything in check, kept everything under control, kept everything calm,” said Lange. “I think I have a very calming personality about me that can handle expectations and handle pressure.”

This season, Duke’s strengths lie in its veteran guard leadership, and Lange will have an abundance of riches to work with in her specialty position. Guards Shayeann Day-Wilson and Celeste Taylor are both returning, the two leading scorers from last year. In addition, newcomers Ashlon Jackson, Jordyn Oliver and Richardson are talented guards looking to make an impact in their first year with the program.

“I think it is a great group of guards … I love our athleticism and our size,” said Lange. 

“It's really exciting to go in there every day to coach them because they give great effort every single day. They're very, very coachable. They're just trying to get better too, they want this program to be at the top,” said Lange. 

Lange appears to already be comfortable around the program and has stepped into her role well. She will be an important piece to this staff that brings experience, leadership and a personality that focuses on forming close relationships with players while also being a tough coach. With the hiring of Lange, Lawson has built a well-rounded staff to help take the Blue Devils to the next level. 

"We all obviously have one common goal in mind," said Lange. "That's just to make this Duke program as relevant and as good as it can possibly be." 

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