Jennifer Rizzotti, currently an assistant coach with the USA Basketball women’s Olympic team, is celebrated for her accomplishments at all levels of the game. last week, she added another esteemed role to her already-impressive resume: president of the Connecticut Sun.
But Rizzotti’s climb in pro hoops to top decision-maker of the Mohegan Tribe-owned Sun had chillier beginnings, in New England.
Rizzotti graduated from the University of Connecticut with career averages of 11.4 points, 4.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game. As a junior, she helped the Huskies to a perfect 35-0 season en route to a national championship. As a senior in 1995-96, Rizzotti collected the best and biggest individual honors: AP National Player of the Year, Wade Trophy and Naismith Award.
But Rizzotti did not get her professional playing start in the WNBA; the league did not exist yet. The NBA announced its plans to form a professional basketball league for women in April 1996, but the WNBA’s inaugural season would not tip off until June 1997, after the national team’s gold medal run at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Thus, it was the American Basketball League (ABL) in its inaugural season that provided Rizzotti and her NCAA counterparts a professional home.
Capitalizing on her notoriety as a star at UConn, Rizzotti signed to play for the New England Blizzard.
Her run in the ABL was short-lived.
The fledgling league folded in the middle of its third season amid competition from the NBA-backed upstart WNBA. Rizzotti continued her playing career in the WNBA, where she helped the Houston Comets to their third and fourth consecutive championships in 1999 and 2000.
She played three more seasons in the WNBA, all with the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers.
“I am so honored to rejoin the WNBA family in this leadership position with the Connecticut Sun,” Rizzotti said after being named president. “This league employs the very best women’s basketball players in the world. But more importantly, the WNBA is an inclusive and diverse community of women that inspire, lead and in their own words, ‘provide a voice for the voiceless.’ I am proud to have won two championships as a player in the WNBA and will work tirelessly to help bring a championship to the Sun franchise.”