How Brittni Donaldson turned a passion for numbers into an NBA coaching career

How Brittni Donaldson turned a passion for numbers into an NBA coaching career

Brittni Donaldson coaching on the basketball court

Brittni Donaldson is making headlines as the first female coach hired by the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA franchise’s history. It’s her experience playing the sport and understanding the data behind wins – two skills she honed during her time at UNI – that got her to where she is today, including landing a spot at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference as a speaker.

Brittni Donaldson was a Panther, scoring points on the basketball court and crunching numbers in the classroom as a statistics and actuarial science major

She grew up in Sioux City where she developed a knack for math early in life.

“There was something about finding patterns and using logic that came easy to me,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue after my college basketball career, so I decided to choose a path that I knew would interest me as well as support me with a wide range of future opportunities.”

Today, Donaldson is one of just 15 women who have worked as full-time assistant coaches in the NBA’s 70-year history. But being one of the few women in the room isn’t something new. Mathematics has typically been a male-dominated field, but some of Donaldson's most impactful professors at UNI were females. One professor who Donaldson credits as being particularly inspiring to her is Adrienne Stanley – who still teaches at UNI. 

“Professor Stanley was a breath of fresh air for me – she was ridiculously smart, funny, charismatic and a fantastic teacher,” said Donaldson. “Calc II and III were not easy courses, but she made them fun and engaging. I don’t doubt that I’ve subconsciously taken some inspiration from Professor Stanley’s teaching methods and weaved them into my coaching style.”

Just as Stanley was an inspiration for her, Donaldson is no doubt an inspiration to women and girls in her own right. She’s part of the leadership team for the Global Women in Basketball Coaching Network.

Brittni Donaldson in Northern Iowa jersey

“It’s been an invaluable experience connecting with so many brilliant and inspiring women across the globe who are pursuing the same path I am,” she said. “Sometimes, the coaching profession can feel isolating – especially when you are the only woman in the room. So having a community of people that I can lean on and talk to that can understand my experiences and further help validate my experiences is something I don’t take for granted.”

Donaldson also participated in the Women in Sports Data Symposium in September 2023, which included professionals working in basketball, hockey and baseball. She describes it as one of her favorite annual conferences.

“Not only is it incredibly valuable to learn from other professionals in the sports analytics industry who are making waves in nearly every pro sport across North America, but it is instrumental to give women a real platform – not just to talk about being women, but to talk about our expertise and our work in this space,” she said. “It’s insanely useful to cross-pollinate with other sports and learn how they have been using data and technology to innovate in player development, roster construction, coaching decisions and the like. Collaboration is key!”

Although Brittni’s role today is very different from when she was a player, she reflects fondly on her time as a two-year starter at guard for the Panthers.

“My favorite memory is probably beating a ranked Wichita State team on our home court in February of 2014,” she said. “They were on a 20-game winning streak and ranked 25th in the country –  and we were able to pull out a gutsy team win in front of a great home crowd!”

Donaldson’s playing career was not without its challenges. She underwent four knee operations during her collegiate career and, as a result, was often sidelined. Now, she sees the positives in that experience.

“This forced me to become more cerebral with how I saw and understood the game and also forced me to figure out ways to be an impactful teammate even when I wasn’t on the floor,” she said. “Because of my extensive experience both playing at a high level and also being injured and having to figure out ways to contribute intangibly, I’ve never believed that there is only one way to view or experience the game.”

No matter what challenges may have met her as a player, Donaldson has clearly overcome them and is thriving as she lives out her dreams in the NBA.