Jewish Basketball Coach Lindsay Gottlieb Has Already Changed The Game

Gottlieb's USC team lost this year in the elite eight round of NCAA March Madness, but their season was still one to celebrate.

This NCAA March Madness, all eyes are on women’s basketball. From sold out tournaments to record breaking games to sky high TV ratings, one could argue there has never been a better time to be a women’s college basketball fan. If you were hoping to attend the championship, tickets are being resold for an average of $1,348. And while much of the hype has surrounded Iowa’s Caitlin Clark with her epic half-court shots and breaking the all-time NCAA scoring record, her graduation this year does not mean the end of the sport’s popularity. University of Southern California’s freshman JuJu Watkins has unofficially been named her successor, already breaking some of Caitlin’s freshman year records. But USC’s newfound success is owed much in part to their coach, Lindsay Gottlieb.

While most college and professional sports notably lack Jewish women, basketball has many. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency recently highlighted many female Jewish athletes participating in the 2024 NCAA tournament, including Camilla Emsbo (Duke), Yarden Garzon (Indiana) and Shirel Nahum (University of California, Irvine). The list of Jewish women who played in the season as a whole this year is much longer. In the WNBA, there is Alysha Clark, as well as former stars Sue Bird and Nancy Lieberman. But when it comes to coaching, there have not been as many Jewish women to look up to. In addition to former pro coaches Nancy Lieberman and Donna Orender, Linsday is one of few in college basketball, currently joined by Princeton’s assistant Lauren Battista and Rhode Island College’s Jennifer Cosgrove.

Basketball has always been a part of Lindsay’s life. Born in Scarsdale, New York into a Jewish family, she played many sports but settled on organized basketball in fourth grade. When she hurt her knee senior year of high school, her interest turned to coaching. It combined her three favorite things: basketball, strategy and creating an impact. Lindsay went on to play basketball for Brown University and even served as a student assistant coach while playing her senior year. Her dual role attracted many coaches and immediately landed her a job assistant coaching at Syracuse upon graduation, where she coached and earned her master’s degree at the same time.

Lindsay coached at many different colleges before finding her place at the University of California, Berkeley. She became their winningest head coach and led them to their first PAC conference championship and multiple NCAA tournaments, reaching as far as the final four. Her players won awards for PAC player of the year. Cal players were drafted to the WNBA for the first time. She became a 2013 finalist for the Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year award, the highest coaching honor. Lindsay also became well known not only for her complete turnaround of the team, but for balancing focus and fun. While sports can become quite serious, she made sure her team prioritized all important assets, knowing it would continue to improve their performance. Her hard work paid off. She became the first NCAA women’s head coach recruited to coach in the NBA.

Lindsay worked for four years as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers before becoming the head coach of the University of Southern California in 2021. Her career had the opportunity to come full circle with this year’s NCAA final four being held in Cleveland. Unfortunately, USC lost to the University of Connecticut on April 1 in the elite eight round of the tournament. But this season was still one to celebrate. Lindsay’s USC team was in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row and was ranked first. She was nominated for Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year again. For the first time since 1984, USC had a real shot of winning the whole thing; they had won more games this year than they had in 37 years.

Lindsay has already broken records and barriers, but there is one more in store for her: becoming the first female Jewish coach to lead her team to win the NCAA basketball championship. While Larry Brown and Nat Holman both have championships to their name on the men’s side, no Jewish coach has won since the 1980s. And though this achievement will not be reached this year, it seems certain that it will be in the near future. She completely revived the USC basketball program, launching them from being out of the picture to a top contender in a remarkably short period of time. After their loss, Lindsay declared that USC is “not trying to be a one-hit wonder.” They definitely will be back next year, and I expect somehow even better.

Lindsay was inducted into the Northern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 for her accomplishments at University of California, Berkeley. Few have accomplished all that she has; whenever she arrives at a different team, they nearly immediately achieve great success. It takes a special person to do that, and how amazing that it is a Jewish woman leading the way and changing the game.

In 2022, Jewish basketball legend Sue Bird retired. She had been the face of women’s basketball for so long, and while it was inevitable that her twenty-year career would eventually end, I was sad to see such a powerful, impactful and important Jewish female athlete retire. I wondered if there would be someone to assume her place as basketball’s Jewish role model. Lindsay seems to have stepped into the role seamlessly, balancing success, humility and determination, using her actions to guide and inspire. As much as she is known for her winning, she is also known for her kindness. Athletes want to play for her; her connection with her players is palpable as she guides them and sets an example at this important stage in their lives. Next year, USC will have six new players joining from high school, all ranked within the top 100 in the country by ESPN. The team Lindsay has established is one everyone wants to play for.

This tournament and for seasons to come, Jewish girls have a team to root for. With the team staying largely the same for the next few years, I have a feeling we will be hearing much more of Lindsay’s USC. You can always count on Lindsay to continue winning and changing the game.

There is something so indescribably important in knowing the person leading the way is someone who represents you, and I am so glad those who aspire to be in her position have someone to look up to. Lindsay has proven Jewish women belong in basketball, not just on the court, but as powerful, successful coaches as well.

Sophie Bravo

Sophie Bravo (she/her) is from Cleveland, Ohio. She grew up heavily involved in Jewish youth theatre and choir, and is also an avid lover of women's sports and advocating for the environment. She is a former Hey Alma College Writing Fellow.

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