A year later, Old Dominion and a Monarch legend give women’s basketball coach DeLisha Milton-Jones a proper introduction

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When DeLisha Milton-Jones was named the Old Dominion women’s basketball coach in April of 2020, the school wasn’t able to give her a proper introduction because of the pandemic.

On Tuesday night, the school made up for it with “An Evening with the Lady Monarchs.” The night included a sit-down with Milton-Jones, ODU great Nancy Lieberman and fellow Monarch alum and ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Jay Harris, who was the emcee.

The event served as an introduction for Milton-Jones, along with a look at the history of Old Dominion women’s basketball and this season’s team, which includes former Princess Anne High star Brianna Jackson, who transferred from Miami, and former Lake Taylor standout Ashanti Barnes-Williams.

As a player, Lieberman led ODU to back-to-back AIAW national championships in 1979 and 1980 before embarking on a professional career as a player and then a coach. She was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.

“I thought tonight was phenomenal,” Milton-Jones said. “They got a chance to see Nancy. She’s a legend when it comes to women’s basketball as a whole, but also for ODU. And Jay Harris, he’s a legend within in himself. ... But this was necessary. This was needed. I didn’t get the necessary introduction that I needed last year. Now everyone can be associated with this team. And I take a lot of pride in that as I lead these young women towards success.”

Milton-Jones, the eighth head coach of the program, guided the Monarchs to a 13-11 record in her first season. ODU won seven of its final nine games last season, including a road upset of eventual conference champion Middle Tennessee State and three straight wins at the Conference USA Tournament as the No. 6-seeded Monarchs reached the semifinals.

But she wants more. Her goal is to help add more championship banners at ODU’s Chartway Arena.

ODU athletic director Wood Selig told how Lieberman reached out to him when the school was looking for a new head coach. She confidently told him, “I have your new head coach.”

And she was right.

“It was really interesting because DeLisha never had a chance to come to the campus because we interviewed her entirely during the initial COVID outbreak,” Selig said. “So nobody was going anywhere. So all of her interviews were on Zoom and by the phone. And I felt if she could come across on Zoom and the phone as dynamic as she did, in person she’d probably be 10 times better.

“I just had the gut feeling and instinct about her,” Selig added. “And so many people who I respect spoke so highly of her. You get to a point where everyone was raving about DeLisha. It was with absolutely no doubt or no hesitancy that we offered her the job.”

One theme that every player mentioned about Milton-Jones was that she brought a “family-oriented” culture and “family atmosphere” to the program.

That’s what sold Jackson on Old Dominion when she was looking to move closer to home for family reasons.

After talking to Milton-Jones, she was sold on ODU.

“Once I first talked to Coach, everything she said just really felt from the heart,” said Jackson, the 2018 All-Tidewater Player of the Year.

Milton-Jones also made it a point to recognize Jackson and Barnes-Williams.

“It’s important because they’re hometown heroes, and I want everyone to recognize who they are,” said Milton-Jones, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time WNBA champion. “I need for individuals to know exactly who these young women are and know that they have their own homegrown athletes here fighting and vying for championships for ODU. If they don’t come back and support anybody else, come back to at least support them.”

Barnes-Williams said hearing her coach recognize them was special.

“It made me feel good because being a hometown kid, I never knew how much it meant to me or how much it meant to other people,” said Barnes-Williams, who was second-team All-Tidewater in 2020. “Just being recognized and being a part of that makes me feel pretty good.”

Jackson added that the evening also was a history lesson for her about ODU’s storied past.

“It was definitely special because personally I didn’t know a lot about the history of women’s basketball at ODU,” she said. “But to hear about Anne Donovan and Nancy and everything that they have done, and what my coach has done, it was amazing.”

Larry Rubama, 757-446-2273, larry.rubama@pilotonline.com Follow @LHRubama on Twitter.

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