GW's Rizzotti Brings Home the Gold
WASHINGTON – The magnitude of the moment struck Jennifer Rizzotti when she stood on the court for the opening game of the 2018 FIBA Women's World Cup in Tenerife, Spain. This was unlike any experience she had been a part of.
A scouting assistant in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, Rizzotti had never been on the bench as an assistant coach in an international setting for the Red, White and Blue. That changed as the U.S. was set to take on Senegal.
"Being there in our coaching uniform," Rizzotti said, "getting announced before the game, standing for the anthem. That was pretty cool.
"It was a phenomenal experience. It's always an honor to be side-by-side with some of the greats in the game. The wealth of knowledge is there every day in all of our meetings and preparation."
The moment was never too big for Rizzotti and Team USA, who rolled to a third straight World Cup championship and 10th overall. The climax came in a 73-56 win over Australia on Sunday, a game plan devised, in part, by the current GW bench boss.
Rizzotti had prepared for the moment against Australia in her time as a scout – scouring the film during the 2014 and 2016 championship runs and providing feedback to those coaching staffs.
"I had done all the film prep for the team in Rio, but we didn't end up playing them," Rizzotti said. "But because I had so much experience watching them play, it was just a natural fit for me to be responsible for that scout.
"The collaboration we had together as a group made it really a successful way to prepare to beat the other best team in the world. It was awesome to just be in the huddles and on the bench, talking with the players when they come out of the game and being able to help them adjust and remind them of certain parts of what we had talked about."
The team was headed by South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, who became the first American to earn gold medals as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
Rizzotti's path has intertwined with Staley throughout their careers. During high school, Rizzotti watched on TV idolizing Staley as she dazzled as the point guard at the University of Virginia. After competing against one another as professionals, the two began their coaching careers at similar times and met in the NCAA Tournament with Rizzotti leading Hartford against Staley's Temple squad. Now, the two were on the same staff working towards the same goal.
"I thought it was a pretty awesome full-circle moment," Rizzotti said. "She was someone that I could look up to as a high school kid, and who would have thought that 25 years later, I would be side-by-side with her on an international stage helping her continue to set records and break barriers."
Now, Rizzotti will turn her attention to the 2018-19 GW season, which officially opens with the first team practice on Sunday. Entering her third year, RIzzotti will definitely take lessons learned from the World Cup to her teachings in Foggy Bottom.
"People ask all the time how you go from coaching the best players in the world back to your own team," Rizzotti said. "I actually learn a lot more from the other teams in the tournament than I do from our players.
"We may not have some of the players that some of the top 10 programs have, but if we can play a brand of basketball that is fun, unselfish, and exciting the way someone like Spain or Belgium plays, that's how you end up competing and staying in games with the powerhouses. There's a lot of different ways that you can be successful in this game."
Take a look back at Rizzotti's experience at the FIBA Women's World Cup through our photo gallery.