Waves Women’s Basketball Coach Helps Guide the Future of USA Basketball

Waves women's basketball head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones

The first time DeLisha Milton-Jones stepped on a basketball court adorned in red, white and blue, she was a college hoops standout from the University of Florida grabbing boards and getting buckets for a Team USA squad in Italy.

The Pepperdine Waves women’s basketball coach is now completing a stint working at the 2019 USA Basketball Junior National Team trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

Milton-Jones’ hoops journey has spun like a basketball on her index finger.

“I feel like my entire USA Basketball career has come full circle,” she said during a May 15 interview. “From me being in the same position as these young women, to now come back and have my hands on the team in a particular way—from a distance—but still from a coaching standpoint. I feel that is something USA Basketball itself is proud of. It is definitely something I am proud of.”

Milton-Jones was one of four college basketball head coaches who served as court coaches at tryouts for the 2019 USA Basketball Women’s U19 World Cup and U.S. Pan American games teams from May 16-20. She and the three other court coaches helped U19 head coach Suzy Merchant from Michigan State and her staff lead the 35 college players trying out for the team in on-court drills, skills sessions and scrimmages. 

Pepperdine’s coach is now part of a committee evaluating talent at tryouts for the U.S.’s U17 women’s team. At the end of the four-day tryouts, which begin on May 23, she will help select members of the roster. 

“It will be a busy two weeks, but it is a worthy sacrifice,” said Milton-Jones the day before the U19 practices began. 

Milton-Jones’ first foray into the national level basketball scene was in 1994. The then-teenage forward played on the national team at the World University Games in Italy.

Milton-Jones went on to dribble, shoot and rebound her way through a successful career representing the U.S. on the hardwood as she also progressed through the college and professional ranks. 

She won two Olympic and two World Cup gold medals and amassed a 125-10 all-time record as a member of 18 USA Basketball teams. 

The former WNBA player began to envision herself as a U.S. coach when Hall of Fame player Dawn Staley joined the coaching staff of the 2008 Olympic women’s basketball team that Milton-Jones played on.

“Seeing her in that realm sparked a fire within me,” Milton-Jones said of Staley. “I thought, ‘Wow. If Dawn can do it, I can do it.’ She made that goal visible and tangible.”   

Milton-Jones’ USA Basketball coaching gig comes nearly two months after Pepperdine concluded her second season as head coach with a 22-12 record and a Sweet 16 appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. 

The Waves, 10-20 in Milton-Jones’ first season as coach, were one of nine teams in women’s NCAA Division I hoops to improve by at least 12 wins from the previous year. 

Milton-Jones being asked to attend the national team tryouts this month showed that people respected the work she is doing as Pepperdine’s coach.

“I really had to pinch myself,” she said. “This recognition really means a lot.” 

The coach said being in Colorado brings back good memories. 

“We are actually staying in the same dorm rooms that I stayed in as a player,” she said. 

Milton-Jones sought to be the best coach possible during U19 trials.

“I want to be a sounding board for the players,” Milton-Jones said. “I want to give them insight. I want to encourage them and make sure they have the best possible chance of making the team.”

She is looking to build a team that will represent the U.S. well overseas as a U17 team committee member. 

“Is she coachable? Is she a good teammate?” Milton-Jones said those are some of the questions she will ask herself and others about prospects. “The things that separate people are so miniscule. If you have a negative way of displaying yourself that could eliminate you, even if you have more talent than other people.”