Anne Donovan, basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist, dies

The dominating center was the youngest coach and the first female coach to win the WNBA title.
IMAGE: Anne Donovan
Anne Donovan, then the coach of the Connecticut Sun, during a game against the Seattle Storm in July 2015.AP

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By Associated Press

Anne Donovan, the basketball Hall of Famer who won a national championship at Old Dominion University, two Olympic gold medals as a player and another as a coach, died Wednesday of heart failure. She was 56.

Donovan's family confirmed the death in a statement.

"While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being," the statement said.

Donovan was at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee, last weekend.

She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, was part of the inaugural class of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted in the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015.

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"Throughout her college and professional career Anne was one of ODU's best ambassadors both for the institution and Lady Monarch basketball," Monarchs athletic director Wood Selig said. "Anne's legacy will be permanent and everlasting and will forever remain as the foundation upon which the Lady Monarch brand became national and synonymous with success."

Donovan, a 6-foot-8 center, coached in college and the WNBA. She became the first female coach and the youngest person (42) to win a title in the WNBA, guiding the Seattle Storm to a championship in 2004.

Anne Donovan grabs the ball while playing for Old Dominion University in an undated photo.AP

Donovan was a member of three Olympics teams as a player. The 1980 team didn't go to Russia because of a boycott. The team won the gold in 1984 and 1988, and she coached the winning 2008 team.

"She used to say she bled red, white and blue," USA Basketball said in a statement. "As much as we remember her accomplishments in the game, we mourn a great friend who will be greatly missed."

Donovan also coached the WNBA's Indiana Fever, the Charlotte Sting, the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun, with whom she worked from 2013 to 2015. A New Jersey native, she also coached at Seton Hall University for a few years.

"It hurt bad. To be totally honest, she was the only coach I ever played for that challenged me and forced me to be better," said Tina Charles, who played for Donovan on the Connecticut Sun.

"At a young age I didn't understand it. For me it [stinks] because I always wanted to text her, thank you for being hard on me. Thank you for saying to me before practice you're not taking a hook shot this practice, get to the basket, figure it out. It's sad."

Liberty coach Katie Smith, who played for Donovan with USA Basketball, was emotional in her postgame news conference, saying: "It's tough. It's tough."

Smith saw Donovan at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, where Smith was inducted as part of this year's class. Donovan's high school coach, Rose Marie Battaglia, was also part of that class.

Val Ackerman, who was the WNBA's first president, said Wednesday: "Anne was a giant in every sense of the word, and I know the women's basketball community is saddened beyond words by this tragic news. She was a pioneer and icon in the women's game and made a profound and lasting impact at all levels as a player, coach, colleague and friend."