SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been an exciting week for the family of Nate Tibbetts.
After news broke Monday night about Tibbetts becoming the new head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA team made it official Wednesday and held a news conference introducing the former South Dakota Coyote on Friday.
Tibbetts, son of legendary high school girls basketball coach Fred Tibbetts, earned his first head coaching job at the professional level after gaining 18 years of experience as longtime assistant coach most recently at the Orlando Magic.
“My family and I are thrilled to be a part of the Mercury organization,” Nate said in a news release. “I look forward to being a part of the Mercury and building and sustaining a winning organization on and off the court that our community can support and rally around.”
Nate’s younger brother Luke lives in Sioux Falls and told KELOLAND News he’s excited to see Nate take on the challenge of being a head coach in the WNBA.
“I think he always has just had the mindset that he’s going to do the best job wherever he is,” Luke, who also played high school basketball at Sioux Falls Roosevelt and at the college level at the University of South Dakota, said. “From the sidelines, it’s been a lot of fun to watch and cheer him on along the way.”
Before working for the Magic in the NBA, Nate worked eight years as an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers and worked two years with the Cleveland Cavaliers starting in 2011. Nate started his coaching career as an assistant at the University of Sioux Falls in 2001, started working with the Sioux Falls Skyforce in 2005 and also co-owned a basketball school called TIBBS (Tibbetts Instructional Basketball School) with Matt Wilber.
Wilber, the men’s basketball head coach at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, told KELOLAND News his relationship with Nate dates back to playing against him in high school before both worked as assistant coaches at USF. Wilber co-owned TIBBS with Nate and said he was always impressed with how well Nate could coach anyone regardless of grade level or skill set.
“He was awesome to work with,” Wilber said. “It didn’t matter if it was a fourth-grade boy or a seventh-grade girl. He just was great. He’s great with them all and would find the way to get the best out of them.”
Wilber said Nate is a relationship-based coach and his reputation at the pro ranks has been highly-regarded regardless of where he was coaching. Luke said Nate’s coaching success is being straightforward with players.
“He’s got a lot of the same, I’ll say motivating qualities that my dad had,” Luke said. “He’s just a student of the game and always has been. We grew up going to the gym from when we were two years old watching the girls teams play that my dad coached.”
Fred Tibbetts, who died in 2008, compiled more than 550 wins in 29 seasons and led Roosevelt to a state record win streak of 111 games and six Class AA state championships in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Luke said his father is one of many great mentors Nate has had over the years.
“It’s been really neat to see it kind of come full circle with my dad having the impact that he did in women’s basketball,” Luke said. “We’ve had a lot of laughs and a lot of tears thinking about how proud my dad would be to see Nate to get this opportunity.”
Luke said former Roosevelt players under his dad have mentioned about trying to plan a trip to watch a WNBA game in Phoenix.
In a news conference Friday, Tibbetts said he’s got a lot to learn about the WNBA.
“I’m all-in on this 100-percent,” Tibbetts said. “I know I’m going to rely on our team to learn how this league works. The players made it seem more comfortable.”
Tibbetts was asked about the head coach job not going to a woman in a women’s league. He again stressed how he felt welcomed by the players on the team and he wasn’t worried about something his players weren’t worried about.
“I know I’m one of only three male coaches in the WNBA,” Tibbetts said. “I’m going to do the best job that I can and do the best for our players. That’s my main focus.”
Tibbetts said he hopes to implement a fast-paced game and shoot a lot of 3-pointers.
“Defensively, we’re going to protect the rim,” Tibbetts said. “I think great coaches in this league can adjust to their personnel. Part of my job is to evolve with our team and I’m willing to do that.”
He thanked his family, including his wife Lyndsey and twin daughters Londyn and Jordyn.
Becky Hammon wins second WNBA title
While Nate was announced as the newest WNBA head coach this week, Rapid City native Becky Hammon won her second WNBA championship with the Las Vegas Aces on Wednesday.
Hammon, who was a six-time WNBA all-star and a standout at Colorado State, was the WNBA coach of the year in 2022. Both Luke and Wilber said Hammon and Nate make great examples for where hard work can lead to great opportunities.
“The talent level of little old South Dakota is pretty impressive,” Wilber said. “You see that at all levels. You’ve got a couple of people representing us at a really high level at the professional ranks.”