Ross will join the Sparks for the 2012 Women’s National Basketball Association season. She brings over 25 years of coaching experience including the past three seasons as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Dream, WNBA Finalists in both 2010 and 2011. Per team policy, terms of the contract were not announced.
“It’s a pleasure to welcome Carol Ross to our Sparks basketball family,” Toler said. “Carol is a proven winner with an incredible track record at both the collegiate and pro levels. She has groomed many women for great WNBA careers. We’re confident Carol is the ideal coach to lead the Sparks to our next Championship.”
Prior to her tenure in Atlanta, Ross amassed a 324-161 (.668) record in 16 seasons as an NCAA Division I head coach in the highly-competitive Southeastern Conference, guiding her teams to 12 NCAA Tournaments and two WNIT appearances. Twelve of those seasons (1990-02) were spent at Florida – where she coached current Sparks forward DeLisha Milton-Jones – before returning to her alma mater Mississippi from 2003-07.
“I am very excited about the opportunity Penny Toler and the Sparks’ organization have entrusted to me. I look forward to the responsibility of guiding these elite WNBA athletes,” Ross stated. “With the talent and experience of players such as Candace Parker, DeLisha Milton-Jones and others, the Sparks are a team with Championship aspirations.”
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Atlanta Dream coaches, players, owners and staff for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of a first-class organization,” Ross added.
Milton-Jones is elated to be reunited with her college coach.
“Carol Ross will be a great addition to the Sparks family. Her positive attitude and basketball intellect are the necessary qualities to lead the Sparks in our quest for a title,” Milton-Jones said. “I’m incredibly excited to play for her again. She is the person who jump-started my career and intensified my passion for the game.”
Meanwhile, Parker has stood across the sidelines from Ross in both the WNBA and SEC, dating back to her college career at Tennessee.
“I’m extremely excited to hear about the hiring of Coach Ross. I have played against her teams for a number of years and I believe she is a huge part of why the Atlanta Dream and Ole Miss have had tremendous success,” Parker said. “Through her leadership, motivation and knowledge there is no doubt the Sparks will be back in the Championship hunt next season.”
With Ross joining the staff in 2009, Atlanta enjoyed a 14-game turnaround from its inaugural WNBA season in 2008 and finished tied for second in the Eastern Conference. The Dream have posted 21-13 regular season records in each of the past two years, tying for first in 2011 en route to a second straight WNBA Finals appearance.
Her tenure with the Dream came on the heels of a four-year run at Ole Miss in which Ross compiled a 77-50 (.606) record and guided the Lady Rebels to two NCAA Tournaments and a pair of WNIT appearances. In Ross’ first season, 2003-04, she led Mississippi back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1995-96 and earned SEC co-Coach of the Year honors. In 2006-07, Ole Miss reached the 20-win plateau for the first time in more than a decade and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Guard Arminite Price played four years under Ross with the Lady Rebels, earning AP All-American honors as a senior en route to being selected third overall in the 2007 WNBA Draft by Chicago. Price went on to claim WNBA Rookie of the Year accolades that season, and was reunited with Ross the past three years in Atlanta.
Ross also developed a reputation for developing WNBA talent at Florida, where she remains the winningest coach in school history with a 247-121 (.671) mark over 12 seasons and was a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year in both 2001 and 2002. The Lady Gators – who had never received a bid to the NCAA Tournament before Ross’ arrival in Gainesville – appeared in nine NCAA Tournaments over her last 10 years. Florida averaged over 20 victories per season during her 12-year tenure, and almost 23 wins over the last 10 years.
Arguably the Lady Gators’ finest season was 1996-97, when they reached the Elite Eight of the Big Dance and star forward Milton-Jones won the Wade Trophy as the best player in the country. Florida achieved its first-ever top-10 national ranking in 1996-97, and finished among the nation’s top-25 in seven of Ross’ final nine seasons.
Three of the top-16 picks in the inaugural 1997 WNBA Draft came from Ross’ Lady Gator program. Meanwhile UF’s Murriel Page was the No. 3 overall pick in 1998 and Milton-Jones joined the Sparks in 1999 as the No. 4 overall selection. Milton-Jones – who credits Ross with greatly impacting her basketball development – is a two-time WNBA Champion with the Sparks, three-time WNBA All-Star selection and earned a pair of Olympic gold medals while representing the United States at the 2000 and 2008 Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile Page led the WNBA in field goal percentage in both 1999 and 2000 while playing for Washington, and then suited up for Los Angeles from 2006 to 2009. Other notables coached by Ross at Florida include Merlakia Jones – a two-time All-Star and 2001 All-WNBA First Team performer – former Phoenix Mercury player and assistant coach Bridget Pettis and former Sparks guard Sophia Witherspoon (2002-03). In total, 26 of Ross’ former players and recruits continued their basketball careers at the professional level.
Also active in USA Basketball, Ross has served as an assistant coach with the 2005 Under-19 World Championship team that won the gold medal as well as head coach of the 1998 USA Women’s Select Team that went 7-1.
Ross earned her bachelor’s degree in Education from Ole Miss in 1982. Ross was a four-year starter for the Lady Rebels from 1978-81, when Ole Miss logged a 93-50 record. She became the fourth women’s basketball player ever to be inducted into the University of Mississippi Athletic Hall of Fame when she was honored on Sept. 1, 2001.
After earning her degree, Ross served as a volunteer assistant at Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss., for one year before returning to the SEC as an assistant at Auburn from 1983-90. During that time she advanced from graduate assistant to top assistant and chief recruiter. She played a key role in the school’s development and maturation into a perennial NCAA Tourney team.
The Oakland, Miss., native has served as a board member for both the American Cancer Society and the Coaches vs. Cancer organization, which honored her as its 2000 Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award winner.