After playing four seasons at the University of Connecticut and helping the Huskies win their first national championship, Carla Berube moved to California and left basketball behind — briefly.
“I really, really missed it,” said Berube, who was introduced as the new Princeton women’s basketball coach June 19. “So I did some volunteering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and fell in love with it — fell in love with the on-court coaching [and] the building of relationships with the players. It felt great giving back to women’s basketball. I had such an incredible experience in my four years at UConn, and I wanted to share in that with other young women.”
Coaching brought Berube back to New England, where she became an assistant at Providence College before landing the head-coaching job at Tufts University and building that program into a Division-III powerhouse over the last 17 seasons, reaching the Final Four four times. At Princeton, she takes over a team that’s won seven Ivy League titles and made eight NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 10 years.
“There’s a lot of talent [on the returning team], but you also see how hard they work,” Berube said, noting that she’d watched video from the past season. “These are driven student-athletes, both in the classroom and on the court.”
When Tigers coach Courtney Banghart left for the University of North Carolina in late April, Berube said she was quick to ask her former coach, Geno Auriemma, what he thought about the job. “The first thing he said was, ‘That’s perfect,’” she said. Auriemma called athletic director Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 to give his endorsement.
At Berube’s introductory press conference, Marcoux Samaan said the search committee was looking for an experienced coach, a strong recruiter, and a proven winner. “We feel so fortunate that we found what we were looking for in Coach Berube,” she said.
Auriemma has said he was surprised that Berube went into coaching (“I was really shy and quiet throughout college,” she explained), but the Hall-of-Fame coach has also said the seeds of her success were apparent at UConn. “For her to be a really good coach, I’m not surprised because she’s really competitive, she’s very bright, she’s a tough kid,” Auriemma said at the Final Four in 2016.
“You’re a product of your environment,” Berube said, “and I took so much from what I learned [at UConn]: How driven you need to be and how hard you need to work. In practice there, you cannot take seconds off. You need to be laser-focused.”
During her successful run at Tufts, Berube has also been a coach for USA Basketball, leading the women’s under-17 national team to an undefeated record and gold medal at the World Cup in Minsk, Belarus, last July. Coaching in the national program has exposed Berube to additional challenges, she said, like building team chemistry in a two-week training camp and then competing against other national teams that have been practicing together for months.
As a recruiter at Princeton, Berube said she’ll be looking for players who are passionate about basketball and who are smart, disciplined, and versatile. She places an emphasis on strong player-on-player defense (and the communication needed for that approach to work consistently). And she values strong off-court relationships with her players as well.
“I love all parts of coaching, from recruiting to the relationships with alumni, [from] on court with the players to the behind-the-scenes X’s and O’s with my staff,” Berube said. “It’s been my passion, and I’m looking forward to bringing that here to Princeton.”