Carolyn Krause brings us the story of two of Oak Ridge’s great basketball players. The Las Vegas Aces won the women’s national basketball final on Sunday, September 18, 2022 by a score of 78-71 over the Connecticut Sun. https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34619557/las-vegas-aces-win-their-first-wnba-title-beating-connecticut-sun-game-4-finals-chelsea- grey-appointed-mvp
ORHS basketball stars Nikki Caldwell (Fargas) and Jennifer Azzi are top executives for the Las Vegas Aces.
Two of the best-known basketball players and coaches who learned how to play and win from Jill Prudden, a girls’ basketball coach at Oak Ridge High School for 31 years, are Jennifer Azzi (ORHS 1987 graduate) and Nikki Caldwell (ORHS graduate). in 1990) . The lives and careers of noted athletes and sports leaders are described on Wikipedia. In 2010, Prudden retired from her coaching career. Her accomplishments included an overall win-loss record of 908-161, three state championships, 25 district titles and 20 regional titles. She also wrote with Van Chancellor the 2005 book “Coaching Women’s Basketball Successfully.” Azzi and Caldwell helped Prudden’s ORHS team win championships. A year before Prudden retired, Azzi was elected to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville. As a point guard on championship high school, college and professional basketball teams, she was honored for her many accomplishments.
She played in the US women’s basketball championship at the 1996 Winter Olympics, making her an Olympic gold medalist. She played five seasons in the Women’s National Basketball Association. As a result of her performances with the Detroit Shock (1999), the Utah Starzz (2000-2002), and the San Antonio Silver Stars (2002-2003), she retired as the WNBA’s all-time leader in shooting percentage. three point field. She became the head coach of the University of San Francisco women’s basketball team in 2010 and retired in 2016. One of the original American Basketball League players, Azzi started for the San Jose Lasers and appeared in all three games of ABL stars. (1996, 1997, 1998). She played on 13 USA Basketball teams that compiled a 114-14 record and led two teams that finished the season as world champions. Azzi majored in economics at Stanford University in California and had numerous accomplishments in basketball as a scholarship athlete with the women’s team there. She was named an All-American point guard, she was recognized as the all-time three-point shooter and held the Stanford record for assists in a game, registering 16 against Brigham Young University in 1987-88. While at Stanford, her team compiled a 101-23 record and led the Cardinal to the 1990 NCAA Women’s Division Basketball National Championship in which Stanford defeated Auburn University. Additionally, as a star point guard for the Stanford Cardinal, she was awarded the 1990 Wade Trophy and named Naismith Player of the Year. The team she coached won two Pacific-10 championships in the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons, after which Azzi was named the PAC-10 Player of the Year. She was the youngest member of the Stanford Hall of Fame.
Azzi, 54, lived in Mill Valley, California, with his wife Blair Hardiek, and they have two children: a son, Macklin, and a daughter, Camden. Azzi is a motivational speaker who has also organized summer youth basketball camps called Azzi Camp. In 2021, she became the director of business development for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, and Hardiek was named the team’s director of marketing and communications. Nikki Caldwell (Yolanda Nicole Fargas), 50, a highly regarded basketball player at ORHS and the University of Tennessee, is the president of the Las Vegas Aces. She is the niece of Mike Caldwell, an Oak Ridger who played in the National Football League for 11 seasons and is now the defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Born in Oak Ridge, she was raised by her mother. The ORHS Caldwell women’s basketball team played to win the Tennessee state championship in 1988. As of 2009, she still held the high school single-season records for total points scored and successful free throws. According to Wikipedia, “Caldwell attended UT from 1990 to 1994, playing guard under coach Pat Summitt on the university’s Lady Vols basketball team, which compiled a 118-13 win-loss record during her playing years. . Caldwell was known for her strong defensive play and her 3-point shooting. “Her defensive play of hers in the final game of the 1991 NCAA tournament, in which the Lady Vols defeated the University of Virginia in overtime, was considered a key factor in her team’s victory. She was named to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) All-Freshman team that same year, and in both her junior and senior years she received the university’s Gloria Ray Leadership Award. “Although she missed parts of two seasons due to injuries, her four-year stats as a 3-point shooter, with 128 3-point field goals made on 364 attempts, rank among the top 10 all-time in Tennessee.” After receiving a bachelor’s degree in public relations in 1994 at UT, Caldwell served as a color analyst for Fox Sports Net South’s broadcasts of Lady Vol basketball games and later for Fox’s Game of the Week broadcasts of the SEC. In this role, she provided expert analysis and background information such as statistics, strategy, and injury reports on teams and athletes. In 1997, she became the host of sports segments on the Shop at Home Network. The following year she returned to basketball as a member of Pat Summitt’s coaching staff. She later became an assistant coach at the University of Virginia. She returned to UT as an assistant coach for the 2002-03 season and director of recruiting beginning in the spring of 2003. In 2008, she was named head coach at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a five-year contract valued at nearly $1.5 million. During the 2009-2010 season, UCLA ranked second in the Pacific Coast Conference (Pac-10) with a 25-9 record as the team lost to second-place Stanford in the Pac-10 tournament. 10. However, Caldwell was named the 2010 Pac-10 Coach of the Year by conference coaches and by the media in her second year as coach at UCLA. According to Wikipedia, “Her success of hers was unprecedented in UCLA women’s basketball and she sought a large raise in her contract. Despite a reported offer of a generous raise from UCLA, the school was unable to match the $900,000 a year that Louisiana State University offered, so she went back to coaching in the SEC at LSU.” She served as the head coach of the LSU Lady Tigers for 10 years, from 2011 to 2021. In seven seasons leading the team, she posted a 131-90 record as the team advanced to the NCAA Tournament each of those years. . She resigned from LSU in April 2021, and a month later, she was named president of the Las Vegas Aces, a WNBA team. In 2007, Caldwell and Holly Warlick, then the former assistant coach of the UT Lady Vols women’s basketball team (and later head coach after Pat Summitt died of Alzheimer’s disease), began three long-distance motorcycle trips, called “Cruisin’ for a Cause,” to promote breast cancer awareness and raise funds for breast cancer research. On their first trip, in 2007, they rode their Harley-Davidson motorcycles from Berkeley, California to Knoxville. Two women’s nonprofit Champions for a Cause had raised nearly $100,000 by 2008. The 2010 road trip took them through Washington, DC and New York to Niagara Falls and back. In 2009, Caldwell received the Woman of Excellence Award from the Ladylike Foundation for excellence as a coach and for fundraising activities for cancer awareness from mom In March 2012, according to Wikipedia, Yolanda Nicole Fargas (also known as Nikki Caldwell), now 50, “gave birth to a girl named Justice with her husband, former Oakland Raiders player Justin Fargas (coincidentally, Raiders ownership acquired the Aces when she joined the team). Her father-in-law, Antonio Fargas, was an actor who played Huggy Bear on the 1970s television series “Starsky and Hutch.” Azzi and Caldwell have much in common as distinguished players for ORHS and two varsity teams, as well as head coaches for college teams in California. Both have won numerous awards. Both now hold executive positions with the Las Vegas Aces. Prudden must be very proud of her successes in the world of professional women’s basketball.