By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Stephanie White first took her oldest son, Landon, to an NBA game when he was two years old. White, then on staff of the the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, laughed when Landon first set his sights on the towering players wearing Indiana Pacers uniforms.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, boys play basketball, too?’” White recalled. “He was just so used to coming to my practices and seeing girls play.”
Despite his young age, Landon had spent much of his life surrounded by women’s basketball. That hasn’t changed in recent years. Today all three of White’s sons -- six-year-old Landon and four-year-old twin boys, Aiden and Avery – are mainstays around Vanderbilt’s basketball offices, where White is the head coach of the Commodores’ women’s team.
That family atmosphere is a point of pride for White and a staple of the culture she has built at Vanderbilt. Amid the round-the-clock pressures of coaching an SEC program, White said she envisions a program that emphasizes family on the job.
“Having a family environment is very important at Vanderbilt,” White said. “Bringing our kids around shows our players that we’re human. Plus, these young women give our kids great lessons every day, and hopefully our kids being here gives our players a nice perspective, as well.”
Assistant coach Kelly Komara often brings her two-year-old daughter, Kennedy, to practices and the hoops offices at Vanderbilt. Komara said it takes more than just lip service to define a program as family-first. Recruits and parents can tell the difference, too.
“If you talk about being a family, you have to show that you are a family,” Komara said. “If people never see your kids around or see you engage with your family, it’s hard to believe that.”
While kids are a common sight around Vanderbilt basketball, White said supportive spouses are the unsung heroes behind the scenes. White’s wife, Michelle, is routinely tasked with wrangling their three sons to and from Memorial Gym for games and practices. Komara’s wife, Jen, shoulders the same responsibility with Kennedy.
But parenting doesn’t stop when the buzzer sounds. When Vanderbilt’s coaches hit the road for games or recruiting, it’s the spouses who pick up the slack back home. White said a supportive spouse is as important as an extra coach on the bench.
“Anytime you’re a coach, you’ve got to find a spouse or partner who really understands the lifestyle,” White said. “No two days are ever the same. There are a lot of long hours. You’re on the road days at a time. It’s important to have that support at home. Understanding that I have Michelle’s support, that she and the boys have my back, it allows me to come out and be the best I can be everyday.”
Adds Komara: “Our wives deserve a huge shout-out. We would not be able to do what we do if it wasn’t for them.”
Student-athletes long ago acclimated to the presence of kids and spouses at Memorial Gym. Several Vanderbilt players say they sensed an emphasis on family during the recruitment process, an intangible benefit that played a role in their ultimate arrivals on West End.
“It’s something to take into account when you’re being recruited,” sophomore Erin Whalen said. “Coaches treat you differently, including those that bring a family atmosphere from home onto the court. You can tell our coaches care about you and your actual well-being because they have a nurturing side.”
But White views her Vanderbilt program as a family of its own. That’s the example she sets for her sons as they soak in practices at Memorial Gym.
“From a big-picture standpoint, our first job is to raise good people,” Komara said. “There’s no dividing it -- you do that with your team and you do that with your kids. Now that I’m a mom, there’s no division. We want to raise good, outstanding women at home and at work.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.