Anne Donovan, Hall of Famer and ex-Sun coach, dies at 56

Anne Donovan, a Hall of Famer who won a national title at Old Dominion, two Olympic gold medals, coached the U.S. to gold in 2008 and led the Connecticut Sun from 2013-15 died Wednesday of heart failure. She was 56. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day/File)
Anne Donovan, a Hall of Famer who won a national title at Old Dominion, two Olympic gold medals, coached the U.S. to gold in 2008 and led the Connecticut Sun from 2013-15 died Wednesday of heart failure. She was 56. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day/File)

Anne Donovan, the Basketball Hall of Famer who won a national championship at Old Dominion, two Olympic gold medals as a player and another as a coach, died Wednesday of heart failure. She was 56.

Donovan's family confirmed the death in a statement.

"While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being," the statement said.

"Anne touched many lives as a daughter, sister, aunt, friend and coach. Anne was a person with strong faith, courageous spirit, a giving heart and love for everyone," her family's statement continued. "We are so proud of her accomplishments as a women's' basketball player and coach, but even more proud of her character, integrity, humility and kindness."

Donovan was at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee, last weekend.

"Anne was a good friend," said Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault, an assistant on Donovan's 2008 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team who learned of her passing following Wednesday's 95-91 win over Connecticut. "It's just shocking, devastating. I don't know what to say. All the basketball stuff goes away when you have that kind of stuff happen, so it's hard to celebrate a win when you have a best friend have something like that happen."

Added Sun guard Jasmine Thomas, who also learned of Donovan's death after the game, "My thoughts and prayers go to her family. That's not something you can prepare for ... She was great. She's the reason I'm here. She's the first coach in the league that really gave me an opportunity to be myself and I'm forever going to be grateful to her for that."

She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, was part of the inaugural class of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted in the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015.

The 6-foot-8 center coached both in college and the WNBA. She became the first female coach and the youngest person (42) to win a title in the WNBA, guiding the Seattle Storm to a championship in 2004.

"Anne Donovan will always be remembered as a championship coach and a championship person," the Storm said in a statement. "Her dedication, passion and winning spirit set the tone for Storm Basketball. We are deeply saddened by her passing and share our heartfelt condolences with her family."

Donovan was a member of three Olympics teams as a player. The 1980 team did not go to Russia because of a boycott. The team won the gold in 1984 and '88, and she coached the winning 2008 team.

"USA Basketball mourns the passing of Anne Donovan. She played for her first USA Basketball team in 1977 and during her Hall of Fame, 31-year USA career, she was a member of five U.S. Olympic teams and four USA World Championship teams as an athlete and coach, culminating in leading the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team to gold as our head coach in Beijing," USA Basketball said in a statement. "She used to say she bled red, white and blue. As much as we remember her accomplishments in the game, we mourn a great friend who will be greatly missed."

Donovan also coached the WNBA's Indiana Fever, the Charlotte Sting, New York Liberty and Connecticut Sun, working there from 2013-15. The New Jersey native also coached at Seton Hall for a few years.

After playing at Old Dominion, Donovan played professionally in Japan and Italy.

After retiring, she was an assistant at Old Dominion and then coached at East Carolina University from 1995-1998. She coached the Philadelphia Rage in the American Basketball League in 1997-98.

The Day's Ned Griffen contributed to this report.

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