As Ali Patberg pondered her basketball future in 2022, one big thing stood out to her.
The IU women’s basketball great was drafted by the Indiana Fever in the third round of the WNBA Draft in April, but didn’t make the team out of training camp. She had a contract offer to play overseas — which many WNBA players do in the offseason.
But Patberg was eyeing a future in coaching, and had to decide whether she wanted to begin her career on that side of the game or continue playing. And though it was a hard choice, one realization about Indiana made it easier.
“I love the game of basketball, but I love this place more. I love what it stands for, the people that make up this program,” Patberg told The Daily Hoosier in an exclusive Zoom interview. “I talked to my family a lot about how I would miss the game of basketball — playing, of course. But I wanted the way I remembered playing the game (to be) here.”
It’s easy to understand that feeling given the career Patberg had in Bloomington. She ranks 11th on IU’s all-time scoring list, eighth in points per game, and fifth in assists. And her 90 career wins are one of the best marks in program history, as she helped lead the Hoosiers to an Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in back-to-back years.
As Patberg worked through that decision to ultimately give up playing, she talked to IU head coach Teri Moren, one of many people who saw a bright coaching future for her. She told Moren she wanted to join her staff someday, no matter how long it took to get there. Patberg expected to start elsewhere and work her way up the ladder to get back to her alma mater.
Moren had another idea.
“I told coach (Moren), ‘I’ll start wherever you need me to start, but one day … I want to have the experience, I want to be ready to be hired by you one day,'” Patberg said. “My thought was, I was going to go somewhere else just to be prepared for one day when the opportunity could come. I wanted to be most prepared for coach. And then I finally decided I am going to end playing, and I called coach, and she said, ‘Well, we have a position for you.'”
That position was a new one Moren added to her staff, team and recruitment coordinator. She didn’t create a job specifically for Patberg, but the former guard was the first person she had in mind for the spot. The timing worked out perfectly, and Patberg joined IU’s staff ahead of the 2022-23 season.
The new role took some adjusting for Patberg. She wasn’t allowed to be on the court during practices, but was still involved and around the Hoosiers as they won their first Big Ten title in 40 years. Relationships with coaches and former teammates — and a former competitor (Sara Scalia) — changed, but Patberg was 25 years old in her last season playing. She was already viewed as an extra coach even before she graduated.
Patberg spent last season absorbing as much as she could in her new position. She’d sit alongside other assistant coaches compiling scouting reports ahead of games to learn what to look for on film and and what goes into putting the reports together. She assisted on the scouting reports, but went beyond that to prepare for when she’d be able to do it herself. It’s the same work ethic she was known for as a player.
“Ali is a natural. We knew it when we coached her. It has not surprised me one bit how she has really embraced her role here on staff. She’s dove right in, just like she did as a player. Comes in every morning early, gets her workout in, and then dives into film,” Moren said. “She’s been tremendous. She has a very bright future in this profession.”
Patberg said one of the biggest things she learned over the last year was the importance of carrying yourself with confidence as a coach. She said players and peers can tell if you don’t fully believe in what you’re saying, and that became more evident to her after moving to the other side of the game. Similar to her playing days, she feels the confidence comes from doing your job well and being fully prepared.
All that has stayed the same as she’s added a new role this year on to her existing responsibilities. Thanks to an NCAA rule change allowing up to five assistant coaches, Moren promoted Patberg to assistant coach this offseason. She’s continued to lead in a similar way as she did as a student-athlete: she’ll push players if they need it, but primarily brings positive energy.
Patberg works most closely with IU’s point guards: senior Chloe Moore-McNeil, sophomore Lexus Bargesser, and freshman Lenée Beaumont. But she works with the entire team, and Scalia said Patberg has helped her maintain self-belief.
“I have full trust and faith in her that she knows what she’s doing,” Scalia said at IU’s media day in September. “I think a big thing is she helps me get confidence a lot. If a few shots don’t go in, she’ll give me confidence to keep shooting the ball and everything. She knows how I play. I trust her 100 percent with what she tells me. She’s very supportive.”
Not much changes for Patberg as an assistant compared to what she was doing before. She now can be on the court during practice, and will have the scouting responsibilities she spent last year preparing for. But she was on the bench during games last year, and couldn’t travel for recruiting — both of those things stay the same.
Recruiting is a big part of the value Patberg brings to the staff. Moren said it’s helpful to have a recent program alum — particularly one as successful as Patberg — talk about IU’s program and how they do things.
And it doesn’t take much to get Patberg gushing about the Hoosiers.
This could be the start of a long, fruitful coaching career. And that may eventually take her somewhere other than Bloomington.
But Patberg didn’t give up playing just to start coaching; she ended her playing career for the opportunity to start her coaching journey at Indiana.
“I just tell people, playing here was a dream of mine, and every day I walked in, couldn’t believe it was real, and it’s kind of the same thing being able to coach here,” Patberg said. “It’s not perfect every day, and there are hard days, but even on the hard days, I love who I do it with, I love what I do it for, and I just love this place so much, that’s how it should be. On your hard days, you still want to be there, you still enjoy it. That’s definitely what I have here, and I love it.”
For complete coverage of IU women’s basketball, GO HERE.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”