Caldwell, who becomes the fifth women’s basketball coach in UCLA history, has served as an assistant coach at two-time defending NCAA champion Tennessee for the past six seasons.
“We are thrilled to welcome Nikki to the Bruin family,” said UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. “She is bright, articulate and an outstanding coach and recruiter who is a rising star in her profession. Nikki has been a winner as a student-athlete and an assistant coach and is the perfect person to make our program nationally competitive on a regular basis.”
“Nikki embodies everything we were looking for in a head coach,” said Long. “She has worked with some of the best coaches in the history of women’s basketball, and we look forward to her establishing her own reputation as a great head coach.”
The 35-year old Caldwell comes to UCLA after serving on the staff of legendary women’s coach Pat Summitt as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee for the 2003-2008 seasons (195-24 record; five Final Fours; two NCAA Championships).
"Tennessee's loss is going to be UCLA's gain," Summitt said. "Nikki Caldwell is truly one of the rising stars in women's college basketball. She is the total package as a teacher, a coach and a recruiter. She is a woman of great character and has a powerful gift of mentoring young women. Nikki has been instrumental in the success of our program as both a player and most recently as an assistant coach for the last six years.”
Caldwell has been lauded as an excellent floor coach and a consistent star among college recruiters.
In her 14 seasons as a collegiate player and assistant coach, her teams have posted an amazing 404-76 record and appeared in the NCAA Tournament each season, while winning three national championships.
In 2008, the Lady Vols captured a second-straight NCAA championship and finished with a record of 36-2. National Player of the Year Candace Parker, the No. 1 selection in the WNBA draft, led a group of five Lady Vols to be drafted into the WNBA on the day after the championship.
Caldwell joined the Tennessee staff for the 2002-03 season and became the recruiting director in the spring of 2003. In the fall of 2003, the Tennessee staff signed perhaps the most prolific freshman class in the history of women’s collegiate basketball.
For the 2004-05 season, Tennessee welcomed six 2004 high school All-Americans, including three Players of the Year. In 2007, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) named Tennessee as the best recruiting school in the nation. In 2008, three of the top 15 current high school seniors in the country committed to play for Tennessee in 2008-09 (hoopgurlz.com), and five played in the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Prior to her return as a coach at her alma mater, Caldwell served as an assistant at the University of Virginia for three seasons (2000-2002). She was responsible for recruiting, scouting, film exchange, player development, camps and monitoring academic progress of the student-athletes. UVA compiled a record of 60-36 in her three seasons in Charlottesville and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. She helped to develop standout Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) players Telisha Quarles at guard and forward Brandi Teamer, the 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year.
A guard during her playing days at Tennessee (1991-94) when the Lady Vols put together a 118-13 record, Caldwell was known for her tough defense and three-point shooting. She still ranks among the all-time top 10 at Tennessee in three-point field goals made (128) and three-point shots attempted (364). She scored 20 points in her first collegiate game against Stanford and went on to be named to the Southeastern Conference’s (SEC) All-Freshman team. In the 1991 NCAA title game victory over Virginia , Caldwell ’s defense was considered a key in UT’s overtime win.
Caldwell received the Gloria Ray Leadership Award in both her junior and senior seasons at Tennessee. After graduating with a degree in public relations in 1994, Caldwell moved behind the microphone as a color analyst on Tennessee games for Fox Sports Net South. She went on to become the color analyst for the SEC’s Game of the Week from 1995-97.
Her television exposure opened the door for her to become the hostess of the sports segments for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based cable network show, Shop at Home (1997-98). She then decided to return to her first love, coaching, in 1998 when she became a graduate assistant for administration on the Lady Vols women’s basketball staff.
During the 1998-99 season, Tennessee went 31-3 and captured the SEC regular season and SEC Tournament titles. Caldwell was responsible for assisting the coaching staff in all aspects of basketball operations.
Caldwell also got a resounding endorsement from Candace Parker, who led Tennessee to two national titles and was the top pick this month of the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA draft.
“There couldn't have been a better candidate for the job," Parker said. "Nikki Caldwell represents passion, commitment and intelligence within the game of women's basketball. She is destined to do nothing but good things, and UCLA will truly benefit from her services.
"I personally have connected with Coach Caldwell as a player underneath her for four years, not just within basketball but personally. She has my support and forever will as she helps to reestablish a storied program.”
Caldwell was the lead recruiter responsible for bringing Parker into the Lady Vol fold.