In five seasons, Nikki Caldwell quickly showed why Lady Vol Head Basketball Coach Pat Summitt wanted her back at Tennessee as an assistant coach.
When Summitt found an opening on her staff in the spring of 2002, there was little doubt who she would approach to fill the position. Caldwell, a former Lady Vol guard from 1990-94 and a UT graduate assistant in 1998-99, had quickly earned an outstanding reputation as an assistant coach to Debbie Ryan at the University of Virginia from 1999-2002. Caldwell was lauded as an excellent floor coach and a rising star among college recruiters.
After a solid first year back with the Lady Vols, Caldwell was named as the Lady Vol basketball recruiting director in the spring of 2003 following the departure of Associate Head Coach Mickie DeMoss to Kentucky as the new head coach.
To those who know her ability as a recruiter, it came as no surprise. In the fall of 2003, Caldwell, along with Summitt and fellow assistant Holly Warlick, recruited and signed perhaps the most prolific freshman class in women's basketball history. UT welcomed six 2004 high school All-Americans, including three 2004 Players of the Year, to the Lady Vol roster for the 2004-05 season. In 2007, the WBCA named Tennessee the best recruiting school in the nation.
As a former Lady Vol player, Caldwell understands both the system and the expectations of the Tennessee program. That combination has proven to be a valuable asset to the Lady Vols' team and coaching staff. Furthermore, as a former high school recruit of Warlick, Caldwell has an even greater insight into the Tennessee recruiting process.
Excited about returning home to East Tennessee, Caldwell commented at the time: "I am very excited about re-joining the Tennessee family. The tradition and standard of excellence at UT is what originally drew me here as a player and now as a coach. This is a special time for the sport of women's basketball, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this program."
A standout guard during her time as a member of the Orange and White, Caldwell was known for her tough defense and three-point shooting ability. The Oak Ridge, Tenn., native tortured opposing defenses to the tune of 128 career three-point field goals made, which currently stands sixth all-time in Tennessee history, despite missing games during her sophomore and junior years with injuries. Caldwell also ranks fourth in career three-point attempts with 367.
As a rookie, Caldwell popped in a career-high 20 points in her very first game as a Lady Vol against Stanford. She was named to the Southeastern Conference's All-Freshman Team and was a key member of Tennessee's 1991 NCAA championship team. In the 1991 NCAA title game, Caldwell's defense was a key in UT's 70-67 overtime victory over the Virginia Cavaliers. A tough player, Caldwell underwent heart surgery to correct a supraventricular tachycardia in late January 1993 and was cleared to play against Vanderbilt a few days later. In that game, Caldwell played 16 minutes and hit two key treys to help seal the win.
A natural leader, she received the Gloria Ray Leadership Award in both her junior and senior seasons. After graduating from UT with a bachelor's degree in public relations, she moved behind the microphone as a color analyst along with play-by-play great Bob Kesling for the Lady Vol Basketball games aired by FOX Sports Net South. A broadcast natural, Caldwell was snagged by the SEC and FOX as color analyst for the SEC's Game of the Week from 1995-97. Her exposure there opened the door for her to become the hostess of the sports segments for the Knoxville-based cable network show, Shop at Home (1997-98).
After her stints as a color analyst and at Shop at Home, Caldwell realized her love was coaching and returned to the Lady Vols in 1998 as a member of Summitt's coaching staff to serve as the graduate assistant for administration. During the 1998-99 season, which saw Tennessee post a 31-3 mark and nab the SEC regular-season and tournament titles, Caldwell was responsible for assisting the coaching staff in all aspects of basketball operations. In that short time, she became a highly-sought after assistant coach.
Ironically, Caldwell considered two jobs at schools where she had enjoyed some of her greatest success as a player, Stanford and Virginia.
As an assistant at Virginia, she served as a member of Debbie Ryan's staff in the role of assistant coach, where she was responsible for recruiting, scouting, film exchange, player development, monitoring academic progress and camps. While there, Caldwell helped to develop standout ACC players Telisha Quarles at guard and forward Brandi Teamer, the 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year.
A native of nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., Caldwell earned her B.S. in public relations from Tennessee in 1994 and has completed a number of hours toward her master's degree in sport administration. A fan of the NFL, she followed the career of her uncle, Mike Caldwell (#59) who was previously an outside linebacker with the Carolina Panthers. Caldwell is an avid golfer and a movie buff.
She is single and makes her home in Knoxville with a pair of "furkids" - buff-colored cocker spaniels, Prince (15) and Princess (14).
|THE CALDWELL FILE|
|at Tennessee (as a player)||1990-91||30-5 NCAA Champions|
|at Tennessee (graduate assistant)||1998-99||31-3|
|at Virginia (assistant)||1999-00||25-9|
|at Tennessee (assistant)||2002-03||33-5|
|TOTALS||13 years||368-74 (.833)|
Overall record as an assistant coach: 250-61
Overall record as a player: 118-13