From player to coach: the return of Valerie Higgins

Valerie Higgins as a student-athlete

Valerie Higgins was the first player in school history to be drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Former University of the Pacific women’s basketball player Valerie Higgins ’21 did not expect to return to her alma mater as a coach. But an opportunity to be part of the staff was something she couldn’t turn down.

She was named an assistant coach this summer, charged with player development and video.

“The best memories I’ve made, the greatest people I’ve met, have been here at Pacific,” Higgins said. “I could not pass up an opportunity to come back to a place that felt like home, a place where I had so much fun as a player.”

She had a decorated playing career for the Tigers from 2017-21. A two-time West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year recipient, Higgins was also selected to the First Team All-WCC three times. Higgins is currently ranked in the program’s top 10 in 13 statistical categories, including the all-time leader in steals per game (3.4) and free throws made (416).

She was the first player in school history to be drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Higgins grew up in Granada Hills, California, in a family of athletes. Both her parents played college basketball at Cal State Northridge. Her father Keith played professionally overseas before joining the Harlem Globetrotters. Her sister J’nai played volleyball at Cal State Fullerton, and brother Keith currently plays basketball at Lehigh University.

Higgins started her college career at the University of Southern California but transferred before her sophomore season after the head coach left the program.

During her recruitment process, she visited Pacific with one of her best friends from high school, teammate and former Tigers’ guard Isabel Newman ’21.

“She called me up and said, ‘Hey I know you’re transferring, and it would be cool if we played together again,’” Higgins said. “I came on a visit and the campus really blew me away. Plus, the coaching staff. (Head coach) Bradley Davis was just a genuine down-to-earth guy and someone I could see myself playing for.”

women's basketball coaches pose for a photo

(L-R) assistant coach Jovana Subasic, associate head coach Amy Starr, head coach Bradley Davis, assistant coach Valerie Higgins and Kristen Vanzetti, director of operations (not pictured: assistant coach Amanda Brown)

Her favorite memory at Pacific was playing in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament her sophomore season. In its first appearance in the tournament since 2015, Pacific defeated Fresno State in the first round before falling at Arizona.

In 2021, she was drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association as the 25th pick by the New York Liberty. After she was waived at training camp, Higgins signed to play for the Young Angels in Slovakia.

“I grew up in California and never really experienced the snow. In Slovakia, it snowed,” Higgins said. “On the court, you are playing against women that are older, stronger, taller and faster. The style of play was a little bit different. So that was an adjustment for sure.”

While playing for the Young Angels, Higgins led the European Women’s Basketball League in scoring and was in the top five in rebounds, steals and blocks. In 2023, Higgins signed to play with GS Esperides Kalithea in Greece where she was a two-time Greece A-1 Player of the Week.

Now, Higgins is back at Pacific ready to rejoin the Tigers in her new role. She will be hands-on in coaching and individual player development while overseeing video, recruiting and other roles.

“There are so many advantages and benefits to having a former player on staff and any coach could run through that list,” Davis said. “Val brings so much more to the table than just being a former player. She’s a natural leader, an intense competitor, a student of the game and everything that goes into coaching. She’s experienced every level of play and every style of coaching.”

Pacific women’s basketball opens Nov. 10 against Cal State Fullerton followed by Cal State Bakersfield Nov. 12. The team then plays at Washington before returning home to host Yale as part of a doubleheader Monday, Nov. 20. See the full schedule and purchase tickets online.