The new Minnesota women’s basketball coaching staff is 50 percent diverse as Head Coach Dawn Plitzuweit brought her entire coaching staff that has been with her at her previous two schools, including two Black assistants. Jason Jeschke (associate HC), Aaron Horn and Ariel Braker (assistants) will join the Gopher coaching staff. The MSR talked to Horn and Braker in separate interviews at the team’s Athletes Village practice facility.
After a successful playing career at Notre Dame (2010-14), part of the winningest class in program history with three national title game appearances and four Final Four berths, Ariel Braker left with a degree in industrial design and uncertainty about what would come next.
“I really didn’t think I was going to do anything with basketball after I was done playing,” Braker recalled. “After about a week I was already bored,” she said, once she returned home to Michigan. “I was at home with [her mother] over the summer, who said, ‘What do you want to do? You need to pick something that you’re gonna love. You’re gonna have to essentially do this for the rest of your life.’”
Her mother then essentially pushed her daughter out of the nest. “A couple of days later, she came back and said, ‘I signed you up to be the GA [graduate assistant] at Wayne State. You’ll get your master’s [degree] there,’ and figure out if coaching would be the right career for me,” Braker continued.
After getting her master’s in sports administration from Wayne State, in Detroit, Braker followed her love of the game and coaching, taking assistant coaching stints at Western Texas College (2016-17), Lehigh (2017-19), and Oakland (2019-21), before joining Dawn Plitzuweit first at South Dakota (2021-22), then at West Virginia (last season), and now here at Minnesota.
Braker grew up in Indiana, but she and her family moved to Grosse Pointe, Mich., a Detroit suburb where she graduated from high school. She was also a high school hoops star, which led her to Notre Dame. There she was a teammate of current Minnesota Lynx players Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa.
Braker said she learned a lot about coaching when she played as a two-year starter and three-time team captain for now-retired coach Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame. “I really liked her blunt honesty. I wasn’t the best player on the team by any means. You’ve got to figure out how you can contribute, how you can help. I try to be straightforward with the kids as well.”
Does she envision herself as a head coach one day?
“If you would have asked me this a year ago, I probably would have said no way,” admitted Braker. “But I think about it more and I talked to more people. We need more people that look like me.
“As I move further in my career,” she said, “I think it’s important for girls who see people that look like them and what they can aspire to be. I don’t know what that looks like as a head coach yet. I would like to be an athletic director one day.
“I think I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of strong Black women in my life…my mom being number one,” concluded Braker.