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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Hiring of WNBA star by NBA champs "paving way for women"

At Connecticut Sun media day a few months back, there was plenty of banter going around about the big NBA story of the moment.

However, there was a rather somber tone as players and coaches discussed the situation of disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The mood was significantly more upbeat on Tuesday when another NBA story line was making waves from coast to coast.

The newly-crowned NBA champions San Antonio Spurs announced that it was hiring retiring WNBA star Becky Hammon as an assistant coach making her the first female to be a full-time assistant coach on an NBA team.

"What an awesome honor for her and an opportunity for her," said Connecticut Sun assistant coach and Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Jen Gillom, "She is paving the way for women, it is a big part of history right here and for her to be the first to cross over to coach the men's team, that is something very special."

Hammon had a coaching internship with the Spurs when a torn ACL sidelined her with the San Antonio Stars and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich had nothing but positive things to say about Hammon's potential as a coach.

Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman, who coached Hammon overseas, did not hide her exuberance about Hammon making history.

"She is a amazing," Chatman said before Tuesday's game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena. "It will definitely open some doors. People who know Becky will understand that she put herself in position to create this opportunity. Everybody knows that Pop is not about doing something for publicity because he doesn't need it, it is all about his values and that who she is. I think it is really going to be something special for us.

"I think people who don't know her and understand that it is natural for her to walk into that gym and say 'what's up TP (Tony Parker) or what's up Timmy (Duncan) because she has created that. I think the newness and vastness of it all, because you just don't know and nothing that she has ever done mimics it but she is a student of the game and she is learning a different game."

Connecticut Sun guard Katie Douglas would cross paths with Hammon when they were Eastern Conference rivals in the WNBA as Hammon spent the first eight years of her WNBA career with the New York Liberty before being traded to San Antonio. She also got to know her when they were teammates overseas.

"I played with Becky overseas so I know her as a teammate," Douglas said. "I spoke with her in San Antonio the other night. I asked her what she was going to be doing, if she was going to do some coaching and she kind of smiled at me so I expected her to go into coaching. I knew she had a great basketball IQ, a great mind so it didn't surprise me when I heard about the announcement today, I wasn't shocked and I was excited for her and all the opportunities that she is going to open for both people who are interested in doing the game thing, She is obviously is involved with a great organization, I couldn't be more happy and it couldn't happen to a better person.

"She is a tireless worker as a player and I am sure as an assistant coach she will be a tireless worker and definitely will be able to relate as a player and relate to some of the men coming into the league trying to be self-made players. She has a great story of how she became the person and player she became today and I am sure she will use those kinds of experiences and really try to help grow the San Antonio Spurs - not that they need to grow much more, my goodness they have won championship after championship but I am sure she will be as pivotal as a coach as she was as a player."

Connecticut Sun Anne Donovan considers this to be a historic day in the women's basketball world. She remembers when Bernadette Mattox was hired as an assistant men's coach at Kentucky by Rick Pitino (Mattox would later become an assistant coach under Mike Thibault with the Connecticut Sun).  Donovan thought her hiring would open doors for other qualified women to break into the men's game but it didn't work like that.

"It has been a long, long time coming but at the NBA level I am not sure that I saw that coming any time soon," Donovan said. "I have been following what has been happening with Becky in San Antonio for a while because I am curious about it but it is about time.

"Becky has been around for a while, she has great international experience, domestic experience and been through a lot of different experiences to prepare her for this and has been with them in the preseason and I am sure they all saw the winner in her we all know that she is and there is no doubt that she will represent us well.

"She has broken a door open and we have all been waiting to see who is going to walk through it."

For the record, Hammon is not the first female to work in a coaching environment for a NBA team as Lisa Boyer was a volunteer assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2001-02 season but Hammon will become the first to coach on a full-time basis.

Other women who opened doors includes Mattox and Ashley McElhiney, who was the head coach of American Basketball Association's Nashville Rhythm in 2004.

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