Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

WNBA News Special: Silver Stars' All-Timer Becky Hammon Heading for NBA Asst. Coaching Gig With the Spurs

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

WASHINGTON –
Becky Hammon still hadn’t had an opportunity to process the impact of being named an assistant coach for the five-time world champion San Antonio Spurs.

Hammon’s hiring is a huge moment and another giant step for the game of basketball.

“This is big,” Hammon acknowledged during a 40-minute conference call with national reporters Tuesday afternoon. “(Being hired as an assistant coach for the Spurs) is incredibly humbling and a blessing. It’s also a little surreal and overwhelming at the moment. I know I’ll do my best and work my tail off. There have been so many other women that are doing really great things and I am just kind of following their paths.

“The bigger deal is I feel like there have been greater pioneers to even get to this point such as CEOs, COOs of companies, major trailblazers, people that went before me basketball-wise to allow me to have a 16-year playing career. There have been so many other women who are doing really great things.”

Hammon, who is currently in her 16th WNBA season, announced on July 23 that she would retire as a player at the conclusion of the 2014 season. Named one of the WNBA’s Top 15 Players of All-Time in July of 2011, Hammon ranks seventh in WNBA history in points (with 5,809), fourth in assists (1,687) and sixth in games (445).

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” said San Antonio Head Coach Gregg Popovich. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”

Hammon is the second woman – and first full-time female -- to serve as an assistant coach in NBA history. The first was Lisa Boyer, who was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers staff in the 2001-02 season. Boyer worked part-time with the Cavs and wasn’t on the teams’ official payroll.

Boyer is now on Dawn Staley's staff at South Carolina and coached the Philadelphia Rage in the old American Basketball League.

Stephanie Ready and Nancy Lieberman were head coaches of teams in the National Development Basketball League (NDBL).

Hammon spent time working with the Spurs last season while she recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. It was an experience that left an impact on everybody involved and laid the groundwork for this moment.

Popovich made Hammon feel part of the staff by asking for her input and soliciting feedback.

With a cup of coffee in her hands whenever she entered meetings, Hammon was a sponge soaking up all of the knowledge from the Spurs staff. She even had an opportunity to travel on a road-trip with the team, which gave Popovich an opportunity to observe Hammon’s wonderful people skills.

“The injury was a blessing in disguise for me,” Hammon said. “Coach Pop made it clear to me that he hired me for my basketball IQ and that I am qualified for the position. It just so happens that I am a woman. I am so grateful that the Spurs value my experience as a basketball player.

"It’s a big challenge and I am up for the responsibility of learning and helping the Spurs win another championship.”

The importance of Hammon’s hiring was felt at the Verizon Center as the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty prepared to play each other in a key Eastern Conference clash. Players from both squads had extra bounces in their steps as they went through pre-game warmups. They all spoke reverently of Hammon.

Mystics assistant coach Marianne Stanley is one of the trailblazers that Hammon alluded to during the call.

When the Archbishop Prendergast and Immaculata University graduate was asked to put everything into perspective, she summed everything up perfectly.

Stanley, who is being enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Friday with her other Mighty Macs teammates, played on Immaculata’s three-time AIAW national title teams.

“It’s a huge deal and I think the Spurs aren’t making a big show of it,” Stanley said. “There’s been a lot of capable women around basketball for a long time that have never gotten that shot. Sometimes it’s the social conditioning to move at a glacial pace and here’s one of those examples where you’re like finally.

“We have women’s astronauts, women brain surgeons, women senators and women in all walks of life and every endeavor.

"What the heck is so sacred about basketball? It’s more of a social conditioning. There’s no inherent reason why women can’t coach men. This situation is unique because the Spurs are coming off of a championship and that someone with Pop’s standing in the field would make this move forever dispels any notion that a female is not capable.”

New York’s Swin Cash was preparing for her pre-game nap when somebody tagged her with the exciting news on social media.

“I was just overjoyed,” Cash said. “I know Becky is awesome and she spent time with them last season. For me, it was kind of a defining moment for how things have transpired lately.

"I mean you look at the NPBA, we just hired Michele Roberts to come on board and be our executive director there and now this with Becky. It’s really showing how the NBA is forging forward and opening doors for women.”

The diminutive Hammon served as a role model to the Mystics 5-7 dynamo Ivory Latta. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds in the sun when asked about the impact of Hammon’s hiring and what it meant to her.

“That’s groundbreaking,” Latta said of Hammon’s hiring. “It’s an unbelievable day for us in women’s basketball. It’s well deserved for her and she’s done a lot for the game.

"Her knowledge is off the charts and she’s going to be working with the greatest coach in the NBA. It’s a perfect situation and I couldn’t be any happier for her. She’s somebody I’ve always looked up to.

"She set the standard for somebody like me to play in this league. I was like if she could play in this league, then I can to. Height doesn’t matter.”

A six-time WNBA All-Star, Hammon has spent the last eight seasons with the San Antonio Stars. She is the Stars all-time leader in assists (1,112) and three-point field goals made (493) while ranking second in franchise history in points (3,442) and games (218). In 2012 Hammon was the top vote getter for the Stars All-Decade Team.

In her WNBA career Hammon has appeared in 445 regular season games, averaging 13.1 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 28.0 minutes. She has earned All-WNBA First Team honors twice (in 2007 and 2009) and was named to the All-WNBA Second Team in 2005 and 2008.

A three-time All-American at Colorado State, Hammon went unpicked in the 1999 WNBA Draft.

She signed with the New York Liberty in May of 1999 in one of the two greatest undrafted free agent catches in league history and spent eight seasons with the Liberty before being traded to the Stars in a draft night deal in 2007.

While she’s excited to begin the next chapter in her life, Hammon also made it clear during the conference call that she still has work to do this season with the Silver Stars, who are battling for playoff positioning in the Western Conference. The Stars return to action Thursday when they host Phoenix.

“I am passionate about people, helping others and basketball so coaching is a perfect marriage for me,” Hammon said. “Nothing has been easy in my life. I am up for challenges.

"I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. The Spurs are a world class organization that demands excellence. They think outside of the box as an organization and are very forward thinking.

"The door opened up for me and I just happened to walk through it. It’s exciting. Hopefully little girls can see that anything is possible.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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