USA Head Coach Anne Donovan
January 12, 2006
Ackerman: Thanks everyone for being here. The last time I was here, which was in October of 2004, was a pretty good day for women's basketball in Seattle. I remember handing you some that was pretty big (a WNBA Championship Trophy). I would say that today, at least in my mind, is another reason for women's basketball fans and followers to celebrate.
Before I make official what's probably not a very well-kept secret at this point, let me just say a couple of things. I've had a lot of time to think over the last year and I can tell you that my enthusiasm for the future of women's professional basketball in this country is not at all dimmed. It's hard not to continue to be impressed by all the great things that are happening, from all the young girls playing to what's happening at the collegiate level and the high school level. The women's final four is right around the corner, a highly anticipated event. The WNBA this year goes into its 10th season. Who would have thunk it?
Of course, all of us who have been associated with USA Basketball for so many years, and that includes the two people on my left, Jim and Anne and Carol Callan, the assistant executive director for the women's program, are very proud of the dynasty that's been created with the women's senior national program. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I call it the greatest dynasty in women's sports. We had some bumps in the road with the program in the early 90's, but we got our act together and right now this program is truly on a tear. It started with a gold medal in Atlanta, a historic moment that in many ways led to the re-advent of women's pro basketball in this country. It continued in 1998 with the women's World Championships in Germany where the USA got gold. It continued in Sydney-another gold medal in the Olympics. It continued in 2002 in China with a gold medal in the World Championships. And then in Athens, we were able to bring home our third consecutive gold medal in women's Olympic basketball. A lot has gone into it. We've had great players. We've had great coaches. Anne Donovan herself has been part of this very long and proud tradition. We've had great collaboration from a management standpoint, and we are absolutely determined to keep this going.
Post-Athens we began to look ahead and we are now in the early throes of looking to the next three years of the program which culminates with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where we're looking for not one, but two gold medals for American basketball. The next step up for us is the 2006 women's World Championship which will be in mid-September in Brazil. We have the highest of hopes-not to put the pressure on the woman on my left-that we'll be able to replicate this incredible string. If we win the World Championship in Brazil we'll automatically qualify for the Olympics. So, in addition to keeping this great run going-it could be six consecutive gold medals-we would also eliminate the need to separately qualify for Beijing. So there's actually quite a lot to play for there.
Today's announcement really marks the first public step forward in our planning for the next couple of years and that step specifically is to identify who's been chosen by our senior women's national committee to lead our team on the court as head coach for the next three years, starting with the World Championships and culminating, hopefully, with Beijing.
I've known Anne Donovan for many years. I'm a huge fan of hers. There are very few people who I have as much respect and admiration for as I do for Anne. She has pretty much everything we need. Anything you can imagine is needed for someone to successfully work as a head coach she's got. She's been a great contributor to the national team program over a period of decades, beginning as a player, continuing as an assistant coach. She was a participant with us in Athens. She's someone the players have great respect an admiration for. She understands the international game and it probably hasn't hurt that one of the world's great international players has been your player (Lauren Jackson).
It comes down to understanding exactly what it means when you have USA on your jersey. It's a different ballgame when it says USA on your jersey. There's just something different about the competitions and the attitude you need to have and the mindset you need to have. Anne has been there and she understands what that's all about. She is just a terrific ambassador for women's basketball. This job will have a very high profile, obviously, so that is something that matters as well. For all these reasons, she really was the perfect choice to lead our team on the court for the next three years. It's with great pleasure and privilege that I'll make it official and introduce to you the Senior Women's National Team coach for 2006 through 2008 and that is Anne Donovan of the Seattle Storm. Anne, congratulations.
Donovan: Wow, what a great honor this is. I have to first thank Val and Carol for the confidence they have in me to put me in this position to continue to carry the torch. As Val alluded to, that torch for the women's basketball program for USA Basketball has shone very brightly for a long period of time. I am really pleased and proud to take that torch and hopefully run with it. Unlike many, I don't look right to Beijing. What we have before us September in Sao Paulo is big. The World Championship, it's big. It's the first and most immediate goal that I look at. But I am so thrilled to know that I have the opportunity to work with USA Basketball and with the players and the program through the Olympics in Beijing. It's thrilling to work with athletes of that caliber. It motivates me every day.
Certainly, a coach's job is to motivate and orchestrate. When you deal with players of the caliber that we're talking about, you can't help but get motivated and fired up and learn and bring that experience back here to Seattle. I'm extremely excited about the opportunity. For my development as a coach, I love the opportunity to learn, to grow, to have different experiences, all of which will help me here in Seattle to continue to strive to bring another championship here to the Storm. So I am thrilled for this and look forward to every step of the long journey and the process of keeping gold.
Williams: Thank you, Anne, and congratulations once again. Lastly, we have Jim Tooley. He's the USA Basketball Executive Director. He's held that position since 2001, and prior to that he was head of the men's program at USA Basketball. However, since the time he became executive director, he has embraced the women's program, even acting as a practice-team player, which he did at the World Championship in China (laughs).
Tooley: Thanks, Caroline. Anne, congratulations on being named the 2006-2008 Senior National Coach. I got first-hand experience working with Anne in 2002 and 2004 as a practice-team player, Anne was in charge of the practice team. She's quite qualified, and we're very excited that she's taken on this assignment and made such a commitment to USA Basketball.
Anne has been part of 19 teams at USA Basketball, both as a player and a coach. It was that extensive experience that led our Senior National Team committee to identify Anne as our head coach. She was an obvious choice, she was a unanimous choice. It was probably one of the shortest, if not the shortest, deliberations we ever had on any topic. I'm proud that Anne will be serving for us.
I want to touch on three areas really quickly: Our training schedule, assistant coaches and the players. First, with regard to the training camp: we are putting together three segments during the spring that will take place in March and April that will allow us to begin our preparation for Sao Paulo. These segments will occur both domestically and internationally. Then the team will reassemble in late August to begin its final preparations for the tournament in Brazil, which is Sept. 12-23.
On the assistant coach front, Anne will have three assistant coaches to help her in this effort. As in the past, one will be from the WNBA and there will be two from the collegiate ranks. We haven't made plans for announcement, but those are on the committee's next steps as we move forward.
The final area I wanted to touch on was with regard to the players. Also as we've done in the past, we will identify a core group of players to be on this team. The exact number is still to be determined and the players announced at a later date. We'll have these team members that will be a core group and we will have pool players that will come in at different parts of the training in the spring to work into the system, and eventually we'll have a 12-member team that goes on to represent us in the World Championship and also in the Olympic Games.
I will stop there, and thank you Caroline.
Q: Coach, you've been a part of 19 teams as a player and coach and you've mentioned that it's in your blood. Can you respond to comments that you're the face of USA Basketball?
Donovan: It really is true. I bleed red, white and blue. From the time I can remember, the Olympics were it. Staying up until all hours and watching the Olympians go for medals was something from a child that was a complete dream for me. When I stepped into the position as an athlete to fulfill that dream as a player, I thought that was the pinnacle. And then here I am as the coach. So it's truly life-long dreams for me. I feel very honored that I've been able to stay in a role with USA Basketball from the earliest beginnings. I didn't know it was 19 teams; thanks for the reminder. I did know I was 15 years old when I first started. So it's been since I was 15 and something that I have completely cherished. I'm a red-blooded American that just absolutely has complete passion for the flag and what we represent.
Q: Take us back to the moment that you found out you were named the head coach. Emotionally, what were you feeling after such an honor?
Donovan: I don't think there are words. It's one of the few times in my life - like winning a gold medal, when we won the world championship here in Seattle - where you try to articulate what's going on inside; I don't think it's possible. Certainly, this is up there for me. When I got the phone call, Carol and I had a conversation, it was like, 'Are you sure?' and 'Wow.' I don't know that there are words for it, but immense, immense pride.
Q: How will your role as national team coach affect your role as Storm head coach?
Donovan: I think I'd be wrong if I said one didn't lay hands with the other. I think as always, I have to manage my time very closely from the time training camp starts. I also believe that every experience helps me the next time. Whether it's with USA Basketball or Seattle, every day I'm striving to be a better coach. So this international experience will certainly help me grow as a coach and get better at what I do.
Q: Val, you talked about her obvious resume of success with the national program, but what other characteristics make coach Donovan the unanimous choice?
Ackerman: I think in Anne, you have basically the complete package. You have someone who's been in women's basketball literally her entire life at all levels - player, coach at the collegiate level, coach at the professional level, player at the Olympic level. She was on the mountaintop and saw it as a player and she has been a recent contributor to USA Basketball through her work last quad as an assistant to Van (Chancellor) with the senior team that won medals in both China and then Athens. As Jim said, he's right, that call was quick in terms of who do we ask to lead us going forward this time?
I think what makes Anne special, amongst other things, is she just commands the respect of everyone who knows her. You've heard her talk here - she's passionate about the game, she knows the game. Players respect her, the players know she's been there. It's very unique to have somebody who's got all that in one person. So it wasn't difficult at all. I take a lot of pride, in response to the question of how it all fits together - I think over the last 10 years, there has been a very, very good synergy between what's happened in women's basketball at the national-team level, what's happened at the collegiate level and what's happened at the professional level. It's kind of like the three legs of the stool in my mind conceptually in terms of how this all fits together and how it's been supported.
We've kind of seen it all. I think we've seen every imaginable way of training over the last 10 years in terms of when are we going to get the players together and how their pro seasons fit with the national-team training and the national-team competitions. This will be kind of a new set of circumstances for us; the scheduling issues make it a little bit tricky, but I think the benefit is that we do have both as players we expect to have on the national team - and that will be another announcement, the players involved - as well as Anne and others that we expect to be involved from the coaching side, we're going to have people who have been there. We have, I think, great continuity with this program. We have people who have played together, people who we hope can hit the ground running when they get together the next time. We have, I think, in the coaching staff that we'll have as well as the team, the right combination of old guard and new guard in terms of players who have been there a couple of times, perhaps, and then having the players that we know we have to start getting into the mix so we're ready not only for Beijing but 2012 as well. This continuity, I think, is a very unique feature of our women's national team program, something I guess we're aspiring to a bit more on the men's side, I'll say.
Again, Anne represents not only the history in some ways of USA Basketball but the present and hopefully we're going to have her involved in the years to come as well.
Q: Anne, how do you rank this in terms of your achievements in your career?
Donovan: I can't rank. I've been blessed with so many great experiences that all I can tell you is it's certainly at the top.
Q: What is it like to coach against the international players that play for you for the Storm?
Donovan: It was interesting in Athens. You all know Lauren and love her like I do, but she's very dependent on her coaches. So it was difficult, I think, for Lauren to separate - but, I might add, she separated quite nicely in the gold-medal game. So it is different, but ultimately we're all competitors and when the jump ball goes up, Lauren's fighting for that gold medal as hard as I am, and everything else fades away. The game is over and she's very disheartened after we won the gold, but the first one to congratulate us. It's battling tooth and nail, and you better believe there's a lot of trash talking between Sue and Lauren about what's going to go on next, what's happening in Brazil. There's a lot of pride around this, and I love being involved with players who feel the same passion for international competition that I do.
Q: What do you think of Lauren's comments that the changeover may present a crack for Australia to win the gold, especially without Dawn Staley?
Donovan: Russia, Australia, China, Brazil - they're all looking for that crack. It's our job to make sure there isn't a crack. I think with the caliber of players that we've got in the USA, nobody's going to find that crack. We're going to spend every minute making sure that we don't have a weakness. My perception is that we are strong because we know we have to work at it. We don't take anything for granted. We've had great leadership with the players that understand that people are breathing down our necks and if we let up or there's an expectation that we're just going to pick up a gold medal, that's when we'll falter. Of course, Lauren's looking for the crack. Everybody is. But I feel very confident in this program and our players and our ability to continue our dominance.
Q: How big of a role will you play in selecting the players?
Donovan: The committee is set in place to make sure that we have the best players who will represent us. I'm sure there will be discussions, but it's the committee's job to select this team.
Ackerman: She's being modest. The input is absolutely there, and I think it's going to be critical. We know we'll involve Anne at every step of the way of that process. I think the good news, again, is that she'll see some familiar players in terms of the players she's worked with at the last two international events.
Q: Is that the case for assistant coaches too?
Ackerman: Yes, the committee - which is chaired by Reneé Brown - pursuant to USA Basketball's guidelines, is empowered to select the assistants. That will be subject to the approval of our Executive Committee. But obviously Anne's input is not only welcome but it's something that we will be looking to.
Q: Could you have taken this position if not for the schedule accommodations made by the WNBA for the World Championship?
Donovan: I think there was a lot of work between USA Basketball, FIBA and the WNBA just trying to figure it out - a lot of conservations over a period of time. Our schedule being moved up the way it was enabled this to work for everybody, not just me but the players as well.
Q: Is there any disappointment that you won't get a breather after the season?
Donovan: Not at all. My hope is literally - not Val this time, but Donna comes back and puts a trophy in our hands and I get on the next flight out. That's the kind of breather I want. The flight out.
Ackerman: I think you'd have a day or so before the first game.
Q: In 2004, you said you compartmentalized your responsibilities with the national team and with the Storm. Are you able to do that now as head coach?
Donovan: Sure. It worked very well in 2004. It's the same approach. The Seattle Storm is equally important to me in terms of our success. When I've got that hat on, I'm doing this job and making sure we're on the path to win another championship. When it's time to pick up the phone and talk about players, I put on that hat. When it's time to go to Sao Paulo, go win a gold medal.
Q: In the time leading up to training camp, will you be focusing on USA Basketball?
Donovan: It will be both. I'll be doing both. In Athens, we had the same kind of training camp leading up to the WNBA season, where we went back and forth with players, we had different training camps. Then you go through the WNBA season - of course, you're monitoring players as it goes. I don't know that the final team would be selected before August, probably, so we're evaluating players throughout the WNBA season. I will be looking at other players, but my job still during WNBA season is to get us back in the hunt.
Ackerman: I would just add to Annie's comment, it certainly is safe to say it's a group effort on certain things. For example, we expect to include, as Jim mentioned, collegiate coaches within the coaching ranks. They're not playing in the summer, so presumably they have some availability to do things like scout and take a look at tape. Carol Callan, our very able head of women's basketball programs for USA Basketball is kind of at this 24-7. So Anne will have a great deal of support. While there's sort of not the luxury of a lot of time in between things, it's safe to say we'll collectively do our best to make sure everything gets managed and she can focus on her WNBA responsibilities until she really needs to direct her focus to the national team.
Q: Anne, where are you at as far as hiring an assistant for the Storm? Does that process need to be expedited now?
Donovan: I've been talking with USA Basketball for a while. But the plan has always been to hire somebody for Seattle by the end of this month, so we're on time with that.
Q: Is it awkward at all to compete against players that you're effectively evaluating at the same time for USA Basketball, or you've done it before and it's not that big of a deal?
Donovan: We're competing against those players just by virtue of wearing a Seattle Storm jersey. You're scouting them, you're watching them, you've done your job, you watch how they perform. It's not an issue.