‘Honored’ and ‘Humbled’ Cheryl Reeve Steps into Role as USA Women’s National Team Head Coach
The Minnesota Lynx coach was a USA assistant at the last two Olympic Games and World Cups.
Many of us keep unintentional mementos; items that don’t have a lot of significance other than their tie to a noteworthy event or person in one’s life.
It could be a cheesy giveaway item at a sports event where something special happened. Maybe a nondescript rock picked up off the beach during a walk at sunset with someone special.
When Cheryl Reeve walked into and through the Target Center in Minneapolis on Dec. 8 for the announcement that she would be the next USA Basketball Women’s National Team head coach, she was pandemic-appropriate and was sporting a mask. It wasn’t in the best shape, but its significance was especially relevant for this day.
The mask was from this past summer’s Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where she was an assistant to Dawn Staley as the U.S. stormed to its seventh-straight gold medal, tying the record for team sports set by the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Teams (1936-1968). And it still had the glorious stains of celebratory champagne.
Maybe it was the only USA Basketball mask she owned. Maybe not. But one thing is clear: Even with the daunting pressure of keeping the gold standard going for the USA National Team, Reeve wants to keep that championship taste.
“It was very surreal,” Reeve said of getting the call from Briana Weiss, who took over as the USA Basketball Women’s National Team director in October. “It was, the initial kind of like, ‘Did this really happen?’ (Then) things start to settle in and then you just start to have feelings. You feel honored, you feel humbled, you feel grateful, and you feel excited. There’s just so many things that you go through. Honored to be able to be a part of one of the greatest sports dynasties ever.”
Reeve was among the favorites for the job from the moment Staley announced in the gold-medal postgame press conference that she was stepping down. A four-time WNBA champion since becoming coach and general manager of the Minnesota Lynx in 2010, Reeve has been a USA Basketball assistant each of the past two Olympic cycles, winning gold medals at the FIBA World Cup in 2014 and 2018 in addition to the last two Olympic Games.
Not only will Reeve be guiding the effort for an eighth gold medal in a row, but she also will be responsible for extending a 55-game Olympic winning streak at the 2024 Paris Games. As if that wasn’t pressure enough, there is one other item on Reeve’s agenda for Paris.
“My mom loves Paris, so she’s pulling for us,” the 55-year-old said. “The Eiffel Tower is one of her absolute favorite things in life. So that would be really awesome if I could make her dream come true.”
But before Paris, the top-ranked U.S. must take care of qualifying for those Games. That begins with the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament, which will be Feb. 10-12 in Washington, D.C. The USA will face Belgium and Puerto Rico, yet already has qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Sydney, Australia, from Sept. 22-Oct. 1 by virtue of winning gold in Tokyo.
Reeve will have other challenges. Point guard Sue Bird, who won her unprecedented fifth gold medal in Tokyo, and post player Sylvia Fowles, who plays for Reeve on the Lynx and has four Olympic golds, have retired from USA Basketball. Also, guard Diana Taurasi, who joined Bird in becoming the first five-time gold medalists, has not decided whether she will continue to play for the red, white and blue.
But there is plenty of depth for USA Basketball to choose from. To wit, the roster of 12 players — including six with no prior Olympic experience — that won the gold medal was beaten in its first exhibition game by the WNBA All-Stars a little more than a week before Tokyo. Even with Bird, Taurasi and Fowles on the roster, 2016 Olympic gold medalists Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart and newcomer A’ja Wilson were among the athletes who played prominent roles in Tokyo.
“I think that’s the thing that’s helped me in my Lynx experience, where I’ve had some of the greatest of all time, I’ve had some really good leaders,” Reeve said of losing longtime Lynx players and USA gold medalists such as Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. “Sometimes you think there's never going to be another, and what we’ve seen here in Minnesota is there can be others and you can still be successful. They look different, they feel different, they act different, whatever it is, but you can still be successful. That’s what I see for this next generation of USA Basketball, this next pool. Really good young talent, younger players that are now what I would call middle age — they’ve got enough experience under their belt, they're now going to be thrust into leadership roles, but they’re ready. It’s a natural progression.”
There also has been a progression to USA head coach for Reeve, who is expected to lead the team through all phases of Olympic qualifying. Reeve is the eighth person who served as an assistant coach before becoming head coach. She also is just the third USA National Team coach who was a WNBA coach when selected by USA Basketball, joining Van Chancellor (2004 Athens Games, Houston Comets) and Anne Donovan (2008 Beijing Games, Seattle Storm).
With her first game as USA National Team coach a week away in the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament, Reeve’s plate is certainly full. In addition to consulting with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team Selection Committee on the 2022-24 player pool and assistant coaches, she still has her duties as Lynx GM and coach, and spent the past few weeks on free-agent negotiations and signings.
“I think very simply that there was a great song that says, ‘Love the one you’re with,’” Reeve said of the Stephen Stills song of the same name. “That’s always been my mindset. You can’t be all things to all people. When you’re younger, you do try to do those things. I’m at an age now where I understand I can’t. It gets very overwhelming when those things happen and you know what it feels like and I’m quick to make sure that if I need to — and we tell our players this, too — sometimes you need to tighten your circle, you need to block some things out (that) you can’t handle right now. Maybe you might have to communicate to friends or family or make different choices socially — whatever it is so that you can be the best version of yourself where you are currently and focus on just that. That’s what I’ve always done.”