Petersen Brings Year-Round Passion for Basketball To Lynx Bench

Mark Remme
Lynx Editor/Writer

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Minnesota Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen can’t quantify how many hours each year he studies game film. Between his Lynx scouting duties and his work as Fox Sports North’s color analyst for Timberwolves games, Petersen works year round breaking down plays, understanding teams’ schemes and relaying that information to coach Cheryl Reeve or his FSN producers.

“I spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen,” Petersen said. “I’ll just say that.”

For the Lynx, that keen ability to digest the opponents’ game plans while bringing a lifetime’s worth of basketball experience makes Petersen a valuable part of the team’s championship formula.

Petersen was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in high school, helped the University of Minnesota win the Big Ten championship in 1982 and spent eight years in the NBA with the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors. Lynx coach Don Zierden brought him onto his coaching staff in 2009 and he’s been part of the organization in that role ever since.

It’s a position Petersen initially took to begin the next phase of his basketball career. Already having been a player and an analyst, Petersen wanted to add one more thing to his “utility belt,” but what began as a quest for another skill set has turned into a true calling for the Minnesota native. Now, he and Shelley Patterson complete Reeve’s coaching staff that has become not only a WNBA champion but a perennial contender.

Through his scouting—he and Patterson split reporting on their opponents—and his knowledge at the post, Petersen brings a wealth of in-game and tactical knowledge to the court every day. Reeve said there’s “Game Plan Jim” and “Practice Jim,” and both are important facets to the Lynx organization.

Not only does he use his 6-foot-10 frame to challenge Lynx players in the lane on a day-to-day basis, making sure they work on absorbing contact, staying in control and earning three-point plays, but he also handles all the bigs’ workouts and preps the male practice squad team to make sure they are in tune with the schemes necessary for the day’s practice.

Reeve said having assistant coaches like Petersen and Patterson are an important ingredient in team success. She delegates assignments to both, gives them parameters within the game plan to work with and lets them use their creativity to adjust their drills within those limits.

Reeve said Petersen is an NBA guy who brings a wealth of knowledge in that department. He’s able to pick out plays he’s scouted for either of his jobs and apply them to certain situations during the season.

“The playbook in his mind is very vast,” Reeve said. “Not only does he know the WNBA opponents that he watches, what they run, but then he’s got the NBA because he’s preparing, he’s watching a lot of video. His mind is cluttered [with basketball plays]. I try to use his creativity and poll him. We’ll talk, especially at the end of game situations.”

For Petersen, his dual basketball roles work in synergy with one another. He said it’s allowed him to have the best of both worlds—not only does he get to work as a Lynx assistant during the summer, but he gets to do color analyst duties during the winter for NBA games. In the process, he’s learned his analyst background helped him become a better coach the sidelines, and his coaching experience has helped him expand the way he looks at the game, making him a better analyst.

“That’s why I’ve been so grateful to Mr. [Glen] Taylor, I’ve been able to impact this organization in two ways,” Petersen said. “I see everything, I see every team, I see what coaches do.”

With the Lynx, the journey has been especially sweet considering the way the team has come together over the past three seasons. Minnesota is the defending champion and holds a 15-4 record heading into the second half of the season.

During the past three seasons, Reeve and Petersen have grown to have a deep respect for what on another brings to the table. Reeve said she was only familiar by name with Petersen before taking the Lynx job in 2010, but in watching how he approaches the WNBA game, the way he engages with players and the passion he brought to the sport, she knew he would be a strong asset to keep on the Minnesota sideline.

Plus, having “Practice Jim” on staff brings a new element to the table.

“He likes getting out there and getting after them,” Reeve said. “And I like having a 6-10 guy our post players can go against, because if you can go against 6-10 you can go against 6-4. So there are a lot of things—Jim touches the franchise in a lot of ways.”

Petersen said both he and Patterson appreciate the level of involvement Reeve reserves for her assistant coaches. While some head coaches take full control, Reeve allows both her assistants to play important roles in developing and preparing the team.

“Cheryl gives Shelley and I a lot of latitude to run things,” Petersen said. “That’s a great thing for us, because it keeps us involved and Shelley and I are good at what we do. Cheryl knows that, and she hired us for a reason. We feel really good about how we all three interact. It’s a great relationship.”

Each day brings a new challenge, something that Petersen appreciates. In both his jobs, he learns a little bit more about the game of basketball each day—and he brings it to the Lynx bench.

“I see how teams play defense, I see how teams play offense, the things they run that work, and I bring that to Cheryl and we come back together,” Petersen said. “I’ve been able to help her from the vast knowledge I’ve been able to attain during the NBA season. So being an analyst has made me a better coach. I have this symbiotic relationship that helps me become better at both.”

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