There aren't too many coaches in the WNBA that can say their coaching career spans four decades, but Sacramento's Tom Abatemarco is one of them. As you will soon discover Abatemarco was tutored by some of the game's biggest names in his various coaching stops before joining the Monarchs staff in 2003 as an assistant. This wealth of basketball knowledge and experience has paid dividends for Sacramento, as Abatemarco has seen each team he has been a part of reach at least the conference finals, highlighted by the championship run in 2005. WNBA.com's Mark Bodenrader talked with Abatemarco about his 30-plus years of coaching experience and his role in shaping the Monarchs into a perennial WNBA power.
as an assistant coach with the Monarchs.
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Q: Can you talk about your experience and how it led you to where you are today?
ABATEMARCO: “I was just lucky and I worked for some great people. I’ve worked for Jimmy Valvano at Iona and North Carolina State. I’ve worked for Lefty Driesell at Maryland. I’ve worked for Lou Carnesecca at St. John’s where I had a great year -- we went to the final eight the year that I was there. I’ve worked for Coach (Charles) Moir at Virginia Tech and then Majerus at Utah. I’ve been lucky to work for some great people. And working for John Whisenant, I learned a tremendous amount about man-to-man defense from him. And now working with Coach Boucek has been a lot of fun because she’s been an NBA scout and I’ve been open to a lot of the different NBA situations. So it’s been a great experience in college and with the WNBA.”
Q: How did you initially get into coaching?
ABATEMARCO: “I was coaching at a Division III school, my school, Dowling College, which is an NAIA school in New York and helping out there and Valvano got the job at Iona. It was Division I and I just bothered him until he hired me. We had a lot of success recruiting and on the court, and I just started moving around and I was lucky enough to go with some great people.”
Q: Was it tough making the adjustment from coaching men to coaching women?
ABATEMARCO: “You know, coaching women has been a lot of fun. They’re much more attentive. They’re easier to coach. It’s a different game. It’s been a great experience for me doing the WNBA and basically the reason why I stayed with Sacramento is that I went through a divorce and my kids were there. A couple years ago, Coach (Bob) Huggins hired me at Cincinnati, but because of my family situation I decided to stay in Sacramento and it has worked out well. I did go with Majerus for a year and had Rick stayed with Utah I would probably still be at Utah with him, but he left and I came back with John and it’s been a really good experience.”
Q: You’ve worked under a couple head coaches here in Whisenant and Boucek. Can you compare the two?
ABATEMARCO: “They’re both tremendous coaches. Both are defensive-oriented coaches that have similar styles. I think Coach Boucek is more in the NBA mold and Coach Whisenant really rides everything on his defensive system. Basically, Coach Boucek has come in and made some adjustments to the defensive system and both ways it worked. I’ve worked under zone coaches, man-to-man coaches, slow-down coaches, fast-break coaches; there’s no one way to win a basketball game. I think if you execute your defensive game plan and your offensive game plan, there’s no right or wrong way to win. When I was with Valvano, he liked to change defenses a lot. When I was with Coach Carnesecca, we played all man-to-man. So it just depends who you are with. It’s the same thing with Coach Whisenant. He had a unique style of man-to-man defense and Coach Boucek has come in and taken that on but she makes more changes defensively. And I don’t know if one way is more right than the other way.”
Q: Do you work with a specific group of players?
ABATEMARCO: “I help out with the guards and Coach (Monique) Ambers helps out with the big guys. Coach (Steve) Shuman and I do the guards.”
Q: Do you have any advice for coaches teaching younger players?
ABATEMARCO: “I think fundamentals are always important. What’s happened in our country it has gone to a hip-hop game where it’s between-the-legs dribble, the dunk… we have gone away from the skills. The European countries, the foreign countries have these basketball academies where they take their best players, let’s say Australia, men and women, and they put them in the academy and they really teach them fundamentals. They’re not quite as athletic as us, but I do think they do shoot the ball better than us and probably have better passing skills sometimes. But obviously basketball in America is tremendous. I just think we have to go back to teaching more fundamentals, both offensively and defensively, and really follow the Europeans. One reason I think they’ve beaten us in the Olympics is because their teams stay together longer, but also I think some of the teams are more fundamentally sound than we are.”