Coaching is Coppa's Family Business

Kevin Pelton, | Sept. 13, 2012

You could say that Salvo Coppa, who is spending this season as a volunteer assistant coach, married into the Seattle Storm family. Over the summer, Coppa wed former Storm player and current color analyst Adia Barnes, first in a small, private ceremony on the Fourth of July and then in front of a larger group of family and friends on Sept. 1.

Fittingly, basketball brought the couple together. Late in her playing career, Barnes played in Italy for Coppa's father, Santino. The elder Coppa is a legend in women's basketball circles who founded the Priolo club in 1970 and has served as its coach for all but one season since. The team, now known as Libertas Trogylos Basket for sponsorship purposes, has won two Italian Serie A championships and was EuroLeague champions in 1989-90, defeating CSKA Moscow in the final.

Adia Barnes and Salvo Coppa were married at the start of September.
Courtesy Adia Barnes

Barnes and Coppa walk down the aisle earlier this month.

Following his father into coaching was a natural career path for Coppa, who jokes he was "born with a ball in my hands."

"When I finished university, I started coaching right away," he said. "When I was 23, I started coaching in Italy at the professional level. I just love it. I loved it from the first year."

In addition to serving as an assistant under his father, Coppa has coached at the Serie B level in Italy and also internationally. Last May, Coppa took over the Thailand National Team. After a summer's worth of training, he led Thailand to a gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games in November in Indonesia.

American basketball represented a new challenge. Coppa built a relationship with the Storm coaching staff while spending parts of the last four summers in Seattle with Barnes. Before the season, he was invited to join the team in a volunteer capacity, filling a role similar to the one played by legendary former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan last season.

Coppa attends practices and sits behind the bench during home games, though he does not travel with the team. He's responsible for working out players before games and after practices, and was a key part of the Storm's individual workouts during the Olympic Break.

The opportunity to join an experienced staff where all three members have served as head coaches in the WNBA has been beneficial for Coppa.

"It's been a wonderful experience," he said. "I think Brian Agler, Nancy Darsch and Jenny Boucek are amazing coaches. I've learned a lot from them, especially from a tactical point of view. They are very detail-oriented. I think Brian Agler is one of the greatest defensive coaches that I have ever known. He's taught me a lot. It's been a great pleasure to work with this caliber of players."

The Storm coaching staff has exposed Coppa to a different style of teaching the game than the one he learned in Italy. Whereas European coaches have extended training camps with two-a-day practices, giving more time for teaching, in the WNBA the instruction must occur more quickly, meaning coaches have to pay attention to details. Coppa also cited more advanced technology for studying video and the athleticism of players as major differences between Italy and the WNBA.

As he picks up the American style, Coppa hopes to put it to use as he advances in his coaching career.

"I would love to coach one day college basketball," he said. "To me, it's important to coach in a serious organization, no matter what level. My goal would be coaching in America, but I wouldn't mind going back to coach in Asia or in Europe if the organization was a serious organization."

Having come from one coaching family, Coppa is now part of another. Barnes, in her sixth season as color analyst for the Storm's radio and TV broadcasts, was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Washington under Kevin McGuff last summer. Inevitably, husband and wife trade notes at times.

"We try to leave it on the court, but when we go home sometimes we exchange our experiences," explained Coppa. "She asks me something about a certain drill. I ask her something about her job at UW. We end up talking about basketball. Not 24 hours, though."

"It's been a wonderful experience. I think Brian Agler, Nancy Darsch and Jenny Boucek are amazing coaches."
- Coppa

When they do discuss coaching, it helps that Barnes and Coppa bring different perspectives.

"She still sees a lot of things from the player's point of view because she was a player," he said, "and I see things from the coach's point of view. So it's a very good exchange that we have."

With Barnes doing most of the planning, the two coaches found time to prepare for a wedding during their busy summer. They scheduled the larger service during a weekend off for the team, allowing players and coaches to attend. Long-time teammates and friends Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson served as two of Barnes' bridesmaids, and Barnes and Coppa were married by Celeste Keaton, the partner of Lisa Brummel of Force 10 Hoops LLC.

"The wedding was great," said Coppa. "It was a great party. It was a great day."

"It was nice to be there, be a part of that," added Agler. "Just a special event. Real happy for both Salvo and Adia."

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