Kloppenburg Has Strong Ties to Seattle

Kevin Pelton, StormBasketball.com | Sept. 5, 2012

The roots of Gary Kloppenburg's coaching success are deep in Seattle. The first-year head coach, who brings his Tulsa Shock into KeyArena for the second and final time on Thursday (7:00 p.m., 1090 AM, LiveAccess, ), entered the WNBA as an assistant to Lin Dunn on the Storm's staff from 2000-02. Along with Dunn, Kloppenburg helped build the expansion Storm franchise into a playoff team by its third season.

When Kloppenburg arrived in Seattle, he was also following in the footsteps of his father. Bob Kloppenburg served as an assistant coach for the Sonics from 1985-1994 under three different head coaches. The inventor of the SOS Pressure Defense his son still uses, Kloppenburg was responsible for installing the suffocating Sonics defense that finished with the second highest steal total in NBA history during 1993-94, when the team won a league-high 63 games.

Tulsa Shock Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg.
Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images

Kloppenburg's experience as an assistant with the Storm and other teams helped him become head coach in Tulsa.

The chance to run his own NBA team eluded the elder Kloppenburg, who did serve as acting head coach for four games during the 1991-92 season, going 2-2 before the Sonics hired George Karl. After a lengthy wait, Gary Kloppenburg is finally getting that opportunity in Tulsa.

Following his time in Seattle, Kloppenburg spent one season as an assistant for the Phoenix Mercury before joining the coaching staff of former Sonics Head Coach Bernie Bickerstaff - his dad's old boss - with the NBA's expansion Charlotte Bobcats. When Bickerstaff was let go, Kloppenburg reunited with Dunn in Indiana and helped the Fever reach the 2009 WNBA Finals.

"He's been in multiple situations," noted Storm Head Coach Brian Agler, a professional friend of Kloppenburg's. "He's been in situations where they're rebuilding or building a franchise and he's been in situations where they're playing for championships. He has a great feel for it. He's been on the East Coast, he's been on the West Coast. He's seen and experienced a lot of different things."

While Kloppenburg admitted some frustration at getting passed over for chances to become a head coach, he was happy working with longtime friend and colleague Dunn in Indiana. His persistence paid off when Tulsa searched for a replacement for Teresa Edwards on the sidelines last winter.

"Every time there was a job that came up, I tried to get in on it," Kloppenburg said before the Shock's first game in Seattle, a 76-58 Storm win in June. "This one, it just kind of felt right. It was open. They didn't have any preconceived notions of what they were going to do. I was fortunate in that way."

Kloppenburg inherited a Tulsa team that went 3-31 last season, setting a new WNBA record for futility. To make matters worse, the Shock has played without center Liz Cambage, the 2011 No. 2 overall pick and the team's future anchor. Cambage missed the first half of the season to prepare for the Olympics and decided not to rejoin the team for the second half because she was feeling exhausted from a lengthy training schedule.

Despite that setback, Kloppenburg has built a competitive team. Over the offseason, Tulsa added experience in guard Temeka Johnson and forward Scholanda Robinson. The Shock also built its young core with draft picks Glory Johnson and Riquna Williams, who rank third and fourth among rookies in scoring.

"I felt like I wanted to give us a chance to be in every game right away," explained Kloppenburg. "So I felt with Temeka, getting her, that gives us somebody who's been in the fire. Then Scholanda's been a starter, too, on a championship team. Our draft choices, we did our homework and felt like we had a pretty good draft. They're really contributing."

Before the Olympic Break, the improvement had translated into more competitive play but not necessarily victories. Since the season restarted, Tulsa has gone 3-5, matching its win total from the first two months of the schedule and the entirety of the 2011 campaign. All three wins came against teams that could make the playoffs, including the Shock's second win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

Peers are taking notice of Kloppenburg's role in getting Tulsa headed the right direction. Before playing the Shock last Friday, Minnesota Head Coach Cheryl Reeve declared that Kloppenburg was her choice for Coach of the Year.

"I think he's created a good culture in there," said Agler. "Very defensive-minded. Play hard. I'm impressed with what he's done."

Kloppenburg's success is a family affair. Bob was in the stands for his son's first game as head coach in Tulsa and has offered advice based on his decades in coaching.

"He's like an unpaid consultant," Gary explained. "It was pretty neat because I learned a lot from him through the years basketball-wise. It was good to have his input and show him the spots in Tulsa."

Kloppenburg's parents still make their home in Seattle, and the schedule brought him into town long enough before the last meeting that his mother could throw a party for Kloppenburg and old friends. One upside of changing conferences is the Shock now makes at least two visits each season.

"Seattle's so nice," Kloppenburg said. "I do miss it."

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