Fever Q&A With Gary Kloppenburg
Most recently, Kloppenburg was an assistant coach with the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. He has also coached at the college, Continental Basketball Association and international levels.
FeverBasketball.com's Josh Taylor talked with Kloppenburg about the expectations for the Fever as well as his role with team.
FeverBasketball.com: You worked with Coach Dunn for three years in Seattle. What made you want to coach with her again?
Gary Kloppenburg: “Well, to me she’s one of the better coaches I’ve ever coached with, man or woman. She’s really good with the players because she’s very positive. Her teams play very hard. She’s tough but she makes it fun and she’s very thorough and well prepared. Given a team with talent like this, I think she’s going to be very successful.”
FB: How hard has it been being with a team that only has five players remaining from last year’s roster, in addition to a new coaching staff?
GK: “Any time you change a team like that there’s a period of transition and developing chemistry on and off the court. I think that’s what we’re going through now. We’ve played a bit up and down, real well at home but not so well on the road. I think that we’re still a team that’s evolving with the players that we have and we have a chance to get a lot better than we are.”
FB: Was there a lot of pressure on the coaching staff coming into this season because you have a team that’s been very successful the past few seasons?
GK: “Absolutely. The expectations are very high here and we knew that coming in. For us, it’s a challenge to try and maintatin and keep this team good. I think the thing we faced this year, not only trying to get Catchings back in with all the new players, but also all the other teams are vastly improved. I think the league has really tightened up the past couple of years, especially this year if you look at the standings. The talent levels are all very, very close. That’s a great challenge for us as the coaches to try to get the most out of what we have.”
FB: Describe the dynamics of the coaching staff. How do you, Lin Dunn, and Jim Lewis fit together?
GK: “We all get along pretty well. We all have our strengths that we add to the team. It’s like another team. You have different personalities that blend and you have chemistry, too. Above all, it’s a very hard-working staff. We try to become as well prepared for each game as we can and try to help the players improve. Those are the key things that you want to do as an assistant.”
FB: What’s unique about what you bring to the coaching staff?
GK: “I think I bring a lot of knowledge of pressure defense and how to prepare for teams. I try to help our players understand our different schemes, and I think I’ve brought a few different ways that we can play teams defensively. On the other end, I think my strength is probably in developing players. Working with them off the floor and giving them some things they can work on to help improve their game. I try to add what I can and work hard to see if it will pay off with some wins.”
FB: Do you tend to work with younger players or do you split time with veterans as well?
GK: “I’ve spent a lot of time this season just working with [Tamika] Catchings on her fundamentals, trying to help her improve her ball-handling and all of her moves inside and outside of the basket. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to help [Khadijah] Whittington. We’re trying to improve her jump-shooting. Really, any of our players I think I’ll be able to help. I’ve worked a lot with KT [Katie Douglas]. You know, good players like that, you give them just a couple little wrinkles and they can really take it and run with it. Since they’re such hard workers, they’ll improve on their own.”
FB: What are some of the differences you encounter between the WNBA and the NBA?
GK: “The key thing is that the NBA, because of the schedule, once you hit the season you’re really trying to preserve your guys’ legs. You’re just trying to maintain their strength and keep them fresh. With our league, we have more time with a shorter season and we have more time in between games to prepare. So you can do a bit more coaching-wise than you can in the NBA with this league.”
FB: You’ve coached college, international, and professional teams. Do you have any specific league that was your favorite to coach?
GK: “I’ve really enjoyed coaching at every level. They all have their challenges. With the college level, it’s a lot of recruiting. I think that’s the one thing I’ve probably enjoyed most about the pros is you just coach. You don’t have to worry about all the other stuff that you have in college. I can really say I’ve enjoyed every stop.”
“I’ve had some tough situations because I dealt with expansion in Seattle (WNBA) and Charlotte (NBA). It takes awhile and I’ve lost a lot of games, so my record probably isn’t very good as an assistant (laughing), but I think the key thing is to try to get better each year. This is a nice situation for me here because it’s the first time, NBA or WNBA, that I’ve been with a team that’s good from the get-go and we have a chance to go out and win every night.”
FB: Do you feel there’s more pressure for a team that’s already good, or for a team trying to establish themselves?
GK: “I think it’s probably more in a situation like this, where it’s been a good team. The expectations are high. People expect that this can be a championship level team, and certainly I think it can be. You know with an expansion they want you to improve and at some point they’re going to expect you to be able to make a challenge for the playoffs or for the championship. You have a little more leeway with an expansion team, whereas here you’re more under the gun (laughing) to try to win right away.”
FB: What does your job entail the day before a game or the days leading up to a game?
GK: “We all split up our scouting assignments, so we each have four or five different teams that we prepare for. Sometimes we’ll work with our advance scout that’s seen the team in person. For example, I have Seattle coming up so I’m studying their least three or four games and our last game with them. I try to break them down so we can be well prepared for them. When they come here Friday we’ll really have a good idea of what we’re going to see on both ends of the floor. It takes a number of hours to really be prepared for a team. Those are the key things I think assistants do off the court after practice.”
FB: You worked as an advance scout in the NBA. What are you looking for and hoping to accomplish when watching a team?
GK: “Generally, as an advance scout in the NBA the thing that coaches want is to try and recognize something for a play before the call comes up. Most of the NBA teams are calling most of their plays. The other thing at the NBA level, and also at the WNBA level, is to try and find their key plays down the stretch in a close game. You try to find their tendencies and what they’re most likely going to go to that you can prepare for. Defensively, you find what they may go to so you can counter that at both ends. It’s kind of a chess match at both ends, and a lot of studying. It’s like going back to school watching those videos.”
FB: Your dad was a coach too. What did he teach you growing up?
GK: “I pretty much grew up around coaching. He was coaching college and later he was in the NBA. He developed a pressure defensive system called the S-O-S pressure defense. I’m probably a great adherent to that [philosophy] and I understand it in and out. He was just a great mentor and great supporter all the way through. I played for a number years, college and overseas, so I just think he was real supportive and he still is.”