Interview with Anne Donovan

Part III – USA Head Coach
Part I - Growing Up, The Player | Part II - From Player To Coach | Inspiring Women Night

Anne Donovan was the very first coach of the Indiana Fever, and boasts distinction as the only woman ever to play on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, and later serve as its head coach. In between those duties, she coached the Seattle Storm for five seasons and won a WNBA championship in 2004. In many ways, she has helped shape and helped define the direction and growth of women’s basketball as we know it.

Her basketball saga began as a player – one of the tallest women of her time, and one of the game’s best players at every level she ever played. One of eight children growing up in New Jersey, she became an All-American at Old Dominion and later coached in the college ranks at ODU and East Carolina before joining the professional ranks. She has been a part of USA Basketball for 31 years.

Anne Donovan will be the Fever’s honored guest during Inspiring Women Night, when the Fever hosts the Storm on Friday, July 18. She spent time with FeverBasketball.com’s Lesley George, to produce a four-part Q&A that dissects her career in basketball, life as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, and a look back at time spent with the Fever and the Storm in the WNBA. Part III of the series appears below, with a final installment to follow Thursday.

FeverBasketball.com would like to thank Anne Donovan for her time and cooperation during this lengthy interview.

FeverBasketball.com: Let’s talk specifically about your role now as the Olympic head coach. You’ve been involved in USA basketball for the past 30 years. With the coaching career you’ve had, the position of head coach seems like a perfect fit.

Anne Donovan: “It’s pretty unbelievable, when you say 30 years, that’s more than half of my life that I’ve spent in some capacity with USA Basketball. Starting off as a very young player who needed a lot of work and kind of brought into the USA Basketball family to develop as a player, and then next to develop as committee and board member, and then be developed as a coach. It’s just been a real important part of my life and who I am, and I wouldn’t trade any experience in those 30 years for anything.”

FB: How long have you been planning and organizing to take on the leadership of the Olympic team in August? When the team is not touring and practicing how is your time spent?

AD: “We do a lot of videotape. Tara VanDerveer is going to work with us from a video standpoint. We’ve been working on putting film together and scouting reports together in a preliminary sense so that it will be a little bit easier for our coaches when we get to Beijing. So we’re trying to do a lot of the preliminary work and really studying our opponents. It’s been great to have the time to do this and not to have to stretch myself with a WNBA position.

FB: As far as the selection process is concerned, do you think the process enables you to have the players that best into your system and style of play?

AD: “I think the selection process is excellent, but I would trade a lot about the training process. Unfortunately, I think that right now the landscape of women’s basketball has changed so much that it has basically extinguished our training time with the national team. For two years we have trained different teams, with a pocket of players on every team. On our qualifying team, I think there were probably eight Olympians on that qualifying team that went to Chili last September. That’s by far the most training we’ve had. So we’ve trained two players here, three players there, this whole team won’t come together until July 28. That’s due to the fact that women’s basketball has changed. Players now have commitments for 12 months out of the year, so it’s hard to carve out the training time that we really need if we want to stay on top of the world in women’s basketball.”

FB: What are some of those major challenges in coaching the best female players here in the U.S.?

AD: “Well I think our challenge is, and again I think our situation is a little bit unique, because we don’t have ample training time. The number one thing is that we have to come together with our team chemistry, which I have complete confidence that we will. Players either play together or against each other for 12 months out of the year. They see each other often, and have great respect for each other and they are very committed to a gold medal. The other thing is they’re very aware that we are neck-and-neck with a lot of the world. They are aware that we are no longer in the position to show up and take the gold medal. We have to show up and play well to win that gold medal and earn it.”

“The second piece is a little more difficult, and that’s our defensive chemistry. We have struggled defensively because we haven’t had enough time together to really get confident in our defensive philosophy. So that will definitely be our biggest challenge. At times, in games when we’ve struggled to score, can we get stops at that end of the floor? In the World Championships in Brazil two years ago, we weren’t able to do that. So we’re going to have to fix that to win the gold.”

FB: In order to take that gold medal, what teams do you see as our major opponents?

AD: “For sure, Russia, who beat us in the World Championships, and then were beaten by Australia. Those are the top two competitors. And I believe China will show well in China and there will be some other countries that step up. But for sure the toughest will be Australia and Russia.”

FB: What are your impressions of Beijing and your travel there?

AD: “I was really impressed, the Olympic facilities are phenomenal. They’ve done a tremendous job outside and inside. Aesthetically they’ve done so much with the city, I was so impressed and surprised by the landscaping and just so much they’ve done to make it not just a concrete city, but a really warm city.”

FB: This interview is taking place prior to the announcement of the final players on the roster. Can you offer some comments on both Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas?

AD: “Catchings’ contributions are phenomenal. They broke the mold when they made Tamika Catchings. She’s such a high-energy, intense player. And she’s ‘never say die’ in terms of each possession. She’s good for another five or six possessions herself, every game. You cannot replace that kind of energy, and it is contagious. We’ve really missed Catch over the last couple of years, so we’re thrilled that she’s back. Those are qualities you can’t replace. Of course, Tamika is one of our best defenders and her versatility to play the perimeter and the post will definitely help us in certain situations when we have to worry about a matchup. Besides that fact, Catchings is one of the truest, most genuine people I know and you can’t help but love to be surrounded by people like Tamika.”

“Katie Douglas was with us for a short period of time on two different trips, and showed in a very short period of time what she’s capable of. She’s so skilled on both ends of the floor, such a well-rounded player with such a maturity and presence on the floor that she’s very comfortable in different situations. She is a very confident player. Those qualities make her one of the elite in the game.”