Interview with Anne Donovan

U.S. Olympic Team Women’s Basketball Head Coach Anne Donovan
Part IV– Night of Reflection
Part I - Growing Up, The Player | Part II - From Player To Coach | Part III - 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. This is the final segment of the series.

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

FeverBasketball.com: On June 20 this summer, you attended the Fever game at Seattle. I want to dive into your thoughts on this particular night. Tell me, you were watching the first team you coached in the WNBA as an expansion team (Indiana) against the team that you led to a title a couple of years later (Seattle). Can you offer any thoughts on that particular matchup and your times in those cities?

Anne Donovan: “I think sitting there, was surreal to be sitting at the scorer’s table instead of sitting on the bench, and that was my first time back in Seattle [since resigning from the Storm]. It just struck me by how wonderful the fans are in Seattle and how passionate they are and what a difference they make for the Storm when they play at home. It’s historically been this consistent theme – our home record has been a whole lot better than road. So I think the environment there is a just such great women’s basketball environment. And then when I look at the Fever my thoughts go to how far the franchise has come. I thought back when we struggled for those nine wins but knowing they were going to get there. To me it comes down to leadership in any business. You have to have solid leadership, people with vision and a plan and there’s no doubt in my mind that Indiana had that. There’s no surprise in the growth, but the contrast in those two situations for me was very interesting to sit there and be a part of that as a spectator.”

FB: I didn’t realize that that was your first trip back, that makes this all the more compelling. So on your first trip back, you’re watching your successor run the Storm’s team. Any thoughts on Brian Agler and watching him, what was going through your mind?

AD: “I’m watching him and the relationships with players. I’m very much fascinated and intrigued by that piece of it, that’s why I love coaching. I love that emotional connection with players, more than anything, just watching that. Watching his interaction with Sue [Bird] and how she ran the team and his substitution patterns. More than anything, just watching how all the players were being taken care of and I’m really happy for Brian. He’s in a good situation and he’s done a tremendous job with the team.

FB: On the other side of the floor, you followed Lin into Seattle. She was back in Seattle herself after being the GM and coach when they were the expansion franchise, and you have a history even prior to the WNBA going back to the ABL, etc. So what are your thoughts watching Lin on this same night?

AD: “Watching both Lin and Brian, the feeling was that it’s great to see people get another chance. To see these two great figures and have been entrenched in the game of women’s basketball to have opportunities again – and how they are making the most of those opportunities. Watching Lin have to manipulate Tamika’s minutes, and that’s not easy. I did that for five years with Lauren [Jackson]’s shin (stress fracture). Just watching her have to manipulate that, in addition to trying to win a game. I just have great respect for those two individuals and for what they’ve accomplished in our game. And I’m really happy to see them back on the sidelines again.”

FB: Attending the game now as the coach of the U.S. Olympic team, you’re evaluating talent and other things. You’ve got two players on the Fever team who were vying for a spot on the team. How much of your time there was spent actually evaluating Tamika and Katie?

AD: “Actually the trip was planned without any of that in mind. We planned this trip quite a while ago. But I have to say I was really eager to see Catchings, watching as she was rehabbing, coming back. I was really hoping that in Seattle I’d have the chance to see her on the floor. So I was pleased with that. Of course you can’t turn that off, you can’t turn that part of your brain off where you are thinking about this big event we have in a couple of months and who might help you win that coveted gold medal.”

FB: You’re talking about the upcoming Olympics as that big event. You had Lauren and Tully also in that game, who will be likely opponents in Beijing. Did your mind wander to “how are we going to stop them in two months?”

AD: “There’s no doubt when I watch Lauren Jackson this year, I watch her from a completely different perspective. It’s interesting, I don’t know that I would have thought that. I think I thought I knew everything about Lauren Jackson, having coached her for five years, and not having any idea how to stop her. She’s so incredibly talented. This season, when I’ve watched Seattle in person or on TV, I definitely watch her as an opponent scouting one of your biggest competitors. So that was definitely going through my mind as I watched her.”

FB: Did it ever dawn on you that this was really surreal?

AD: “Oh yeah. There were moments when it was very surreal. It was such a great game to attend and I when I booked this flight and made plans to come, I really didn’t put much thought into it from a basketball angle. But having the opportunity to see Allison Feaster again and Tammy Sutton-Brown, and Tully and all these tremendous people that I’ve coached, it was a great game to attend. So there were moments when I flashed back to the Sting, and to Indiana, and thought about Allison and Tammy and Tully. Tully was one of my favorites of all time there in Seattle. And then watching all of the Storm players, too – it was a very, very interesting evening.”

FB: What does Ann Donovan want to be remembered by after this Olympic experience, and at the end of her career?

AD: “Right now I’d like to be remembered as somebody who helped navigate this Olympic team through very difficult times to a gold medal. These players are the best players in the world, and we have the best talent in the world going to Beijing. Our staff is going to need to keep them on the right path and get them there very quickly. This is an exciting time for a lot of people who know that we’ve definitely experienced some bumps in the road. And at the end of my career, I’d like to be remembered as a contributor. I want to have contributed to the growth of this game and I feel pleased and I know that I’m blessed to have been a part of such a great time in women’s basketball, and women’s sports.”

FB: Do you see yourself coming back into the WNBA after an Olympic period has passed?

AD: “I definitely will be weighing all of my options. I will say that it’s been very good for me to take a step back and kind of evaluate it. I miss the WNBA and I’m watching it and definitely there’s a draw there for me, so I certainly will consider that.”