Fever Coaching Triumvirate
By Tom Rietmann | May 15, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Stephanie White, starting her second year as an assistant coach with the Indiana Fever, clearly remembers her first thought upon hearing that Mickie DeMoss would be joining the team's 2012 staff.
“I was thinking, 'How awesome,' '' White said this week. “I was just thinking that now I get to learn from two of the best with Mickie and (Head Coach Lin Dunn.). I'm just trying to absorb everything I can from both of them and see the game the way they do.”
Dunn, DeMoss and White -- it's a talented trio of women who will lead the Fever into Saturday's season opener against visiting Atlanta and the start of the team's quest for an eighth consecutive WNBA playoff appearance.
Dunn, with 40 years of coaching experience, and DeMoss, with 35 years, provide the Fever with three-quarters of a century of basketball knowledge. Factor in White's passion for the game and perspective as a former WNBA player and it makes for a wide gamut of know-how on the Indiana bench.
There's plenty of mutual admiration among the Fever coaches, and Dunn's respect for her assistants is deep-rooted.
“I look around the (WNBA) and everybody thinks they have a great staff,” Dunn said. “But I challenge anyone to have the type of experience in assistant coaches that we have with Coach DeMoss with all of her years … and all the experiences Stephanie has had.”
DeMoss is a former head coach at Florida and Kentucky for a total of eight years. She also spent 20 years as a top assistant to Pat Summitt at Tennessee and helped the Lady Volunteers to 13 Final Four appearances and six national championships.
When Gary Kloppenburg left the Fever during the offseason to become head coach for the Tulsa Shock, it opened a position on Dunn's staff. Dunn immediately called DeMoss, who was a longtime friend and had entertained thoughts of someday trying pro basketball. Move to Indiana? DeMoss liked the idea.
“It's a new challenge, something new and different that I wanted to try,” she said. “(In) the WNBA, the game has evolved over the last few years. It has got more complex and detailed. That was something that really intrigued me. I wanted to learn this game and this system.”
But leaving Tennessee wasn't easy. So many fond memories existed of working with Summitt, who had announced she was dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's and retired after this past season. The Vols' program established all sorts of standards for success on and off the floor, including a 100 percent graduation rate for its players.
Asked about her most memorable moment in college coaching, DeMoss said: “It has to be a culmination of things. It would just have to be the success we were able to sustain at Tennessee … that every year we were competing for a national championship. It was just being able to sustain the level of excellence as long as we did.”
DeMoss is known for her coaching of post players. She spends extra time after Fever practices working with the team's power forwards and centers.
A former point guard as a player at Louisiana Tech, she quickly learned everything she could about the “bigs,” and her players have represented Team USA in every Olympic Games since 1992.
“When I first got into coaching, we'd have two assistants and it seemed like I was always working (on a staff) with another former guard,” DeMoss said. “I would kind of be the one that would say, 'I'll do the post.' I just took ownership of it and had some success. I obviously had some great post players to work with as well. I enjoy it.”
DeMoss is uncertain whether she would like to be a head coach again.
“Right now, I would say in college, no,” she said. “The WNBA? I don't know yet. I want to get through this season and see how I enjoy it, see if I enjoy the whole package. Right now I'm enjoying what I'm doing. I enjoy being Lin's assistant and learning the system.”
For White, too, that learning process is a joy. The 34-year-old wants to experience every nuance, every facet of coaching.
Since her five-year WNBA playing career ended in 2004, White has worked as an assistant coach at Ball State, Kansas State and Toledo. She was an assistant with the WNBA's Chicago Sky before joining the Fever in 2011.
White takes every opportunity to advance her education as a coach. During her off-season work as a television analyst with ESPN and Big Ten Network, she makes sure to soak up every detail she can from the college coaches she meets and covers.
White will be patient, but she definitely has set her sights on becoming a head coach.
“I want to run my own team, whether it's at this level or the collegiate level,” she said. “It's about finding the right opportunity.”
White, according Dunn, has all the right stuff.
“One of the things that really positions Steph for a head coaching position is her tremendous knowledge of the game,” Dunn said. “She really is a student of the game, and you add to that her excellent ability to teach. A lot of people have knowledge of the game, but they don't know how to teach it. That really gives her a huge plus as far as being a head coach.”
That basketball aptitude, White believes, is also what carried her to storybook success as a player in Indiana. She was Miss Basketball as a high school player. She led Purdue to a national championship. She was one of the original Fever players in 2000.“Probably my greatest strength overall was my understanding of the game,” White said. “The game seems to come to me naturally. I wasn't always the quickest or the strongest or the most talented athlete, but I always 'thought' the game and tried to see things one step ahead. It just seems like a natural transition into coaching.”
And now, there is nothing about the coaching profession she doesn't enjoy. The other day, as she demonstrated the intricacies of the Fever's match-up zone during a practice, her enthusiasm spread throughout the team.
“I enjoy the practices, the day to day, being able to get my hands on the ball and get into drills and teach,” White said. “The games kind of take care of themselves and there are very few opportunities to teach within a game. Practice is where you really get out and teach and see the players come together. There's an energy with being surrounded by such terrific athletes and terrific players and the energy that competition brings. It's a different fuel.”