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Writing About Anne Donovan

Writing about the new coach of the Seattle Storm, Anne Donovan, is not an easy task, made less so by the fact that all three local papers ran features on her between the time of the interview and finally having the time to write the article. But the real issue is not that two of the three articles led with a discussion of Donovanís height, once upon a time the beginning to this article.

No, the problem isn't finding something new to write about Donovan - it's picking one thing to focus on. Do you start with her height? A playing career that saw her dominate at both the high school and collegiate levels? Her successful, if unexpected, transition to the sidelines that has culminated in her arrival in Seattle and recognition as one of the WNBA's best coaches? Her itinerant WNBA career that sees her already on her third team in fourth seasons, despite never having been fired? How amazingly rare it is for a player who achieves the level of success Donovan did during her coaching career to be successful as a coach? Writing about any, to the exclusion of the others, would not be doing justice to this amazing woman. Nonetheless, that is the task. Here's an attempt:


Only one WNBA player is taller than the 6-8 Donovan.
Craig Jones/NBAE/Getty
"The first thing you notice about Anne Donovan is her height. Even someone who spends their life around basketball players can't help but be struck by her 6-8 frame. After all, Donovan is three inches taller than any of the players she now coaches for the Seattle Storm, and only one WNBA player, Margo Dydek, literally looks down on her; figuratively, none do.

"Perhaps the most comfortable with her height is Donovan herself. Growing up in a household of tall people, getting their height from her 6-6 father, Donovan is clearly used to it - and not bothered when others do notice her height. 'There are times I'd like to be incognito, be someplace where I might not stand out,' Donovan says, 'but I love it. I have no complaints about it.'"

That just doesn't feel right. For while Donovan's height may be impossible to miss when riding in an elevator with her, it is her impressive accomplishments on the basketball court that make the strongest impression.

"Entering college in 1979, new Seattle Storm coach Anne Donovan timed her career well, with women's basketball quickly catching on at the college level shortly after Title IX went into effect. After completing a stellar high school career that saw her average 35 points and 17 rebounds her senior season, lead her team, Paramus Catholic, to consecutive undefeated seasons, and be named High School Player of the Year by Dial Soap, Donovan was a much-sought NCAA recruit. That was in stark contrast to Donovan's older sister, Mary, who graduated in 1977 and went on to play collegiately at Penn State on a scholarship. 'She was choosing between two and three schools,' Donovan explains. 'When I graduated two years later, it was over 200. So I know every day of my life how blessed I was to come along when I did.'

"Of all the suitors, Donovan selected Old Dominion University in Virginia, where she experienced the same success she had in high school. During Donovan's career, the Lady Monarchs won the national championship and made the Final Four on two other occasions. Individually, Donovan was equally statistically dominant, averaging 20.0 points and 14.5 rebounds for her career and graduating as ODU's all-time leading scorer (2,719 points), rebounder (1,976 rebounds) and shot blocker (801 blocks). Donovan was a three-time All-American and was also honored with the Naismith Player of the Year Award during her senior season."

That's still not quite it. How about her professional career? Back in those days, players didn't simply wait around for the WNBA to draft them. No, instead Donovan had to go halfway around the globe to Japan to further her career - at age 21. Now that took guts.

"It being 1983, Anne Donovan had no opportunity to play professionally in United States after she graduated from Old Dominion University, having dominated the collegiate ranks for four seasons. Just 21 years old, the Seattle Stormís new head coach headed to Japan, where she would play five years for the Shizukoa team. 'It was a wonderful experience for me because I had to grow up,' Donovan says. I finished college at 21 and it's a long way from home to go over there." She enjoyed it enough to far outstay the amount of time she expected to play overseas. 'My goal was to play one year to stay ready for the 1984 Olympic team,' Donovan says. 'I ended up there for five seasons, so that tells you I did enjoy it.'"


Donovan has been involved with Team USA as both a player and a coach.
Sting Photos
Scratch that. Impressive or no, readers are nationalistic. They're less concerned about what Donovan did on another continent than her impressive record as a member of Team USA, representing her country as well as any basketball player ever has.

"Long before there was a 'Dream Team', the Seattle Storm's new head coach, Anne Donovan, put together one of the finest careers in international basketball competition. Donovan was a member of three Olympic teams, 1980 (when the US boycotted the Olympics, held in Moscow) at age 18, 1984 and 1988. The latter two Olympics saw Donovan and Team USA bring home the gold. Including non-Olympic tournaments like the World Basketball Championships, Donovan won nine gold medals and two silver medals during 11 competitions as an international player.

"'Once you do it once, you can't get enough,' Donovan recalls of her Olympic experience, and she has proven that. Even after her playing career ended, Donovan has continued her involvement with Team USA by serving as an athlete representative on USA Basketball's Executive Committee and as Chair of the USA Basketball Women's Select Team Committee from 1996 to 2000. She has also served as an assistant coach for Team USA three times, most recently during last fall's World Championships as the US won yet another gold medal for Donovan to add to her collection."

This is really getting off-track. Readers know Donovan as a coach. They want to read about her steady rise through the coaching ranks.

"Anne Donovan, the new coach of the Seattle Storm, never wanted the job. Nothing against the Storm, which was merely a dream when Donovan retired from playing basketball in 1989 after a year in Italy, but Donovan didn't really want to coach at all. 'I was not someone who thought I wanted to be a coach,' she explains. 'When my playing career stopped and Old Dominion asked me to be an assistant, I was reluctant about it, because I didn't aspire to be a coach and I didn't know if I had the qualities to be a coach.' Once she tried coaching out, Donovan quickly changed her mind. 'It was so addicting right from the beginning. The repore with the players. The things that I love about basketball - the relationships and the family atmosphere. Coaching was just another extension of being able to do that.'


Donovan hopes to end her career in Seattle because of the presence of stars like Bird.
Jeff Reinking/WNBAE/Getty
"Despite taking to coaching immediately, Donovan moved slowly as her coaching career began. She spent six years as an assistant at her alma mater before taking the head position at East Carolina, where she coached for three seasons. With that experience under her belt, Donovan took her first pro job with the ABL's Philadelphia Rage. Named coach in May 1998, Donovan got to coach only 14 games before the ABL folded. At the time, however, she was in the midst of leading the Rage to a quick turnaround. After going just 13-31 the previous season, Philadelphia started 9-5.

"With the ABL gone, Donovan moved to the WNBA for the first time for the 2000 season, serving as the Interim Head Coach of the Indiana Fever while Nell Fortner coached Team USA in the Olympics. Donovan led the Fever to a 9-23 record. The expectation was that she'd return to a position as Fortner's assistant for the 2001 season, but instead Donovan moved on for the first time, taking over the Charlotte Sting.

"Expectations were low for the Sting coming off an 8-24 season, and they sank even lower as the Sting started 1-10. However, that merely set up one of the more remarkable in-season turnarounds in the WNBA or any other sport. The Sting won 17 of its final 21 games and advanced all the way to the WNBA Finals, finally losing to the Los Angeles Sparks.

"Donovan wasn't quite able to recapture that same magic in 2002, but the Sting went 18-14 again and made the WNBA playoffs, losing to the Washington Mystics. Nonetheless, with the Sting's future in question after the NBA's Hornets moved to New Orleans, Donovan began exploring other opportunities. The Storm, coming off of its first ever playoff appearance and with a core of young talent led by Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, proved to be the perfect team. After changing teams twice in two years, Donovan is ready to stay put in Seattle. 'I've been around the coaching circuit far too much,' Donovan says. 'I love Seattle, I love this team. I'd like to finish my career here. This is a dream job for me.'"

That's good, but it misses an important point - just how difficult it is for a player of Donovan's caliber to find success as a coach, especially in basketball.

The bigger they are, the harder the fall. The bigger a star a player was during his career, the more difficult it is to be successful as a coach. Larry Bird is the only one of the NBA's truly elite to experience extended success as a coach, while players like Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler and Isiah Thomas have floundered. Besides new Seattle Storm coach Anne Donovan, two other Hall-of-Famers have coached in the WNBA. One of them, Cheryl Miller, was successful in Phoenix, but that can't take away from Donovan's achievement. Donovan credits her expectations of players. 'Players need to come in and not take the opportunity for granted and really work hard at the game and make sure it's a team game, it's not a selfish thing, she says. 'If players have those qualities - they work hard, they're selfless they put the team before them, I have no issues with them.'"

Oh, forget it. Writing an article that details the entirety of Anne Donovan's career? It's just impossible. Why bother?