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Meet A Coaching Pioneer: An Interview with Lisa Boyer

Photo courtesy of South Carolina Athletics Media Relations

In conjunction with the news of Becky Hammon's hiring as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, two other stories have resurfaced. While Becky Hammon is the first woman to serve as a full-time assistant coach in the NBA, she is certainly not the first to join an NBA coaching staff. Most notably, Nancy Lieberman once coached the Texas Legends, the NBA D-League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, while Lisa Boyer served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers under John Lucas during the 2001-02 season.

Boyer started her coaching career at Davidson in North Carolina and made several coaching stops in the college realm before leaving to coach in the ABL and with the (now defunct) Cleveland Rockers in the WNBA. Before returning to college ball, Boyer was able to spend a season as a volunteer assistant coach with the Cavs. Today, she holds an associate head coach position on Dawn Staley's South Carolina Gamecocks staff.

She took the time to speak with about coaching men's basketball and Becky Hammon's new gig. What was your initial reaction when you first heard [the news about Becky]?

Lisa Boyer: Well, actually I had been flying all day, and when I got off the plane I had all these text messages and emails. I was really kind of caught off guard, you know. I hadnt heard the news and then when I heard about it I was ecstatic. Im happy for her, Im happy for womens basketball and happy for womens basketball coaches. You know, I dont really know Becky personally. We played against her when I was at the Cleveland Rockers and she was in New York. So with that in mind, shes an unbelievable competitor, a really good player, and I think shell have a great career as a coach.

What was that like for you to suddenly be brought up again in conversations again on ESPN and elsewhere?

That actually caught me off guard too. I mean, I am so thankful to John Lucas for my time with the Cleveland Cavs, but I hadnt really thought about that in a while, you know. Im just happy for Becky. Im ecstatic about my experience and my opportunities but Im as happy, if not happier, for Becky because I think shes got a different platform now than I had.

Since you got a good taste of the NBA coaching life, if you could give Becky one or two pieces of advice, what would you tell her?

I just think Becky needs to be herself. I think she needs to be confident -- confident in what she knows as a player, what she remembers as a player. I dont think she has to worry about the coaches and the players respecting her or anything. And I dont know Popovich, but I cant imagine that this is any kind of publicity stunt. He doesnt need any publicity; he just wanted Hammon. He obviously has a good feeling about Becky, he thinks that shell bring something to the table. Im sure hes going to want her input.

I dont know what her responsibilities are going to be, but I dont think that this was any handout. Hes not that kind of guy, that kind of coach. I think he has expectations for Becky and based on how Becky was as a competitor, I think that Becky probably has her own expectations. Im not worried about Becky -- shes gonna be great.

What was it like being a woman on the NBA sideline?

For me the biggest thing initially was you see these guys on TV and you see these guys from the stands, but when youre out on the court with them, these guys are big -- theyre big guys, you know. Strong, powerful, big men. And I think just that part how big they were and how quick they were, even if you walk next to them. But when youre out there with like 12 of them and theyre moving around, I mean, these guys are professionals. That to me was the hard part.

But Id also say initially their terminology was a little different, just a different glossary and how they worded things. I had to ask a lot of questions about that. Other than that, theyre professional athletes. They get up, they come to work or they work out and there's not a lot of dillydallying around. Theyre not like high school kids or anything.

Thats been one of the themes floating around out there that just basketball is basketball -- male or female. People are citing that as a reason to get more women involved in the game. Is that something you agree with?

At the end of the day, everybodys doing basically the same stuff. Its just a matter of where you position your guys and what the matchups are and stuff like that. I think with the Spurs, though, they're a little bit different because theyre so unselfish. They're willing to give up a shot to get someone else maybe a better shot. Thats something that Popovich has got his guys willing to do. Theyre a little bit different than some of the other teams out there.

Looking at the WNBA as a whole, its been and continues to be a place for strong and pioneering women. Can you talk about the league and hows its helped females in sports or in general?

Well, I can tell you this: I was in college and then in the WNBA and then went back to college, and I cannot tell you how much bigger and stronger and more skilled the girls are getting. There are kids that are like Class of 2019, 2020, who are in 6th or 7th grade now, who are as big as some of the girls at South Carolina. They are skilled, theyre bigger, they're stronger and a lot of it is because there are role models now. There are role models out there now. I just think that youve got little girls that are growing up now  watching people like Becky Hammon and Tamika Catchings, to name two. But the league is really promoting the game, promoting women athletes, and other sports are wanting to follow suit.