Shelley Patterson has sat on the bench as a coach for almost two decades. But when the WNBA last season passed a cost-cutting rule to limit the number of coaches on each team, she and other assistants found themselves on the outs.
Cheryl Reeve last year hired Patterson as manager of player development and advance scouting for the Minnesota Lynx. But during games, the longtime assistant coach sat in the row immediately behind the players.
The 2011 WNBA season begins this week, and on Friday in Los Angeles — Minnesota’s season-opening opponent — Patterson will be back on the bench where she belongs. “Players need coaches, and between Shelley and Jim [Petersen], I have a very good staff,” says Reeve. “I give the league a lot of credit for correcting what was clearly a misstep.”
Minnesota is Patterson’s sixth WNBA club: She previously worked at Houston (2000-03), Phoenix (2004), Los Angeles (2005), Charlotte (2006) and Seattle (2007-09). “I spent 11 seasons sitting on the bench and one season off,” she notes. “It was different for me last year because I got a different perspective, a bird’s-eye view of what the players do when they come off the floor. Usually, as coaches on the bench, we’re talking. This year I won’t get to do that.”
Even though she sat behind the bench, “I could get in Jim’s ear, or Cheryl’s a little bit easier,” she admits. “But I don’t think my role will be any different, or the things I contribute. I just have a seat closer to the floor.”
The Lynx begins its season Friday in Los Angeles. I recently asked Patterson to give a thumbnail scouting report on each player (please note that at press time, the final 11-player roster had not been finalized).
Seimone Augustus, 6-0, six-year veteran: “Seimone looks like the Seimone of old.”
Lindsay Whalen, 5-9, eight-year veteran: “Her body is in great shape.”
Monica Wright, 5-10, second-year veteran: “Very consistent. She’s much more comfortable now in her second year.”
Candice Wiggins, 5-11, four-year veteran: “She can play the ‘1’ and the ‘2,’ and handles the ball.”
Alexis Hornbuckle, 5-10, four-year veteran: “She brings intangibles — makes plays, especially defensively.”
Maya Moore, 6-0, rookie: “She does the things she’s done at Connecticut, but has to add some things to her game.”
Rebekkah Brunson, 6-2, eight-year veteran: “She’s the enforcer inside, and we expect her to get those rebounds.”
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, 6-2, 13-year veteran: “She is going to set the right screen, make the right play — does all the little things.”
Charde Houston, 6-0, four-year veteran: “Charde knows how to score and put the ball in the hole.”
Amber Harris, 6-5, rookie: “She needs to learn the WNBA lifestyle and pace of the game. The players are just as tall, strong and fast as she is.”
Jessica Adair, 6-4, second-year veteran: “She is a gamer and has good hands. I think she needs to relax a little bit and play.”
Many are likening Minnesota to the NBA’s Miami Heat, picked to go deep in the playoffs this year. Their projected opening day starters Friday: Augustus, Moore, Brunson, McWilliams and Whalen have a combined number of 13 All-Star appearances.
“I do see that correlation,” admits Patterson.
However, can this club, which has been to the playoffs only twice and won only one post-season contest in its 12 previous seasons, handle such high expectations? The Lynx were 13-21 (7-10 at home, 6-11 on the road) and lost a league-high nine games after having 10-plus-point leads last season.
On that point, Patterson compares and contrasts this year’s Lynx to her last WNBA employer: “I was with the Seattle Storm when we brought in Sheryl Swoopes, Yolanda Griffith and Swin Cash [in 2008]. It took time. You have a beginning, and that took time to mesh.
“You have a middle, which now everyone is starting to see the strengths and weaknesses that each of them have. Then late, if you can hang on and keep that team intact and not have any injuries, you can make a huge run,” says Patterson. This happened two seasons later as the Storm virtually went injury-free en route to the 2010 WNBA championship.
Patterson predicts Minnesota’s “seven starters” — Augustus, Brunson, McWilliams-Franklin, Wiggins, Moore, Whalen, Wright, “and Charde could be in that mix, too” — will be doing well this year. “We don’t know what is going to happen straight off the bat, but I do know that no one should count us out.”
All 12 WNBA teams host specially themed events throughout the season. Locally, despite the fact that the majority of the team roster is Black, only one of the 11 scheduled “theme nights” the Lynx are sponsoring at home this summer has any hint of recognizing diversity: Maya Moore Bobblehead Night (August 26).
Read more Lynx and WNBA talk on the “Another View” blog: www.challman.wordpress.com. Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.