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in Lois Elfman’s WNBA 15 for 15 is up: Crystal Robinson, Transitioning from Player to Coach

Heading into the 2007 WNBA season Crystal Robinson was in pain. Living on a daily diet of ibuprofen and acetaminophen, her body had a frank conversation with her head.

“It’s like my body said, ‘Crystal, you’ve got to quit. Do you want to walk when you’re 50 or not?’” Robinson recalls. “I got to the point where I was in so much pain that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I became frustrated and decided I’m going to have to let this go.”

As the saying goes, when one door closes another opens. Robinson had always planned to go into coaching and she was excited by the prospect of being an assistant coach for Washington Mystics head coach Richie Adubato.1 Unfortunately, he resigned shortly after the beginning of the season, but Robinson remained as the Mystics assistant coach for two years.

She says the transition to coach—even with a team she’d played with up through training camp—came easily to her. Robinson, 37, attributes much of her skills to Adubato.

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Back to School for a Basketball Coach

Before accepting the Seton Hall job in March, Ms. Donovan had spent the past 12 years coaching professionally and for USA Basketball. Already a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame based on her international and collegiate playing careers, she has won an Olympic gold medal and a WNBA championship as a head coach—an accomplishment to which only one other person can lay claim. But in returning to coach at the collegiate level for the first time since 1998, she is attempting to make a midcareer transition that her counterparts in men’s basketball generally find to be tricky at best and impossible at worst.

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grumbling about whether or not coaching for USA Basketball gave programs a recruiting advantage. Long time USA BBall coaches were not impressed:

Anne Donovan, who has been involved in USA Basketball since 1983, first as a player and most recently an assistant coach for the Gold medal winning team in Athens, seemed almost stunned at the possibility. “I understand and recognize why they’d be concerned but – and forgive me, but I’ve been so entrenched in USA Basketball for more than half my life – that organization is not run with that intent. You’ve got all these all-stars who want to play, all who have been starters, and now you’re the coach that doesn’t think they’re a starter? You’re going to make five friends – your five starters. And you better win a medal, because that also affects their career.

From Glenn, an article that may more accurately reflect the impact of playing for the red, white and blue: USA Basketball affecting recruiting

During a break in the action at Nike Nationals this past summer, three USA Basketball teammates were spotted hanging out in the lobby of the athletic complex in North Augusta, S.C.

“Scheming?” they were asked.

“That’s what everyone says,” one of the trio, Elizabeth Williams, replied.

And the scheme most envision is a group of elite-level prospects committing to the same program. That, however, has become part of a truism in recruiting, at least in the women’s game: The more high-school girls’ basketball players talk about going to the same school, the less chance of it happening. Inevitably they do what’s in their best interest, split up, but stay friendly competitors.

Maybe this is the year that finally changes.

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From Q

Interpersonal chemistry and women’s basketball: Are there gender differences?

When you’re trying to coach superstar players as competitive as the stars Jackson has worked with, finding a way to minimize their ego while maximizing the talent of the complementary players on the team — did anyone ever get more out of Judd Buechler*? — is a required skill.

So when I asked Seattle Storm players about what Brian Agler’s coaching means to their success, I used the word “manage” when asking forward Swin Cash about the team after multiple people mentioned how it’s a veteran team that doesn’t needs little prodding to stay focused.

Cash suggested a different way to think about it and it made me think about the importance of relationships in women’s basketball coaching, a topic that has come up in a number of conversations with players and coaches this season.

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Then maybe you’re ready to be an assistant coach and director of basketball operations. Check out the Tribune Democrat’s (PA) article on the Dream’s Sue Panek.

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