Anne Donovan will lead Team USA

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2008 at 3:35 pm

By Jayda Evans

Seattle Times staff reporter

PALO ALTO, Calif. — For months, it seemed Anne Donovan had nothing better to do than voice her opinion about what other countries were doing.

Headlines were stripped across national magazines, newspapers and television programs. There was Donovan, full of American pride, explaining her feelings about Russia tapping Becky Hammon to be its point guard in the Beijing Olympics. The same Hammon that USA Basketball dubbed not qualified enough to leapfrog Sue Bird, Cappie Pondexter or Kara Lawson.

“Unpatriotic,” Donovan said. It wasn’t until July that Donovan got down to business with her own team. After three Olympics as a player (she did not compete in 1980 because of the U.S. boycott) and one as an assistant coach, Donovan will lead the women’s team in China. It’s a task made daunting by the evolution of the sport.

For one, there’s now the WNBA book-ending the Games. And secondly, other countries, namely Russia and Australia, don’t fear the Americans after defeating Team USA recently. Russia beat the Americans when it counted, at the 2006 World Championships, making Donovan the first coach since Theresa Grentz to lose in national team competition.

“The World Championships is a thorn in our side for sure, but there are other losses that are a thorn in our side,” Donovan said. “We haven’t been at full strength since 2004 and we’re out to prove something.”

True. Only Olympic gold is remembered. And Donovan knows. Her three gold medals are some of her most prized possessions, which is why she has begun to open up about her abrupt resignation from the Storm in November.

Some still believe it stems from player upheaval during the 2007 season. Other rumors pitted Donovan and current Storm CEO Karen Bryant against each other. But after just the second day with her Team USA, Donovan claims it was to focus on gold.

“I’m the only one coming in here completely fresh,” Donovan said, beaming a bright smile as she looked at her Team USA assistants Dawn Staley, Gail Goestenkors and Mike Thibault. Their “real” duties are coaching South Carolina, Texas and the Connecticut Sun, respectively.

“Gail and Dawn have been out recruiting and Mike is looking ragged,” Donovan joked. “For me, I have the energy that I have to pass on. At times, they’ve struggled with the schedules that they’ve been on for more than just the WNBA season.”

So, was it a hard decision to leave the Storm? “A very easy decision to make,” Donovan said. “I was as surprised at where her head was,” Bryant said of Donovan’s resignation, which included a stipulation that she could not coach in the WNBA during the 2008 season. “But I wanted to completely support her decision. It became very apparent to me early in our conversation that she was ready to move on. At that point, there was no point in me trying to convince her to stay.”

After taking some time to be with family, Donovan began immersing herself in a gold-medal-winning plan. She worked with the selection committee to pick the players to fit her style in international play, emphasizing defense. She scouted other countries. And she devised practice plans.

Along the way, Donovan made returns to Seattle. She was even given a standing ovation from most in attendance for the Storm’s win against Indiana on June 20. Donovan, 46, led Seattle to its only WNBA championship in 2004, but lost in the opening round of her following three playoff appearances.

Last week at Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus, she was finally in a familiar place — squatting about 10 feet behind Bird, watching the beginnings of her plan unfold.

“Anne has done an unbelievable job,” Goestenkors said. “We’ve already watched video of when we were at our worst as a team defensively and when we were at our best, because I think it’s going to come down to defense. She talked to the team about the work ethic we’re going to have. She’s been working nonstop, but she’s very aware that the players are a little fatigued mentally and physically, having coached in the WNBA so long.”

Team USA had only three days to practice as a unit before traveling to Haining, China to play in the Diamond Ball Tournament this week.

Needing to help build chemistry fast, Donovan and her staff took the motivational part of training a bit further than usual. She helped developed a slogan, which Nike turned into a T-shirt that reads “Red, White and” on the front with “Blue Collar” on the back to keep the players thinking about hustle plays and defense. Not pretty layins and offense.

Plus, in a un-Donovan-esque move, the Olympic coach didn’t place a high importance on the team’s placing at the pre-Olympic tournament, despite them defeating Australia for the Diamond Ball title. The sole focus is Olympic gold.

There wasn’t a professional league for Donovan to aspire to as a youth playing basketball. Donovan, who finished her career at Old Dominion as the all-time leading scorer (2,719), rebounder (1,976) and shot-blocker (801), began representing her country at age 15.

A native of affluent Ridgewood, N.J., Donovan is relishing this moment.
“I have so much pride in this,” said Donovan, who won Olympic gold as a player in 1988 and 1984. “It’s such a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experience. For me, there’s nothing like it.”

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company


  2. “The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for,”
    – Alain Bernard of the French Olympic Swim Team, prior to the Men’s 4X100 freestyle relay race.

    The USA set a new world record by almost 4 seconds when they WON the race!

    Jason Lezak was tremendous in his finish. Get this guy a National Medal of Honor to go with his Gold medal!

    Click below to read an article (one of many…)
    USA Relay Team Shuts France Up

    Click below to see the race:

    THE VIDEO !!! (the only one I can find so far)

    Or cut and paste this link:


  3. You can see this race in high resolution (in English) on NBC Olympics web site:


    (You can also dowmload the Silverlake video player and see it in high resolution and large screen format)

  4. I was going nuts… my heart was pounding so hard and I thought I was going to have a heart-attach…

    Jason Lezak – YOU ARE THE MAN!!!

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