Shelley Patterson is one of seven Black assistant coaches in the WNBA — only Tulsa, Seattle and Indiana have no Blacks on their staffs. Last season, her second on the Minnesota Lynx bench, Patterson became the first Black woman since 2009 to be on a championship-winning ball club.
“I’ve been with some good teams, but from [Lynx] player one to player 11, I love every single one of them. They respect each other and respect us,” she points out.
Unlike the NBA, which seemingly has a coach for every three players, a WNBA coaching staff consists only of a head coach and a maximum of two assistants. Therefore, Patterson and fellow assistant Jim Petersen still have the same required tasks as their male basketball counterparts to complete: breaking down game tapes, scouting opponents, planning practices and the like.
“They [NBA clubs] have a lot of assistants and a lot of people editing film. Jim and I do that,” Patterson notes.
It’s more than just holding the head coach’s hand during games or standing statue-like, parroting everything they say. “I think a lot of people look at our jobs as assistants [in this fashion],” believes Patterson, a 22-year professional and collegiate coaching veteran. “I don’t think the average fan has any idea what goes in with this job. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”
Minnesota is Patterson’s fifth WNBA club. She began her pro career in Philadelphia with the no-longer-around ABL in 1998-99. Then she was basketball operations director in Houston — Patterson got her first W championship ring there — and subsequently spent four years in Indiana (2000-03), one each in Phoenix (2004) and Los Angeles (2005), and three in Seattle (2007-09).
She joined the Lynx in 2010. Her duties include individual player development.
“I’ve got to find the time” for the players either before or after practice to work on improving their game, she explains. “I continue to find strengths and weaknesses and map out a plan for each player.”
For example, “Every day I’m mapping out a plan to help [second-year forward] Maya Moore go to the basket and be more consistent this year,” says Patterson.
She also assists in assembling individual “two-minute scouting reports” for each Lynx player. “We have to sift through a lot of information — all that is on us [assistants],” continues Patterson. “These little bitty things help our players out.”
Although she knows her place, Patterson admits that she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind whenever it needed. “I’m going into my 13th season in the WNBA,” says Patterson, attributing her staying power to one underrated but awfully important skill for being an effective assistant coach.
“It’s because I know how to give and take. I know how to listen. I have an opinion, and I do state my opinion, [but] if it’s not taken, I’m fine with that,” concludes the Lynx assistant coach.
Third-year Lynx guard Monica Wright thus far has nearly doubled her scoring average of a year ago. She averaged five points last season, and Wright this year is scoring just under 10 points a game.
Being counted on more than ever to bring in the heat off the bench, the 5-10 reserve this summer is showing a more aggressive offensive side. Wright told us that it’s probably a carryover from her winter season when she was her league’s leading scorer (20.3 ppg) and later scored 16 points a game in 12 EuroCup contests.
After being a starter in college and the former WNBA All-Rookie team selection in 2010, Wright says she’s adjusted to life as a reserve. “Whatever role I have, I embrace,” she says. “You have to adjust.”
She scored a season-high 18 points last Saturday in a win at Tulsa.
“It’s about getting better every year,” surmises Wright. “We all are trying to help each other get better every day.”
Did you know…?
Who became the fastest player-turned-manager in any men’s or women’s league to assemble a championship team? Hint: This former player already has their place in history. (Answer in next week’s “View.”)
Answer to last week’s questions, “Who is the first Black female owner in the WNBA?” and “How many other Black females are also WNBA team owners?” Sheila Johnson of the Washington Mystics in 2005 became the WNBA’s first Black female owner.
Paula Williams Madison’s Madison Media Management bought a controlling interest in the Los Angeles Sparks and is on the league’s board of governors, and retired Sparks star Lisa Leslie is a minority owner. Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child is part of a group of minority owners of the Chicago Sky.
Finally, Sheila’s former husband Robert Johnson was the WNBA’s first-ever Black owner when he owned the Charlotte Sting and the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA. He later folded the Sting and eventually sold the Bobcats to Michael Jordan.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]