Hall of Fame coach Debbie Ryan is taking in Storm practice for the first time this week. She recently resigned as Virginia’s coach, finishing with a 736-323 all-time record. She’s one of nine coaches to have 700 victories or more and Ryan’s teams have advanced to 24 of the 29 NCAA tournaments.
Ryan, 58, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2000. She wasn’t given a positive outlook, but survived to coach 34 years. Yet, she’s not calling her career finished. I had the opportunity to catch up with her as the Storm’s “white” squad played a five-on-five scrimmage against the men.
Storm coach Brian Agler focused more on defense Tuesday, getting after the returnees because “they’ve got to get game-ready.” He was easier on the newcomers. But Seattle did make two cuts — F Aneika Henry and G Breanna Salley, who played at Seattle University. The moves were made to clear roster space for All-Stars Sue Bird and Swin Cash to join training camp on Tuesday.
Here’s the Q&A;with Ryan:
Women’s Hoop Blog: What do you think of the Storm so far?
Debbie Ryan: They’re going to be tough to beat this year. What makes them special is they have a very good karma about them, a good chemistry. You can see that in the way they approach practice and the way that they carry what the coaches want onto the floor. They’re very good with each other. Even though they’re loaded with stars, they’re very, very unselfish. That’s what’s going to make them very tough to beat. They’ve got talent, but more importantly, they’ve got great chemistry.
WHB: You’ve coached teams like that, how do describe the ability of the Storm to be able to come together?
DR: It’s hard to describe. I think it was (University of Connecticut coach) Geno (Auriemma) that said, “When you look at your team, you know when it has ‘it’ and you know when it doesn’t have ‘it.'” It’s hard to make it clear. But this (Seattle) is such a talented team, what’s going to set them apart is their unselfishness and the way they play together. It’s how those parts come together with a Sue Bird, a Lauren Jackson and a Swin Cash.
WHB: How’s your former PG, Jenny Boucek, doing as a coach?
DR: She’s a very strong coach and has a great offensive mind. She’s got an incredible passion for this game and the kids can really see that. I think they really feed off that.
WHB: Was there a best tip you gave her?
DR: No, I think Jenny is a pretty intelligent young woman. The best thing that I impart to my players is you have to find your own way when you get to a point where you have to make a decision of, ‘do I do this or do I do that?’ Jenny always had a passion for this and she sort of followed her heart. This is her journey. She figured out how she was going to do it on her own.
WHB: So, what’s next for you?
DR: I don’t know. I really love being around a team. I’m also out here making contacts with some people – I’m interested in the cancer center at Virginia Mason. So, I’m doing some things out here related to the cancer world.
WHB: There were swirling rumors around your departure at Virginia, how did you leave things there?
DR: Honestly, I haven’t talked about my decision at all and I’m focused on the future. I’m here representing the University of Virginia and I’m also representing my association with Jenny and looking at where I want to go next.
WHB: You’ll never get rid of the orange and blue?
DR: Oh, no. I’ll never get rid of the orange and blue. I love Virginia, I always have. It’s a very, very special place and it’s a global university. It’s the people there that make it what it is.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, courtesy of the school