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Rossi: Hammon hiring huge for sports

| Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, 9:44 p.m.
WNBA star Becky Hammon takes questions from the media at the San Antonio Spurs practice facility after being introduced as an assistant coach with the team on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs hired WNBA star Becky Hammon on Tuesday, making her the first full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.
WNBA star Becky Hammon takes questions from the media at the San Antonio Spurs practice facility after being introduced as an assistant coach with the team on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs hired WNBA star Becky Hammon on Tuesday, making her the first full-time, paid female assistant on an NBA coaching staff.

Suzie McConnell-Serio always pursued opportunities that presented themselves, so she never had a shot at the NBA.

Sometimes in sports some of the best ones surface at the wrong time, not that one of Pittsburgh's best basketball players would compare herself to, say, Josh Gibson.

Still, it's something else to hear McConnell-Serio offer that she never once thought about contributing at her sports' supreme level. After all, Pitt's women's coach was an all-everything player in high school, college, the WNBA and two Olympics.

“Not something I ever thought about, coaching guys,” she said.

Well, she's only 48.

Many NBA assistant coaches are a lot older.

Becky Hammon is only 37, but she'll carry 16 years of professional basketball experience into a first season as an assistant with defending NBA champion San Antonio.

Her hiring on Tuesday was a far more significant story than Andrew McCutchen's injury, Brandon Sutter's contract or whatever the Steelers did on a day off from training camp.

In a few years, we'll look back upon Tuesday as one of the great days in a sporting culture that too often seems suspect — if not downright sinister — when it comes to doing right by women.

Hammon is the first full-time, paid assistant coach in NBA history. Lisa Boyer had a role with Cleveland during the 2001-02 season, but she was not compensated and did not travel with the Cavaliers.

Hammon will be everywhere with the Spurs: at practices, in team hotels, there for the losing streaks and present possibly for another championship parade.

Credit the Spurs, who are among the most forward-thinking clubs in any sport. Their roster is a basketball United Nations.

Credit the NBA, too.

That league — ignorantly derided too often in the Pittsburgh area — brought in female referees in 1997, including Pitt graduate Dee Kantner, and its players' union is led by Michele Roberts. Jeanie Buss is a co-owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers, a marquee franchise among all sports.

There is a glass ceiling for women in the NBA. As McKeesport native and longtime WNBA standout Swin Cash said: “It's probably unlikely that a woman could play in that league.”

But coach?

Cash sharpened her game hanging with men on the court. She knows NBA players. She knows the drive, determination and photographic mind of Hammon. She knows the Spurs' famous stability.

“We're all basketball people, and we all look at this as a no-brainer,” Cash said. “We give each other far more credit than the media and probably even the fans (do).”

The best thing about Hammon's hiring is that few people in the basketball community talked about it in terms of male and female, McConnell-Serio said. That's because basketball has been bringing together boys and girls and men and women for decades.

Hockey has somewhat followed that lead. Bill Guerin believes the NHL “easily” will have a female coach within the next decade. The Penguins work with a female skating instructor.

Guerin's daughters play lacrosse. He has marveled at how female athletes tend to pay better attention to fundamentals and details.

Any coach who could get across the importance of fundamentals and details would help the men playing in the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB. Owners — at least the ones who speak publicly — talk about the need for a different voice or culture all the time when making management and coaching moves. The voices of women with fresh philosophies would be welcome compared to the recycled ways of retread “league men” so often hired to handle pro athletes.

Team USA just cut John Wall, a super-skilled point guard who is paid like (but often doesn't play like) a prime-time player. Think he could learn something from a coach who made a career as a player by working harder, taking more drills and staying in the film room later than other players?

Hammon was one of those players, and some players on the planet's best basketball squad soon will become better because of her coaching.

That's how McConnell-Serio sees this playing out, anyway.

She never thought about coaching guys. She never figured it was a thought worth having.

It is now.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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