Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Gail Goestenkors, who on Saturday it was announced was entering the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Then it was announced Sunday she’d resigned from her position as assistant coach for the Los Angeles Sparks. Goestenkors was in her first season with Los Angeles, but coach Carol Ross was fired Sunday. Goestenkors, 51, joins WNBA stars Lisa Leslie and Janeth Arcain, Oregon City High School coach Brad Smith, and NCAA notables Kurt Budke and Janet Harris as the Class of 2015 Hall of Fame inductees.
Seattle Times: What were the emotions of your All-Star break, resigning from coaching and told you’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame?
Gail Goestenkors: The timing was absolutely perfect, if there is such a thing. The same day I was announced (Saturday), I ended up resigning. It just really epitomizes the business of women’s basketball. It’s a roller coaster … but I have enjoyed every single moment of it.
ST: What was the response from your friends?
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Goestenkors: I had so many messages that were, “Congratulations and I’m sorry!” Congratulations for the Hall of Fame; I’m sorry about the L.A. situation. It was interesting. It helped me stay at an even keel.
ST: You were offered a position to stay. What were your reasons for resigning?
Goestenkors: I’m very loyal to Carol. I was surprised that they fired her. We only had 12 games left and we were essentially going to be in the playoffs (currently as the fourth and final seed). I thought we had turned the corner on that road trip (winning three consecutive games). I was disappointed with their decision and I’m very loyal. I felt I needed to move in a different direction.
ST: How did you react when told of your induction?
Goestenkors: Stunned silence. I thought (the call in June) was about the Kay Yow golf tournament or a fundraiser. She (board president Sue Donohoe) text’d me, so when I did get back to her, I was totally taken by surprise. We (the Sparks) had just come off a two-game losing road trip, so I said, ‘Are you sure they don’t want to revote or something?’ I was really in awe and stunned. I text’d her later that I probably didn’t give her the response she was expecting, but I was very honored.
ST: Obviously, your induction is for your career at Duke, not with the Sparks. When did you feel that program was on the rise, eventually leading the Blue Devils to four Final Four appearances and a combined 396-99 record during your tenure from 1992-2007?
Goestenkors: In 1999, when we beat Tennessee to go to the Final Four. They had won three national championships in a row, it was Chamique Holdsclaw’s senior year and they were expected to win, again. We beat them in the regional and I remember feeling like, ‘This is it. This is the moment we’re going to build on.’ Then we signed a great class (including now WNBA All-Star Alana Beard) and we were off to the races.
ST: You’re a fan of the game. What improvement have you seen in the WNBA?
Goestenkors: When I first started watching it, I thought, ‘Why are they trying to be like the NBA?’ I really felt the players didn’t appreciate the beauty of our game and were trying to do a lot of moves they weren’t capable of and then they’d miss layups. It wasn’t great basketball to watch. Two things have happened, we’ve embraced who we are — it’s team basketball — and we’ve become much more gifted and talented.
ST: You mentioned taking a different path. Does that mean a career outside of basketball? You were on a two-year hiatus before accepting the Los Angeles position.
Goestenkors: I don’t know. I’m always open to an adventure. I’m going to travel for a little bit since I’ve got some time off. California is a great place to be right now.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.