Mild-mannered basketball junkie, a 64-year-old who talks in hushed tones, says he is focused on improving the WNBA team rather than what his future might be.
Gary Kloppenburg isn’t the loudest voice in the gym. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The mild-mannered basketball junkie talks in hushed tones, and sometimes you have to lean in close to hear the Storm’s new interim coach speak.
But if his first go-round as a WNBA head coach taught him anything, it’s the importance of making sure he is heard.
“The biggest lesson I learned coaching in Tulsa is just to really be hands on and make sure you’re always communicating with your players and not letting anything slide,” said Kloppenburg, who compiled a 20-48 record during two years (2012-13) with the Shock.
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“Pro players really respond to that,” he said. “They expect you to be honest and tell them straight and then follow up with it. Try to create a positive atmosphere.”
For most of his 14-year WNBA career, the 64-year-old Kloppenburg had been an assistant in Seattle, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Indiana.
He got his big break in 2012 and inherited a 3-31 team in Tulsa. The win totals improved each season, but he was released in 2013 after an 11-23 season.
“I’m not sure why they let us go,” Kloppenburg said. “We felt like that next year we could have made another huge jump. We had a good group of young core players with (Skylar Diggins-Smith) and Glory Johnson. It was kind of disappointing, but I understood.
“It’s the pro game. You’re at the whim of what owners’ expectations are, and I think they felt we should have been better that year.”
To wit, an inability to meet expectations is the biggest reason why the Storm fired Jenny Boucek last week and promoted Kloppenburg, who joined the team in January as an assistant.
Despite title-contending aspirations entering the season, Seattle has fallen into an eighth-place tie with Chicago at 11-16 for the last playoff spot with seven games remaining.
It was the first time the 18-year-old franchise made a coaching change during the season, and the shock waves are still reverberating.
Gary Kloppenburg file
Hometown: San Diego
College: UC San Diego
Previous WNBA head- coaching stint: 20-48 (.294) during two seasons (2012-13) with the Tulsa Shock.
Famous father: Dad Bob Kloppenburg is a former interim coach of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s regarded as a defensive guru and the innovator of an aggressive defensive scheme that was used in Seattle, Denver and Toronto, where he served as an assistant.
“We all love Jenny,” fifth-year veteran forward Alysha Clark said.
“We think she’s an amazing person. She’s a passionate coach. It’s going to take a hit on a personal level, but at the same time we don’t have time to sit around and not get on with the season. As hard as it is, it’s the realization of our business and we still have a job to do as players.”
Second-year forward Breanna Stewart added: “We didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. It happened on a Thursday. We practiced Friday and we played Saturday. It’s been like boom, boom, boom. And that’s probably better, so we don’t think about it as much.”
With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, Kloppenburg admits there’s not enough time to make significant alterations in philosophies or schemes.
Still, he’ll try and implement the disruptive defensive principles he learned from his father, Bob, a reputed basketball guru and longtime NBA assistant who spent 11 seasons (1985-96) with the Seattle Sonics.
“Klop is not someone who is going to be yelling all over the place and that type of stuff,” Stewart said. “But he knows what he’s doing. His defense, that’s his specialty. He’s been around the game for a long time, and he has a knack for what’s going on.”
The Storm delivered its new coach an impressive 98-89 victory last week at Phoenix, which snapped a four-game losing streak. Seattle hosts WNBA-leading Minnesota (21-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at KeyArena.
Beyond this season, Kloppenburg is unsure if he’ll remain with the Storm.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I’m not really focused on any of that. I really want to stay in the moment and try to help our team each day get a little bit better. If we’re playing good basketball, then we’re going to get our share of wins.
“I’m really not that concerned about next year. I’m really concerned about seeing if we can get this team to play up to its maximum potential this year.”