Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel says Boucek, who took over for Brian Agler in January, is a good fit for the rebuilding organization.
Jenny Boucek loves redemption stories.
She can relax on the couch with a glass of wine and freely ride the emotions of a favorite flick such as “Dirty Dancing.” But before you characterize Boucek’s return to head coaching in the WNBA as redeeming, know this is not that.
“It’s not about me at all,” she said of being named the Storm’s fourth coach in the franchise’s 15-year history. Boucek was an assistant in Seattle from 2003-05 and the past five seasons under previous coach Brian Agler.
Key Storm dates
Sunday: Training camp opens. May 26: Preseason game vs. Phoenix, KeyArena
May 28: Preseason game at Phoenix. June 4: Opening-day roster must be named
June 6: Season opener vs. Los Angeles, KeyArena
“People are feeling it is right for me to be here right now, and I feel it’s right, so I’m here,” she said.
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On Wednesday, “here” was a buzzing Storm practice court in the basement of Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion. Music from Michael Jackson and Common provided a backdrop as Boucek greeted a stream of players arriving from across the globe for individual workouts before training camp opens Sunday.
The scene wasn’t much different from 2007 when Boucek was a first-time head coach of the now-defunct Sacramento Monarchs. But she was fired in July 2009, taking the fall for an injury-laden team that began the season with a 3-10 record. She had a 40-41 overall record in Sacramento.
Boucek rejoined the Storm as an assistant in 2010 under Agler, helping the team win its second WNBA championship that season. Agler left in January to become the Los Angeles Sparks’ coach, and now Boucek is back in control.
Her purpose and methods haven’t changed the second time around; they’ve just grown.
Quality family time
Boucek, 41, was born into a family of doctors and psychologists.
Her father was a pediatric cardiologist at Seattle Children’s hospital. Now retired and living in Nashville at age 70, he still does work with stem-cell research.
Boucek’s mother is a former psychologist. And Boucek’s maternal grandfather, Dr. Robert Heath, founded the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University.
Holidays and family functions have been spent with both sides of Boucek’s family, including Heath before he died in 1999. Boucek also has uncles and cousins who’ve entered the medical field.
Jenny Boucek bio
WNBA coaching record: 40-41 as Sacramento’s coach from 2007-09.
Three points: Played one WNBA season with the now-defunct Cleveland Rockers (1997). … Led Virginia to four regular-season ACC championships. … Assistant coach on Storm’s 2004 and 2010 WNBA championship teams.
On Twitter: @jboucek.
During their time together as they took part in activities such as tennis, water skiing and basketball, they discussed the intricacies of the body or oddities of humans.
They would take hypotheses and try to apply them to life.
“Truth-seekers,” Boucek says of her family.
Basketball instead of medicine
She was the length of a halfcourt from following a similar path in sports medicine but was pulled back into basketball.
Boucek was a standout guard at the University of Virginia, completing her playing career in 1996. After earning her graduate degree in 1997, she left her parents in Charlottesville, Va., during graduation weekend for a WNBA tryout.
Her name was not called at the end of the tryout in Cleveland because of a clerical error. She grabbed her gear and was at halfcourt before coaches asked her where she was going.
“I was at peace with that being the end of my career,” said Boucek, who would’ve entered medical school. Instead she was one of the WNBA’s inaugural players, earning a $10,000 paycheck before taxes.
Boucek suffered a career-ending back injury in 1998 and joined the Washington Mystics as an assistant in 1999. Growing from one of the younger coaches on that staff to among the oldest on her current Storm staff, she has used her roots in research to study basketball and help players. She’s regarded as one of the top developmental coaches in the WNBA.
“She’s all about innovation in what she does,” said her father, Robert. “Not just for the sake of innovation. It’s usually motivated by what she feels is good for the people she works with day to day. I see a lot of similarities, in the general sense, of how she conducts herself as a coach to what we do research-wise.”
Different coaching methods
First-year Indiana coach Stephanie White says Boucek is “out of the box.” Also a former player, White has connected with Boucek through the years because they have similar coaching philosophies.
Boucek is in the midst of studying the effects of sleep, hoping to give Storm players a mental advantage. She’s obsessed with learning about the human body, relating it to organizational management and behavior. She’s spent years of WNBA offseasons around the staffs of NBA coaches Rick Carlisle, Erik Spoelstra, Ron Rothstein and Nate McMillan, and she spent time with UCLA legend John Wooden before he died.
Since taking over for Agler, Boucek has added a nutritionist, an analytics specialist and former Pepperdine coach Julie Rousseau as the team’s volunteer culture coach.
“I made it up,” Boucek said. “It’s different than chemistry. It’s an environment I want to uphold and protect.”
Said White: “It’s a different approach than might have been in the past because we invest in people, not just the game. As a player you sometimes feel like a product. With Jenny, it’s not often in our game that you see so much selflessness from one person. She’s just so unique.”
A good fit for the franchise
Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel acknowledges that part of what makes Boucek a fit in Seattle is because the organization is rebuilding.
Gone is longtime executive Karen Bryant. Franchise cornerstone Lauren Jackson will miss a third season due to injuries. Trades and free agency gutted the roster to the point that Sue Bird and KeyArena will be the only familiar sights for casual fans at the season opener June 6.
“We really don’t have that many people who would know the old Storm basketball,” Brummel said of the training-camp roster. Bird and forward Alysha Clark are the only players who’ve been with the organization longer than three seasons.
Even the definition of “Storm basketball” has changed.
Agler’s staple was blue-collar defense. Thanks to Boucek’s study of the evolution of basketball, the Storm now is all about uptempo offense.
Boucek has worked with first-year team president and general manager Alisha Valavanis to draft scorers Jewell Loyd with the No. 1 overall pick and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the NCAA career leader in three-pointers, with the third overall selection. The hope is they can become franchise cornerstones for the next generation of Storm fans.
The Storm was the oldest team in the league last season — the average age of its roster was 29 years old — and it finished 12-22, its worst record since 2001.
This year’s roster has an average age of 25.5 years.
“We have the opportunity to break new ground here,” Brummel said. “And we really wanted to push the envelope to get fresh talent and a fresh set of eyes and a different kind of capability in the coaching staff. I think we’ve really done that.”
Brummel isn’t the only one who believes Boucek and the Storm are a match.
“JB, this is her natural spot,” said Ryan Webb, a former Storm practice player turned assistant coach. “There is a magic going around that’s led by her being so intuitive with people and her knowledge of the game. But we know it’s going to be challenging.”