Wynn, who signed a six-year, $2.6 million deal that’ll pay her a base salary of $400,000 on April 14, has spent the summer getting acclimated to her new surroundings. There have been several surprises as well as a handful of setbacks.
Jody Wynn tells a story that’s familiar to many newcomers who settle in Seattle.
After a prolonged and exhaustive housing search, the new Washington women’s basketball coach thought she found the perfect place to call home.
It had everything. Relatively close to campus. A great neighborhood with a reputable school district for her two young girls.
And Wynn’s husband, Derek, particularly liked the fact that the house was somewhat reasonably priced.
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The couple made what Wynn called a competitive offer when reality smacked them in the face.
“Not even close,” she said laughing. “That’s when we realized that we were coming into the No. 1 housing market in America. We’re willing to fight. We’re competitors. But $200,000 over asking price. Arrggh! There’s a principle about that.
“It’s like taking my 11-year-old kid to her basketball game and paying $15 to park. It’s not that I can’t afford the $15 to park for her 40-minute basketball game. But $15 admittance to watch my 11-year-old play and $15 to park, I might as well go to Disneyland. There’s just the principle of it all that sits kind of differently with us. But I guess we may have to adjust.”
Wynn, who signed a six-year, $2.6 million deal that’ll pay her a base salary of $400,000 on April 14, has spent the summer getting acclimated to her new surroundings. There have been several new discoveries and surprises as well as a handful of setbacks.
Earlier this summer, the 43-year-old coach shared several stories about making the transition from Long Beach State, where she spent the previous eight seasons transforming the 49ers into a mid-major powerhouse.
For two months, Jody and Derek lived in a hotel near UW while their daughters Jada, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, and Kaeli, a 9-year-old third-grader, remained in Southern California to finish school under the supervision of Jody’s parents.
Jody and Derek flew to Seattle on Monday mornings and spent the week here before returning to California on Friday afternoon in time to pick the girls up from school.
“We’re trying to make it work without being settled,” Wynn said. “We’ve been coming back and forth and trying to be parents and trying to be here for the team and figure out the lay of the land. It’s certainly been a challenge, but it’s been doable. It’s not like we’re flying across country.”
Since replacing Mike Neighbors, who left for Arkansas, Wynn’s first priority was getting to know her new Washington players from a team that posted a 29-6 record — the most wins in UW history — and advanced to the NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen.
The Huskies lost departing seniors Kelsey Plum, Chantel Osahor, Katie Collier and Heather Corrall — a quartet responsible for a 98-41 record over the past four years that included three NCAA tournament appearances and a trip to the Final Four in 2016.
Making matters worse for UW, freshman guard Aarion McDonald, who averaged 9.8 points and was the leading returning scorer, decided to transfer to Arizona.
And Brianna Ruiz, a senior forward who sat out 2016-17 while recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, chose to retire.
“I told all the girls from the first meeting that we had, that I would love for them to get to know who we are and take some time, but I understand that everyone has their own perception of reality and everybody has their own desires and what they foresee is best for them,” Wynn said. “Aari expressed to us that she wanted to leave for a while and I granted her release.
“It was (a shock) because she hadn’t expressed anything until that one meeting that we had. But during that meeting she expressed that’s she’d been talking about transferring to her teammates since January so there has been some homesickness that she’s had.”
Losing McDonald forces Washington to enter the 2017-18 season without five of its top six leading scorers from last season.
Senior sharpshooter Natalie Romeo, who was fourth on the team while averaging 9.3 points, and redshirt junior forward Hanna Johnson are the only returners with any extensive playing experience.
“Most of these kids didn’t play a whole lot,” Wynn said. “Now they have to be ready. They have to work. They can no longer just be at the end of the bench and not worry about, ‘I didn’t watch film or I don’t know what we’re doing.’
“Now it’s their turn to step up. The work that they put in in the offseason is going to show in the fall.”
Wynn promised a clean slate and equal opportunities at playing time for veterans as well as incoming freshman guards Kierra Collier, Missy Peterson and Alexis Griggsby and forwards Khayla Rooks and Fapou Semebene.
“I don’t care if you’re a three-year starter and I don’t care if you played 40 minutes a game last year or if you played zero minutes,” Wynn said. “Your ability to play next year is going to be based on here on out. Attitude and effort. Work ethic and IQ. Picking up on things and fitting what we’re asking you to do.”
During her four months at UW, Wynn has worked to smash stereotypes about her system and coaching style.
While it’s true that no one averaged more than 12 points for Long Beach State in 2016-17 and the 49ers ranked 141st in the NCAA while averaging 66.1 points per game, Wynn bristles when people say she’s a defensive-oriented coach.
“That is the reputation,” she said. “But it’s too simple to say that.”
Wynn has been annoyed by negative comments from Pac-12 coaches that she’s heard on the recruiting circuit.
“You hear through the grapevine that your system is not going to work up at Washington,” she said. “Well you know what, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Not to say that we’re building Rome here, but anywhere and with any coach it’s going to take time to put their stamp on a program and bring the kids that fit their philosophy.”
During her first five years at Long Beach State, the 49ers were 68-89 (. 433), including just one winning season. Since then, LBSU has had three 20-plus win seasons while compiling a 69-30 (. 697) record highlighted by a 23-11 mark last season that included the program’s first NCAA appearance since 1992.
“We’re the new kids on the block, we get that, and people are learning about us just as we’re learning so much every day about this team, its fans, this school and this city,” Wynn said. “I know people are curious about us and we’re spreading the word as best we can about who we are and what we believe in.”
Two things to know about Wynn: She demands a great attitude and maximum effort from players. And she’s an honest recruiter looking for young basketball players who seek a family-oriented team setting.
“I didn’t want anyone ever lying to me as a player,” said Wynn, a USC guard from 1993-96. “I don’t want anybody painting a false picture for my own kids as a parent. I wear a big parent hat.”
Wynn also wants you to know the Huskies will play differently than they did the past years under Neighbors, whose run-and-gun offense averaged 85 points and featured Plum, the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer.
“We run an equal-opportunity system,” Wynn said. “We don’t run a star system for one kid and the plays are run through 1 or 2 people.
“We play a bench. We sub. We get up and down the court. We press. We run. We get after it defensively. We like to dictate tempo. We like to generate scoring opportunities through our defense. We play multiple defenses. We change things up. Offensively, we spread the floor. And we have good ball movement.”
Still, the question Wynn frequently receives on the recruiting trail and at donor banquets is whether the Huskies can continue winning or will they be forced to rebuild?
“I honestly don’t know,” Wynn said. “I can’t tell you that. But here’s what I do know. These girls are champing at the bit for the opportunity and excited to work. And we’re excited to work with them.
“Every day we talk about attitude and effort. If you have the right attitude and if you give maximum effort, then you’re going to get better every day even if it’s just a small portion. We don’t expect you to improve leaps and bounds in a week, but over the course of this summer and this fall, we expect you to be ready to go this November. And then we’ll see where we are.”