What do you want your team to be known for?
The question seemed innocuous and something that’s typically asked of coaches who command teams looking for an identity.
Given the opportunity, many coaches will gab incessantly about creating a “culture,” which is the buzzword in sports these days that has many meanings depending on who’s talking.
Jody Wynn wasn’t looking for a viral moment last month at Pac-12 women’s basketball media day in San Francisco, but the Washington coach set social media on fire after providing a glimpse of the traits she’s trying to imbue into a UW team that’s attempting to climb back to prominence following a two-year decline.
“Grit, toughness, camaraderie (and) connectivity,” Wynn said. “That we can do anything together. Never quit. Pursue the glass ceiling. These are life lessons that they’re going to take into the working world.
“And if somebody tells you you’re not good enough, you’re not pretty enough, you’re not tall enough or you’re not smart enough, just keep pounding on that door and fighting through and believing in yourself so you can then believe in each other.”
Seriously, who talks like that anymore?
A few folks inside the room at Pac-12 headquarters applauded and cheered after Wynn’s impromptu soliloquy. By the time she trekked upstairs for a rooftop lunch in the San Francisco sun minutes later, her comments were trending on Twitter.
“That’s Jody,” said senior guard Amber Melgoza, who sat on stage next to teammate Missy Peterson and Wynn. “She says those things and it’s genuine and from the heart and that’s why we love her. She’s a coach that you want to play for.
“You talk about being emotional, I was getting fired up just listening to her and we still have another month before we play a game.”
Well, the countdown to the start of the 2019-20 season is winding down, and the action starts at 7 p.m. Friday against Cal State-Bakersfield at Alaska Airlines Arena.
After hitting rock bottom and finishing 7-23 in 2017-18 – the fewest victories and most defeats in UW history – in the first year under Wynn, the Huskies posted an 11-21 record last season.
Washington, which was picked ninth in the Pac-12 coaches preseason poll this season, is expected to continue to make improvements after finishing 11th and 12th in the conference the past two seasons.
“There’s nothing we want to do more than win a national championship at UW,” Wynn said. “That’s our ultimate goal and that’s something that we’re working every day for.
“But if you’re only focused on the dessert, then you’re going to lose track of the day-to-day grind that helps you get there. We’re trying to concentrate on ourselves and to be the best version of ourselves everyday. And let the chips fall where they may. If they pick us ninth, that’s fine but so what. We expect to be better than we were yesterday or last year.”
Any improvements Washington makes will hinge upon the dynamic duo of Melgoza and Peterson.
“They don’t have to be superstars,” Wynn cautioned. “They have to be themselves and I believe that’s enough. They’re truly outstanding young women, but we have a lot of them. … Amber, obviously, has been amazing since we got here and we started to see Missy come into her own last year.
“So just more of that and I’m happy. Those two, they do so much for us.”
Melgoza and Peterson, who averaged 27.5 points together last season, represent 51.8% of UW’s returning offense. They’re also the top returning playmakers, and combined to average 4.8 assists last season.
“Success in my mind is proving people wrong and being better than what anyone thinks,” said Peterson, who averaged 9.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists last season. “We’ve shown we can beat anybody in this conference. Now it’s about being consistent with that effort.”
Peterson capped the biggest victory in the Wynn era when she canned a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left to defeat No. 11-ranked Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals last season.
Washington’s run to the tournament semifinals lies in stark contrast to a 3-33 record in Pac-12 play the previous two seasons.
“Belief is funny,” said Melgoza, who led UW in scoring (18.1), rebounds (4.3) and assists (2.8) last season. “Once you do something like that (beating Utah and Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament), then your confidence grows. … We’ve got a confident team right now.”
Grit, toughness, camaraderie and connectivity.
Wynn learned those attributes while growing up as a swimmer in Orange County, Calif., starting her day at 4:30 in the morning in the pool and returning in the afternoon for more practice.
“It was always grind, grind, grind,” she said. “That’s the kind of team we’re going to be because that’s the only way I know how to coach.”
Wynn credits her former swim coach, Lori Scott, USC women’s basketball coach Mark Trakh and her mother, Cathy, a national junior champion and a UCLA golfer, for installing in her “the belief that you can do anything.”
“When you’re surrounded by incredible coaches, mentors and role models that I had, then you can’t help but learn some stuff from them,” Wynn said. “The things they taught me, I want to give to our young women. It’s so much more than basketball. This gets personal for me.
“For me being a mother and having two girls that are navigating through teenage years and the sixth grade, I’m trying to show them that they can be anything that they want to be. Keep chasing your own dreams.”