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The most intriguing, transformational and innovative potential transaction on the college coaching wire has little to do with the drama surrounding possible openings at big-name schools like Connecticut, Georgia and Memphis.
At Colorado State, where veteran coach Larry Eustachy resigned as the basketball coach, there’s been a public openness to – and even clamoring for – an unprecedented coaching hire. Athletic director Joe Parker has been quoted publicly saying that he’d considered hiring San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon as the men’s basketball coach.
She was a three-time All-American at Colorado State, has her jersey retired there and has since emerged as a star assistant coach in the NBA.
“It’s the most frequently asked question I get, and recommended candidate,” Parker told Coloradoan.com. “I’m not closing the door on any thought.”
And by opening the door to a groundbreaking hire, the possibility looms for Hammon to be the first woman to work as a head Division I men’s basketball coach in history. Perhaps the best way to sum up how qualified Hammon is as a Colorado State candidate is that those who know her best don’t consider the move at all anomalous or unusual.
A source with knowledge of Colorado State’s search process told Yahoo Sports that Hammon is considered one of the top candidates by the administration.
Hammon declined comment on Tuesday night through a Spurs spokesperson. She’s stayed tight-lipped to reporters around the team as well. But those who’ve seen her quietly establish herself as one of the NBA’s bright young assistant coaches have rushed to endorse her coaching potential.
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, reached by phone by Yahoo Sports on Monday, lauded Hammon’s work ethic, basketball savvy and “emotional IQ that’s so important to being a successful coach.” Hammon joined the Spurs in 2014 as the first full-time paid female assistant coach on an NBA staff. Since that time, she’s perhaps stood out most by blending in. “She’s established a great presence in our group,” Buford said. “She’s got the respect of our coaches, our players and our organization. She has great insight at two different levels, both in the coaching environment and strategic discussions and she can also take [instruction] to our players and discuss with them.”
Hammon’s playing career includes six WNBA All-Star selections and she is the league’s eighth all-time leading scorer. Her coaching trajectory has ascended precipitously, as she got hired by the Spurs in 2014 and twice coached their summer league team. She led them to a summer league title in 2015. “She had great command of her team and had their respect,” said Celtics assistant Micah Shrewsberry, who coached against her that summer. “They played hard and ran good stuff. They looked like a Spurs group that had been together for a long time, not just two weeks.”
That’s the thing about Hammon. Ask about breaking barriers, and the answers come back about her simply being good at her job. The feeling around the Spurs organization is that Hammon, 40, can coach in the NBA for a long time at the highest levels. Any question about how Hammon is doing isn’t even received by Spurs officials through any prism of gender. She’s blazed a trail through quiet consistency, high intellect and earning respect in the NBA’s most respected organization.
If she got the Colorado State job, it would certainly be a big story. Just like it was when the Spurs hired her as an assistant. Soon, that faded away. “It wasn’t a big deal at the time [we hired her] because she deserved every bit of it,” Buford said. “We laugh about it. She wasn’t hired because we wanted to be trailblazers or she wanted to be one. She was hired because she was the right person to be in our group.
“My belief is that the story would last a short time, then it would be not that she’s a trailblazer, it’s that she’s the right fit.”
Hammon has had a shot to coach college basketball before, as she interviewed for the women’s coaching job at Florida last year. A person familiar with that search came away impressed: “She’s super sharp. She obviously understands basketball and has been successful at every level on the men’s and women’s side. She’s someone who isn’t afraid to be different and blaze her own path.”
She was perceived to be the leader for that job, but ultimately her career compass kept her coaching in the NBA. Would the men’s job at Colorado State have a different allure? It’s difficult to say. The biggest question would be recruiting, as it would be with any coach transitioning from professional basketball to college. “People aren’t raising that question because of gender,” said a veteran athletic director. “It’s because of skill set. Not to say she couldn’t do it, but it’s a fair question to ask.”
Another fair question: Should Hammon should stick in the NBA? She’s ascended through the league’s most lauded franchise. She’s a protégée of a coach, Gregg Popovich, who is regarded as the best in the world. And he’s consistently cast her potential as boundless.
“Becky can do anything she wants,” Popovich told reporters recently when asked about Hammon. “Whatever she wants to do in her future, I think is her choice. She’s got it all.”
Will that head-coaching potential be unfurled at Colorado State soon or in the NBA later? With Hammon, the only variable until her next seamless trailblazing path appears to be time.
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