New Seattle Storm coach Jenny Boucek has watched players such as Sue Bird grow up as professionals in the sport of basketball. So have I ... but I've also watched Boucek grow up, too. When asked earlier this week about moving from her assistant's role with the Storm, replacing Brian Agler, she talked about her evolution as a student of the game.
"This is ironic -- you would understand why, because you watched my playing career -- but my specialty has become more offense than defense," Boucek said.
I had to chuckle at that because when she was a guard at Virginia from 1992 to '96, Boucek's identity was very much rooted in "I will hound you so closely as to know the thread count in your uniform" defense.
Her perimeter shot was not a thing of beauty, she'd be the first to admit, but that was never what stuck with you about watching Boucek. It was always that there never seemed a second she was on court when she wasn't giving her all, usually defensively bugging the other team's best scorer.
Boucek played every game as if there were a legitimate possibility that the world might end as soon as the final buzzer sounded, so there was no need to conserve energy.
Of course, now that she has coached, scouted and studied professional basketball for so many years, Boucek understands that balance of energy conservation/playing hard at the level the greatest players reach.
She also has come to truly understand offense, which as mentioned wasn't her forte as a player but does seem the logical field of expertise for her as a coach. I say that because Boucek comes from a family background of doctors, scientists and researchers, and the intricacies and patterns of offense truly fascinate her. This is not to say defense doesn't intrigue her, too, or that defense is not also pursuant of great basketball minds.
But ... you know, come on. Offense is more interesting.
"Offense is something I've enjoyed studying and learning about," Boucek said. "The analytical side of my brain likes the science of offense. And while I obviously believe in the importance of defense, I really enjoy offense and the evolving strategies that are going on in the game."
Boucek has long had friends and mentors from the NBA -- most recently, she spent September and October monitoring the Dallas Mavericks' training camp -- and she always has picked their brains for advice and ideas. This will be her second go-round as a WNBA head coach, having held that role in Sacramento in 2007-09, and going 40-41. Boucek was let go 12 games into the 2009 season, which ended up being the Monarchs' last.
Boucek has been in the WNBA as a player or coach since the league started in 1997. She was just a kid when it began, and has spent the last 17-plus years growing up with the league.
"I've already experienced the steep learning curve of just being a first-time head coach," Boucek said. "All the 'firsts' of that experience won't be around this time. There's still a lot of unknowns, but not the inherent challenge of doing it for the first time."
There are definitely unknowns. The Storm have won two WNBA titles -- in 2004 under coach Anne Donovan, and in 2010 under Agler -- and the franchise consistently has been a winner since drafting Bird with the No. 1 pick in 2002, following Lauren Jackson as the top selection in 2001.
But Jackson's injury issues -- which have kept her out of the league the past two seasons -- and the fact that both she and Bird are entering their mid-30s are sobering realities for the Storm.
Agler left to take over the Los Angeles Sparks, and it's understandable why: That franchise seems closer -- personnel-wise -- to competing for a WNBA title than Seattle does.
The Storm also have a new president and general manager in Alisha Valavanis, as longtime president/CEO Karen Bryant left the franchise to pursue other opportunities. With both Bryant and Agler, their departures were those "right time in life to make a move" decisions.
Now, Boucek and Valavanis are at the helm in what you could call a new era for the Storm. Even though Seattle has the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft this spring, it looks as if it's one of the worst years to have it. One future Hall of Famer -- Bird -- is still around. Another -- Jackson -- remains a big question mark.
There are, in fact, a lot of questions for which Seattle will have to figure out answers. Especially playing in a Western Conference with two mega-powerhouses in Phoenix and Minnesota, and a franchise that wants to reach its star potential in Los Angeles.
Boucek and Valavanis know there will be some rocky times ahead, and I'm sure the Storm fan base -- traditionally one of the WNBA's most supportive -- is well aware of that, too.
That's all why, on a philosophical level as well as a strategic one, it's good to hear Boucek talking about offense. Being aggressive and innovative and creative should make her an asset that the Storm really need to have now.