Goestenkors to college coaches everywhere: Start watching the WNBA

Fever assistant Gail Goestenkors, who led Duke to four Final Four appearances, says observing how the WNBA functions would help college coaches be even more successful. Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's been a pretty special year for Indiana Fever assistant coach Gail Goestenkors. As the 2015 WNBA season winds down, she hopes her former coaching colleagues in the women's college game are watching.

The league's 19th season might wrap up Sunday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) with Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, as Minnesota has a 2-1 lead over Indiana in the best-of-five series. If not, it will be over Wednesday with Game 5 back in Minnesota.

Goestenkors, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee, this summer because of her college coaching success, has come to truly appreciate the WNBA.

That's part of why she encourages all coaches to tune in. Goestenkors also said if coaches at different levels of the game can visit a WNBA training camp or go to a practice, it will be very worth their while.

"If they're serious about becoming a great coach, they should do that," Goestenkors said. "Because there is really no comparison to the amount I learned in just a few short years in the WNBA, as opposed to what I learned as a college coach through all of my years.

"I studied the game then; I went to clinics. But the nuances of the game at this level, coaching the very best in the world ... it is really an immeasurable difference."

Goestenkors was an assistant at Iowa State and Purdue before taking over as head coach at Duke in 1992. Her Blue Devils advanced to four Final Four appearances in 15 seasons, in which she went 396-99. She then coached five seasons at Texas (102-64) before stepping away from the sideline at the end of the 2012 season.

At the time, she cited being burned out on basketball, and she didn't return to a coaching role until she became an assistant with the Los Angeles Sparks last WNBA season. She had been an advisor to the Sparks the previous season.

This year, Goestenkors and Gary Kloppenburg joined Stephanie White for her first season as head coach in Indiana. Goestenkors said the knowledge she has picked up in the WNBA is due to many factors.

"Some of it is from the NBA because some of our league's coaches have come from the NBA," she said. "And there's the crossover with NBA coaches. Steph talks to the Pacers coaches all the time. But also, you're working with players who go overseas and then come back with new ideas, as well. So it's also the international game that impacts us, and so you're learning, really, from everybody."

Goestenkors acknowledged that during her days as a college coach, she didn't watch the WNBA as much as she now wishes she had.

"I sensed that unless they had a former player or players in the league, most college coaches didn't watch it," she said. "And I think it's because they feel like they don't have time.

"College basketball is now 365 days of recruiting and prepping your own team, so you don't have much off time. And in that time, I don't think they spend it analyzing and talking about the WNBA and watching the WNBA's coaches. But it would benefit them so much."

To that end, Goestenkors said, making watching the WNBA more of a priority would be a bigger help than coaches realize.

"You feel like you don't have time. I remember having that feeling myself," she said. "But you would actually save yourself time if you would follow the league and watch how it's played because you'd become a better coach.

"And Steph has been very open to any coach who wanted to come in. They could sit in on our staff meetings. They could watch practice. I think that's indicative of most of the WNBA coaches."

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Another thing Goestenkors notices is a different sense of camaraderie among the much smaller group of WNBA coaches, compared to that among those in the college game.

"College coaches are always afraid that someone is going to learn their secrets, and they tend not to share as much," she said. "Whereas in the WNBA, there are only 12 teams, and we share ideas, thoughts, concerns ... because we know we're all in it together."

As for working with the WNBA-level athletes, Goestenkors said the teaching process is more on the nuances and smaller things and the players pick things up very quickly and implement them.

All in all, being in the WNBA has been good for Goestenkors, both professionally and personally.

"I used to say being a coach was my identity. It was who I was," Goestenkors said. "If we won, I felt great. And if we lost, it was like somebody died. I took it to the extreme.

"Now I know coaching is what I do but not who I am entirely. And I feel it's allowed me to enjoy it more and probably be a better coach because I have a better perspective about things."

Goestenkors' name is bound to be mentioned for various jobs in women's basketball, including the open head-coaching position for the Connecticut Sun. But she said she's currently not looking too far in the future. She's hopeful the Fever can extend this series to Game 5, and shortly after the WNBA season ends, she'll prepare to do TV analysis for women's college games.

"I'm enjoying what I'm at right now," Goestenkors said. "I enjoy broadcasting -- last year, that was a new experience. And this has been an incredible experience with the Fever.

"At the end of the season, I'll catch my breath before I get ready for college season again, and then just reassess. I like what I'm doing, but I guess I am always open to new adventures."