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July 13, 2009 at 4:06 PM

Monday afternoon dribble: Jenny Boucek on Sacramento firing

Boucek.jpgA naturally bubbly person, when Sacramento GM John Whisenant text’d coach Jenny Boucek to meet at an area Starbucks, she thought the conversation would be encouraging. The Monarchs, riddled with injuries to key players, are 3-10 and rank last in the WNBA.
Instead Boucek was fired in the approximate 30-minute conversation.
“I was completely surprised,” said Boucek, who had two players in her starting lineup who returned from knee surgeries and a point guard basically playing with one hand due to a sever thumb injury. “I felt good about our team’s progress given our injuries and schedule. They were in a good place mentally, just starting to play better, and our schedule was just getting ready to lighten in about three games, playing at home. I believe and still believe this team is going to start winning. It was just about to hit its stride. So yeah, I didn’t see it [the firing] coming.”
Whisenant, who has had health problems in the past and stepped down from coaching the Monarchs in 2006, is resuming the coaching duties. Unavailable for immediate comment, in a released statement he said the team’s poor start was the reasoning for the firing.
A tough blow for Boucek, a former Storm assistant and WNBA player. The 35-year-old wasn’t naive about the business she chose to enter, but within five seconds of talking to Boucek, you know she’s deeply spiritual. And when we spoke today, she went even further into her beliefs about the importance of sports.
To Boucek, the point of playing remains with why the Games were invented by the Greeks originally. Add the self-esteem benefits for women and young girls and it’s a necessary outlet that’s slowly being spoiled by the pursuit of money.
“I got bit by the teeth of professional sports,” Boucek said. “I knew that going in, that that is always possible. But I’m never going to think any different about why we should be playing sports, coaching sports and what their purpose is — that’s to bring out the best in people. That’s what drives me. I’m not afraid to fail in the world’s eyes because I’m ready to go to take the challenge and I know I’ll be better for it. I wanted to instill that in my players — to not fear failing or losing. Go out and do your best and become the best you can through adversity.”
In Sacramento, the Monarchs are averaging 8,494 fans after five home games. Up so far from 8,413 from last season. But conjoined with the Kings, there are arena issues. Feeling the team slip, it appears Whisenant panicked, making a rash move that sparked ire across the league.
Boucek (pictured right by USA Today) is a more than capable coach. She played for the legendary Debbie Ryan at Virginia and former Miami Sol coach Ron Rothstein took her under his wing. Boucek also worked for Anne Donovan, winning a championship in Seattle in 2004, and scouted for the Sonics. Few are more dedicated to the details of the sport.
Ryan, Rothstein, her pastor and parents, who live in Seattle, were the first calls Boucek made after being fired on Sunday. Her pastor contacted the players, who gathered at Boucek’s home to grieve that evening.
“If it’s meant to be over, I surrender to that,” said Boucek, who coached one All-Star game and was close to reaching the WNBA Finals last season, but 40-41 overall. “I have no regrets. My time here was a total joy and an incredible learning experience. I’m excited about what’s next in my journey.”
Boucek, one of five former players to have coached in the league, has no immediate plans and said she won’t actively pursue positions that will be open in the future, like Los Angeles, because the league knows her reputation and she has “never pursued jobs before.” She’ll remain in Sacramento for now, but could return to Seattle or elsewhere, open to whatever opportunity is presented.
The players had an afternoon practice with Whisenant today. He was not immediately available due to a pre-scheduled doctor’s appointment. I may update later with his comments.
“The players were reacting very strongly to it,” Boucek said when she notified them of the firing. “I told them I’m going to do everything to help them to the day I die. I’ve been like that with the Storm players, too. This is not going to change my heart for them and wanting the best for them. I just won’t be in the locker room with them everyday. We were a team.”
Storm PG Sue Bird was visibly upset when asked about the news. Teammates like Janell Burse and Tanisha Wright still visit Boucek’s parent’s home for dinners and comfort despite Jenny no longer being with Seattle.
“From a friend standpoint, you never want to hear that,” said Bird, who intends to contact Boucek. “It just reminds you that this is a business. If your team is not winning, generally speaking, your franchise is going to make moves whether it’s coaches or personnel. You gotta come to work every day.”
Understandable. But I’m not sure this that situation. Possibly if Sacramento were healthy. But, as the Storm taught on Sunday, there’s an ebb and flow in everything.
Owners of the longest playoff-berth streak in the WNBA (six), this may have been the time Sacramento took a step backward to go forward. Boucek is the perfect type of coach to carry a team out of muck. Too bad she wasn’t given that chance.
The news zap some of the energy from a weekend full of entertaining games, including Seattle’s five-point loss to Chicago on Sunday. The WNBA named Phoenix SG Cappie Pondexter and Washington G Alana Beard players of the week for their respective conferences.
Participants for the July 25 All-Star game will be announced during ESPN2’s broadcast of the Los Angeles-Connecticut matchup.



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