One week after Minnesota swept Seattle in the opening round of the 2013 WNBA playoffs, PG Temeka Johnson woke up to a tropical view for Day 1 of her vacation. Storm fans were in Day 2 of a deluge to begin the long WNBA offseason.
Johnson played a critical part in the Storm’s 2013 season. She took on the starting role, replacing All-Star Sue Bird as the head of Seattle’s offense. A WNBA champion and 2005 Rookie of the Year, Johnson led the Storm to 17-17 record as Bird rehabilitated from a knee injury. It was a tricky season featuring six new faces but all were at Day 1 of training camp and none suffered major injuries in experiencing what all defined as the best season of their careers.
While predicting team chemistry is as futile as diagramming weather in the Pacific Northwest, the 2014 Storm roster should feature multiple familiar faces. The highlight obviously being the return of Bird and C Lauren Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP whose contract was suspended after offseason hamstring surgery. The Storm will be without WNBA legend Tina Thompson, however, due to retirement.
In the upcoming days I’ll share some parting thoughts from the players and coaching staff. It’s not as in-depth as the 2013 exit interviews series due to an illness I opted not to share with the organization. Up first is assistant coach Nancy Darsch, who won’t be returning to the Storm in 2014. Darsch, 61, was hired by Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler in 2008 and primarily developed the post players. She also split comprising scouting reports with assistant coach Jenny Boucek.
The hardest season season work-wise for Darsch was 2010 when the WNBA limited travel to one assistant coach. The 2013 season was challenging for Darsch as she dealt with the death of her brother and health issues. Here’s a phone conversation with Darsch:
Seattle Times: Was it your decision to not return to the Storm for the 2014 WNBA season?
Darsch: I would say it was mutual. It was just time to move on and time to pass the torch to the next person.
Q: You’ve been coaching for decades, are you looking for another stop?
Darsch: I certainly will be open to that, however the reality is there are only 24 assistant coaching positions in the league. So there’s not a ton but there is movement every year. I would definitely be open to that but think right now it’s time for me to take a break. It was a tough summer for me personally as well as physically. It’s time to step away. I’m free from now until March or April. I have no responsibilities to anyone, so I would be interested in talking with some teams if they were interested and if things came available.
Q: Will this be an aggressive job search?
Darsch: I’m not really an aggressive person. But I would at least put out a call for information if I was interested. I don’t think I’m in a situation where I have to work. But I would be open to going to another program, if they were interested in me.
Q: I know your brother passed, how else was the summer tough for you?
Darsch: I had emergency surgery toward the end of March. I’m still recovering in terms of fatigue and not having enough time to fully recover with the travel and everything else. It was a combination of those two factors, for sure.
Q: How difficult did it making coaching the season?
Darsch: I had to make some adjustments in my rest schedule, my work schedule. Things just took me longer to get done. I was just not 100 percent. That’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact. I don’t think that played into any decision (to not return) on either side. For me, anyway, it just let me know that I need a break.
Q: With the Storm, what were you most pleased with during your six-year tenure?
Darsch: We were always competitive. Brian’s teams always play good defense and play hard and we had great leadership with Sue and Lauren and this year with Tanisha (Wright) and Camille (Little) and Tina. I think the franchise is one of the best ones in the league. It’s a great venue (KeyArena) and with the StormCrazies, it’s a wonderful and very successful environment. Obviously the highlight has to be the 2010 WNBA championship and going undefeated in the playoffs at a time when only one assistant coach could travel. We handled that very well and players’ played.
Q: The players talked a lot about enjoying the 2013 season, did the coaching staff feel the same?
Darsch: I heard several of the players say it was the most enjoyable team that they’ve ever been a part of. There was very little drama and how every player sincerely cared for each other. They took care of each other and had each other’s back. I think, first of all, that Brian creates a great environment and great atmosphere and our leadership there with Camille and Tanisha and Tina were able to encourage the players and regroup the players to get people focused. The team respected those three tremendously and had no agenda of their own. Everybody was on the same bandwagon.
Q: Did that make Sunday’s Game 2 loss to Minnesota especially hard? It just seemed to be such an abrupt end to the season.
Darsch: That’s the thing about the playoffs, you never know when your last game is coming. For that game to go down to the last 20 seconds, it was even more on the edge and emotional. Sometimes if you lose by 15, you just say, ‘Well, you know, they were the better team tonight and dada dada da.’ When it comes down to one basket or one possession, it’s always a little bit more difficult to get over it. But I think all our players are resilient and they’re happy that they achieved what they achieved. As Tina said in the locker room postgame, ‘Everybody stop crying! We achieved a lot. We were great. Think about all the good things that happened. How we played and how we beat everybody’s expectations. Focus on that and stop crying!’
Q: Will you watch the rest of the postseason? Minnesota did move on to win the Western Conference championship and will face Atlanta in the WNBA Finals.
Darsch: Oh, sure.