Jenny Boucek: 'I want to become the best coach I can become'

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Monday, October 23, 2017

Jenny Boucek is her usual optimistic self about her new role with the Sacramento Kings, but also pragmatic.

She officially was announced as part of head coach Dave Joerger's staff on Friday before the Kings took on the Mavericks in Dallas. Boucek was let go by the WNBA's Seattle Storm on Aug. 10 during her third season as head coach. She had a combined record of 36-58 in Seattle, and took the brunt of the blame for the team's struggles this past season.

But she's not dwelling on anything negative from that experience. Now, Boucek joins fellow former WNBA player Becky Hammon as an NBA assistant coach. Hammon is further along in the pipeline, having joined the San Antonio Spurs' staff before the 2014 season, right as she was retiring from her playing career.

Hammon is in her fourth season in the NBA, and even was acting head coach for one half of a preseason game on Oct. 8. Empowering his assistants with opportunities like that is one of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich's training methods, and he has been a big supporter and mentor for Hammon. Many think she might become the first female head coach in NBA history.

Boucek isn't looking to that kind of elevation for herself now. She's familiar with the personnel -- players and staff -- of the NBA, and has many times visited with NBA teams to watch practices, attend meetings and take notes, dating back to the start of her coaching career as a WNBA assistant in 1999 with the Mystics.

But she doesn't have a specific long-range goal with the NBA. She said her career has always been about staying open to possibilities and acting on the ones that seem to fit. This, right now, is the best fit for her.

The Kings have a large staff under Joerger, with eight other assistants involved in bench coaching, scouting and developmental roles. Boucek wants to be a productive cog in the machine, and continue learning about the game.

"I think you learn from every situation," said Boucek, referring to her stints as a head coach and an assistant in the WNBA the past 18 years. "At the very least, I've learned about the nature of the business. You continue to learn about people, about yourself, about leadership, about team dynamics, as well as X's and O's."

Hammon was the first woman hired as a full-time assistant with an NBA team. Nancy Lieberman was the second when she joined the Kings in 2015-16, but she's no longer on the Sacramento staff.

Natalie Nakase (Agua Caliente Clippers) and Nicki Gross (Raptors 905) are assistants with the NBA G League teams (formerly called the D League) who coached in summer league play this year.

And now Boucek is another woman getting a chance in the NBA's coaching world. Overall, it's still a rarity in men's sports at all levels, from high school to professional. The same is true in ownership, front office, scouting, officiating, union and broadcasting jobs, but breakthroughs have happened.

Referee Sarah Thomas works in the NFL. Kathryn Smith spent last season as a Buffalo Bills assistant coach, but was let go when head coach Rex Ryan was dismissed. Jen Welter had a coaching internship with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015.

Gail Miller (Jazz), Jeanie Buss (Lakers) and Gillian Zucker (Clippers) are among women in NBA ownership and/or front office roles. It has been reported that Michelle Leftwich will leave the NBA main office to work for the Atlanta Hawks' front office. Michele Roberts was named head of the NBA Players Association in 2014.

Doris Burke, Jessica Mendoza and Beth Mowins have become broadcasters for the NBA, MLB and NFL, respectively.

How much more in the coming years women are able to elevate to the highest positions in pro men's sports -- and whether that helps open doors even more for others -- remains to be seen.

For Boucek, though, this role with the Kings is about the next step in her journey.

"I have a huge passion and heart for the women's game, and I always want to give back in every way I can," she said. "I don't think working in the NBA is mutually exclusive to that, whether it's short-term or long-term. I've been part of the WNBA since Day 1, so it's what I want to see succeed.

"I want to become the best coach I can become, and I'm part of the NBA now. Hopefully, that can help women in other ways. We have a generation of women, because of the WNBA, who have been trained in pro basketball. Me personally, I've never coached in college, and there are others who have only been in the pro game. And it's different. So I think there are a lot more women coming up who are going to be equipped for coaching and contributing in the NBA, if that should be their goal or dream."