ODU Grad Anne Donovan Hopes to Lead Olympic Basketball Team to Gold
May 2, 2008
Former ODU All-American and current USA women's basketball coach Anne Donovan was back on campus May 1 visiting with the athletic department staff during a break in her team's practice schedule as it prepares for the Olympic Games in Beijing.
The 6-8 Donovan, who once wowed crowds at the old Field House with her scoring, rebounding and shot blocking, marveled at how the campus has changed since she graduated in 1983. What hasn't changed for her, though, are the memories.
As a Lady Monarch, Donovan helped lead ODU to a national championship in 1980 and two more Final Four appearances. Her collegiate honors culminated in 1983 when she was named the Naismith Trophy winner, which goes to the national Player of the Year as selected by the nation's coaches.
Donovan completed her four years at ODU with a 3.5 cumulative average in her major of leisure studies and became the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in ODU history with 2,719 points and 1,976 rebounds. She still holds the record as the NCAA's all-time shot blocker with 801.
A three-time Olympian as a player, Donovan won gold as a member of the 1984 and 1988 U.S. Olympic teams (she was also a member of the 1980 squad that did not compete in the Olympics). She served as an assistant coach for Team USA during its gold medal wins in 1998, 2002 and 2004.
"The goal this year, obviously is a gold medal; nothing less will do," Donovan said. "We've won gold nearly every Olympics since 1976, and we've been gold medal winners since 2000.
"To achieve that again is going to be difficult," she admitted. "The team doesn't get together again until July 28, which is just one week before we have to be in Beijing. We've gone through three years of training since Athens and have never had four of our Olympians together."
It's easy to understand, from a coaching perspective, her concerns about developing chemistry in a very short period of time. And with the rest of the world catching up quickly in women's basketball, the competition has intensified. Donovan expects the teams from Russia and Australia to be the biggest threats this year.
"Unfortunately, our response to this hasn't been to train more," she said. "It's an interesting time in women's basketball right now. Our players are making so much money playing overseas, and this completely eliminates their time to train with our Olympic team. Over the last two years, some of these women are making $250,000 to $1 million."
Donovan said she will be relying on both the pride and talent of her final roster of superstars at the Summer Games, as well as their commitment to teamwork. To help compensate for their lack of time practicing together, the players will quickly have to "buy in" to Donovan's vision for the team. Some will need to take on different roles than they were accustomed to previously. In many cases, these players were the "go-to" stars on their respective college and pro teams.
"We have some young players who are first-time Olympians, we have Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi who will be two-time Olympians, and there's Lisa Leslie who will be a four-time Olympian," Donovan said. "The chemistry of those players will hopefully come together quickly, but that is our biggest challenge. That is the thing that could stand in the way of a gold medal. I don't mean chemistry just from a personality standpoint, but from a tactical standpoint as well."
Nine of the team's 12 players will be named officially later this month, and the final three will be chosen in June.
Commenting on the rewards and challenges of coaching the Olympic team, Donovan said, "The joy is that it is truly, truly what makes my blood rush. I am so patriotic. I started playing for our country when I was 15 years old, so I've been doing this a long time. Even before I was 15, I watched [Romanian gymnast} Nadia Comaneci, I watched the Olympics on TV, I was diehard red, white and blue. So that's the joy - that I get to be a part of this despite not playing any more.
"The challenge, if I'm honest, is the pressure of maintaining this success that we've had despite the changing times in women's basketball. But it's a challenge I can't say I wouldn't do all over again. I absolutely love the challenge of it."
Part of the challenge of winning now, she confessed, comes from being on the sidelines instead of out on the court.
"As a player, as long as you worked hard and practiced hard, you felt like you could control things. As a coach, I think I've realized there are some things you can't control, so it makes it a little more difficult, I think.
"There's something to be said for being naive," she added with a laugh, thinking back to her playing days.
A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Donovan has played professionally overseas, and returned to ODU as an assistant coach from 1989-95. She is a former collegiate and WNBA head coach, and led the WNBA's Seattle Storm to the league title in 2004.
She gave up her coaching position after the 2007 season, however, and now lives in Charlotte, N.C. She said she's not sure yet what she'll be doing after the Olympic Games.
"I took a step back from Seattle so I could get some balance back in my life and focus on this gold medal. I'll just wait and see what happens next."