When you are a woman who stands 6-feet-8 learning to adapt, and understanding how to help others adapt to you, becomes a central part of your life.
That is why Anne Donovan won’t stress much this weekend when she prepares to address her new team, the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, for the first time on Monday.
Frankly, it’s not the tallest order she’s had to deal with in her career.
“The night before camp, there likely will be a lot to thought [about what to say]. But my general feeling is, the best thing I can do is just be myself,” Donovan said. “It has worked for with me with a bunch of other teams and a lot of different players. All I know how to do is be myself. That will be my message.”
Dovovan, a women’s Hall of Fame player, a WNBA champion (2004) and Olympic gold medal coach (2008), replaced the fired Mike Thibault in January, deciding to leave Seton Hall midway through the five-year deal she had to coach the Big East program.
She becomes the just the second coach in Sun history. And she inherits a program that has been two WNBA Finals in 10 seasons and was one win shy last season of a third.
For Donovan, the focus won’t be as much as change and acceptance.
“I won’t spend a lot of time talking about change; I’ve already done so much of that over the phone with the players,” she said. “I think everyone [on the team] has moved on mentally. Now they’ve got to move on physically by trying different things, to be open to doing things a new way and becoming accustomed to new terminology and the three different voices that will on the court.”
Donovan did not retain anyone from Thibault’s staff. She hired Jen Gillom, a former two-time WNBA coach and 2012 Olympic assistant, and Catherine Proto, who has worked with Donovan with the New York Liberty and Seton Hall, as assistants.
“Any time you are a player and there is a new coach coming in, and you are not familiar with that coach, there is the unknown to deal with,” Sun guard Kara Lawson said. “You don’t know what she is like, what her style is, what is her personality is like? All these things go through your mind.
“But I don’t have that unknown. I know what she wants and expect [Lawson played for Donovan during the 2008 Beijing Olympics]. It’s good that myself and Kalana Greene [who played for Donovan in with the New York Liberty] already know her. So it’s not entirely new to Anne, either.
And beginning with the first day of practice Monday, a team with his core primarily in tact will begin its assimilation to a new way of doing things.
“No one [of the players] I talked to was on the edge [with concern] when we spoke on the phone,” Donovan said. “Maybe some were teetering because of all the uncertainty. Familiarity is a really good thing. But I’ve learned by now in life that change can be a real good thing, as well. There will be challenges for us all, but I am confident, in time, that everyone will embrace it.”
Eight of the 11 players who ended last season are still with the team. Those missing are veteran Asjha Jones, who is taking the season off, third-year wing Danielle McCray, who injured her Achilles in Italy and will miss the season, and center Jessica Moore, who was not resigned.
Those three spots will initially be filled by draft picks and free agents, including No. 1 pick, Kelly Faris, the record-setting UConn guard. Donovan says she envisions Faris filling the small forward void left by McCray.
“I am not counting like that. We know we have holes and we are trying to fill them with free agents and draft picks,” Donovan said. “I will come to camp with thoughts, but no determinations made, even about whom the top five or eight are. It’s a clean slate for everyone to re-establish themselves and their roles. I am curious to get my hands on them.
Donovan admits Sun GM Chris Sienko will keep a close eye on those players cut by the other 11 WNBA teams, just in case a better fit presents itself for the team.
“There will be differences. But will the team look night-and-day different? No it will not,” Donovan said. “This team has been successful. Mike [Thibault] liked to push the ball, so do I. The team is pretty squared away offensively as is. Where we can make strides is by closing some gaps defensively.”
Donovan is particularly excited about working with center Tina Charles, the WNBA’s reigning MVP. Donovan equates the experience to coaching future Hall of Fame center Lauren Jackson, who helped Donovan win a league title in Seattle in 2006.
“To get the MVP, who is only 24 and has so much passion and upside, is fantastic,” Donovan said of Charles. “I remember that after Lauren won the MVP she still was not content. I see the same traits in Tina. She’s hungry for a ring.”
And Donovan is just as hungry to put her stamp on the Sun.
“The truth is, these girls experience change every year playing overseas,” Donovan said. “They play in new countries, play for new teams with new teammates and coaches.
“But for a long time, the Connecticut Sun was their stability. Now, this will just be a different change.”