Washington Mystics guard Ivory Latta woke up on Tuesday to unexpected, but exciting and "groundbreaking" news. Her head coach and former NBA assistant, Mike Thibault, had an inkling Becky Hammon was up to something.
"I think it's great," Thibault said on Tuesday about the San Antonio Spurs hiring the WNBA star as the NBA's first fulltime female assistant coach.
"(I) anticipated it a little bit reading between the lines when they had her working with them this winter almost like an internship," Thibault continued. "I know Coach (Gregg Popovich) enough to know the wheels had to be spinning a little bit after seeing how it worked this winter. Then when she announced her retirement a few weeks ago, in the back of my mind I said, 'Knowing her, she's got something going on whether it's there or somewhere else.'
Hammon indeed had something going on, becoming only the second woman to work on an NBA coaching staff. She'll join the reigning NBA champions after wrapping up the season -- her 16th in the WNBA --with the San Antonio Silver Stars. The six-time WNBA All-Star took part in the Spurs practices this winter.
"I've always felt she would be a good coach," Thibault said of Hammon, one of the league's all-time leaders in scoring and assists. "She's a great student of the game. In many ways, a self-made player. Here's an undrafted player -- an All-American but an undrafted player who had a 16-year career in our league. There's obvious talent there, but to (make) the improvements that she did, to keep getting better. She's prepared as best she can for this type of situation."
"It's good she's also going to a situation where people recognize it's not a publicity stunt. Popovich is comfortable in his own skin. They're the world champions. They're kind of a low-key organization. Doing something like this is something they feel is a good thing to do."
Latta: "I thought it was a great day for women's basketball. It couldn't happen to a better person. She's in a perfect situation with the best coach in the NBA."
Named to her second All-Star team this year, Latta looked up to Hammon upon entering the league even though she's eye-to-eye with her fellow 5-foot-6 point guard. "She's a small guard. If (Becky) could do, I could do it."
Moving beyond the court, Hammon now figures to have a new group of young girls looking up to her. If former NBA player and Mystics Player Personnel Manager Awvee Storey as any say, his five-year-old daughter will be among them.
"I think she'll do great," Storey said of Hammon. "I'm excited. ...The fact that women are breaking into the NBA that way makes it even more exciting for (my daughter)."
Except the adults to pay attention as well.
"Everybody is going to [have] eyes on [Becky] to see how she's doing," said Latta, who last year was an assistant for the University of North Carolina women's team.
All the excitement over the Spurs hiring a female assistant coach led some to ponder why now. Or more specifically, why not before?
"That's a great question. Men coach women. I guess some people don't think women have the brains to coach a men's team," Latta said. "I don't know how that goes, but today is a groundbreaking day.
"If you know the game whether you're a man or a woman or whatever then you know the game. You can take any team wherever you want to go. It doesn't matter about the sex."