Pro in sum­mer, col­lege coach in win­ter

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DAVID SCOTT [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

As the Char­lotte 49ers’ women’s bas­ket­ball sea­son wore on last De­cem­ber, a fa­mil­iar feel­ing resur­faced and be­gan to gnaw at as­sis­tant coach Tan­isha Wright.

“I started to get the itch,” Wright said. “I was miss­ing com­pet­ing as a player. The spirit of be­ing able to com­pete. Quite frankly, I thought I’d gain that feel­ing through coach­ing, but that just hadn’t ma­te­ri­al­ized. My com­pet­i­tive spirit was still there and jump­ing around in­side me.”

Wright was in her first sea­son on 49ers coach Cara Con­sue­gra’s staff. It had also been nearly two years since she had stepped away from her 12-year ca­reer in the WNBA, where she is one of just 10 play­ers in league his­tory with at least 3,000 points, 1,000 re­bounds and 1,200 as­sists.

She rec­og­nized the feel­ing. It was time to go back.

Play­ing again this sum­mer, this time for the de­fend­ing cham­pion Min­nesota Lynx, Wright, a 5-foot-11 guard, plans on re­turn­ing to the 49ers when the WNBA sea­son ends.

Coach­ing in col­lege and play­ing pro in the sum­mer is pos­si­ble for women be­cause those sea­sons are not con­cur­rent like

the men’s are.

“I’m def­i­nitely happy with my de­ci­sion and how it’s worked out,” Wright, 34, said. “(Min­nesota) is a great spot and be­ing able to com­pete at a high level was some­thing I missed.”

Wright had been at that elite level for 12 years in the WNBA and over­seas. The 12th over­all pick in the 2005 WNBA draft, Wright played 10 sea­sons for the Seat­tle Storm and two for the New York Lib­erty. She helped the Storm win the 2010 WNBA title and was named to the league’s all-de­fen­sive team seven times.

WORN DOWN MEN­TALLY

But it fi­nally wore her down, as much men­tally as phys­i­cally. So af­ter the 2016 WNBA sea­son, she de­cided to take a break. How long that would last or if it would be per­ma­nent, she didn’t know.

“I’d been trav­el­ing for so long, I’d missed so much time with my fam­ily, I needed to walk away,” she said. “But I needed to be free to do what­ever I wanted to do. I needed to re­gain what­ever it was I was miss­ing. I was able to build some re­la­tion­ships. But I had no idea if it would be tem­po­rary or not.”

Wright recharged by spend­ing a lot of time with fam­ily in New York and re­lax­ing at her home in Char­lotte, where she has lived since 2006. That was con­ve­nient when she re­con­nected with Con­sue­gra, who was Penn State’s di­rec­tor of player devel­op­ment dur­ing Wright’s ca­reer with the Nit­tany Lions.

“I went about my sum­mer (of 2017) not know­ing what I was go­ing to do,” Wright said. ”But I re­grouped and talked with Cara and it seemed like a good op­por­tu­nity for me to get some ex­pe­ri­ence and maybe help me fig­ure out what would be next for me.”

Con­sue­gra hired Wright, who quickly took to be­ing a coach. But it wasn’t long be­fore even Con­sue­gra no­ticed that Wright needed some­thing more.

“I won­dered if that door was still open,” Con­sue­gra said. “She had never re­ally for­mally an­nounced her re­tire­ment. I think her get­ting into coach­ing kind of re­newed her fire for play­ing and gave her that itch again for com­pe­ti­tion. She kind of re­al­ized she was miss­ing it.”

Wright knew that if she were to re­turn to the WNBA af­ter miss­ing a sea­son, she’d need to get back in shape in a hurry. So she started train­ing in Jan­uary, jug­gling that reg­i­men with the du­ties of a full-time job on the staff of a Di­vi­sion I pro­gram.

“When Jan­uary hit, I had to pro­ceed to get my­self in shape,” Wright said. “If I was go­ing to do this, I first had to see if my body could han­dle tak­ing a year off.”

Word also got out that she was con­sid­er­ing a come­back. Lynx coach Ch­eryl Reeve was the first to con­tact Wright.

“When we learned she was go­ing to play again, that was the only player that we wanted,” Reeve told the St. Paul Pi­o­neer Press.

Wright is play­ing a key role for Min­nesota as a sub­sti­tute, av­er­ag­ing 4.1 points, 1.2 re­bounds and 1.4 as­sists en­ter­ing their game Fri­day against the Seat­tle Storm.

“When you leave for a year, it takes time to get ac­cli­mated, to get your rhythm back,” Wright said.

RARE, NOT UN­HEARD OF

Wright’s pro-player, col­lege-coach sit­u­a­tion is rare, but it isn’t unique. Her Lynx team­mate Lind­say Whalen is also the Min­nesota Golden Go­phers’ head coach. The Phoenix Mer­cury’s Bri­ann Jan­uary is an as­sis­tant at Ari­zona State.

South Carolina coach Dawn Sta­ley played for the Char­lotte St­ing while she was head coach at Tem­ple in the mid-2000s. Jennifer Riz­zotti, now at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, coached at Hartford dur­ing her time as a player in the NBA. Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics guard Ivory Latta was an as­sis­tant at her alma mater of North Carolina from 2016-17 be­fore re­sign­ing to con­cen­trate on her play­ing ca­reer. Syd­ney Col­son of the Las Ve­gas Aces was an as­sis­tant at Rice from 2015-17.

Con­sue­gra said she con­ferred with UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell and Rice’s Tina Lan­g­ley about hir­ing Wright while not know­ing if she might re­turn to the WNBA.

“They both told me it was a no-brainer, do it,” Con­sue­gra said.

Wright has had an im­pact on the 49ers.

“She’s been there,” said ju­nior guard Jade Phillips, a trans­fer from Syra­cuse. “The sto­ries she tells me, the work­outs she puts us through. I think it helps us know what to ex­pect if we want to go to the next level. I know what the mile­stones are for me for when I go pro.”

Wright won’t be able to ac­com­pany the 49ers when they leave next week on a 10-day, three­game pre­sea­son trip to Spain. But she’ll be back in Char­lotte and ready for an­other go-round with the 49ers when­ever the Lynx’s sea­son ends.

“I miss my girls tremen­dously,” Wright said of the 49ers. “I try to keep in touch as of­ten as I can.”

Wright said she’s keep­ing her op­tions open for the fu­ture. She doesn’t want to com­mit to play­ing again, or know if she’ll want to con­tinue coach­ing af­ter next sea­son. On the other hand, she might want to con­tinue to do both.

“I’m kind of try­ing to live in this world where I try to live in the mo­ment,” she said. “I don’t want to make any de­ci­sions about next year, or the next year or the year af­ter. I’m go­ing to live in the mo­ment and wher­ever God takes me, that’s where I’m go­ing.”

JEFF WHEELER TNS

Tan­isha Wright, left, is a guard for the WNBA’s Min­nesota Lynx in the sum­mer. In the win­ter, she’s a coach for the Char­lotte 49ers.

SAM ROBERTS

Char­lotte as­sis­tant women’s bas­ket­ball coach Tan­isha Wright, right, shown last sea­son dur­ing a 49ers time­out, is play­ing this sum­mer for the WNBA’s Min­nesota Lynx.

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