Every coach needs that first break, someone to open the door for them and give them a chance to prove they can handle the job at the highest level.

For Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, that someone was Anne Donovan.

Donovan, who won Olympic gold as both a player and coach and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995, died of heart failure Wednesday at age 56.

She gave Reeve her first WNBA assistant coaching job in Charlotte.

"You just sit there for a second, like this is surreal," Reeve told reporters of her reaction upon hearing the news. "Anne is the reason I'm coaching in the WNBA. She gave me my first opportunity."

As much as anyone in coaching, Donovan showed Reeve early on what it meant to not give up. The Sting started the year 1-10 in 2001 but went on to beat No. 1 seed Cleveland Rockers in the first round and then the New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference finals before eventually falling to the Los Angeles Sparks.

"To go through the journey with Anne and to see her navigate such difficult times to end up in the finals that year was one of the most prolific turnarounds in WNBA history in terms of if you look at the percentage of season that had past, and for us to scratch and claw," Reeve said.

Lynx center Sylvia Fowles was coached by Donovan in the Olympics.

"Anne was very critical for me in the 2008 Olympics," Fowles said Thursday. "She was one of those people that I looked up to and just to get the news was saddening."

Donovan was a standout 6-8 center at Old Dominion and followed her collegiate career with five seasons of professional basketball. She won Olympic gold medals as a player in 1984 and 1988 before retiring in 1989. She picked up another medal as a coach in 2008. By then, she'd already led the Seattle Storm to the WNBA title in 2004.

Reeve recalled one more moment from that incredible playoff run with the Sting.

"My vivid memories are walking through Times Square at 2 a.m.," she said, letting the rest of that special time sit quietly in her mind.