RIO DE JANEIRO – After the U.S. women’s basketball team’s first practice in Rio, Lynx star Seimone Augustus told Cheryl Reeve to “grab the bags.” It’s not every day that a player gets to haze her coach, but Reeve is the only member of the Lynx on the American team who can be considered an Olympic rookie.
Augustus and Sylvia Fowles are playing in their third Olympics; Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen are playing in their second. Reeve finds herself in a different role and setting this month, working as an assistant coach for the first time in seven years while making her Olympic debut.
Sunday, the Americans carried a 41-game winning streak into their opener against Senegal and won 121-56. Reeve is accustomed to working with great talent and winning titles. The Lynx boast four Olympians and three WNBA titles in the past five years.
The difference is the Americans’ depth. Their second unit probably would medal, if not win the gold.
“This group in particular is unbelievably talented,” Reeve said. “Every game we go into and say, ‘Who are we playing against?’ Then we break down the rotation.”
The U.S. started Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Moore, Brittney Griner and Tina Charles. “Then we bring in Lindsay and Seimone and Angel McCoughtry and Elena Delle Donne and Syl,” Reeve said. “This group is not only talented; it’s like our group at home, which is why I enjoy working with them so much. They’re really good people. They really enjoy the process.”
Which is a departure from Reeve’s usual process. Uneasy rests the head that wears the whistle.
“I think what I enjoy now is that I think I’m a better assistant coach now than when I started out in the game,” Reeve said. “Once you’re a head coach, you have a way better understanding about what the head coach needs and what your role should be. Which is that every day we walk in and say, ‘What do you want, Geno?’
“There is no question that when I go back to my cabin at night I sleep really good. I don’t have a care in the world, other than trying to get the players to do what we want. But it’s so different from when you lay down your head at night as a head coach.”
On a talented team, dividing playing time might be the head coach’s most difficult task. Every decision holds the potential to anger an important player.
“I enjoy both roles,” Reeve said. “But this is a nice break from being the bad guy. Now Geno’s the bad guy. He’s got to make the substitutions. Of course it’s hard for me to be the good guy with Lindsay, Maya, Seimone and Syl right now. Because they know I’m really the bad guy.”
Auriemma’s three assistants are Reeve, Dawn Staley and Doug Bruno. Reeve has the highest winning percentage in WNBA history. Staley is a three-time gold medalist who coaches South Carolina. Bruno has won 20 games or more at DePaul for 13 of the past 14 season, and in the 14th he won 19.
Would Reeve like to someday become head coach of the Olympic team?
“I don’t think there’s any coach who would say no if USAB called and asked,” Reeve said. “It would be the ultimate honor. Right now, I’m a rookie. I’m enjoying the process and doing things for the first time. I walked out to the court and that was the first time.”
The game never was close. Senegal’s fans cheered loudly, and it sounded as if Brazilians and neutral fans began booing the United States as the score grew lopsided.
“When you’re the U.S., that happens,” Reeve said. “So that’s not unfamiliar territory for our group, or Geno. I thought the atmosphere was really good.”
She planned to get another peaceful night of sleep, knowing someone else gets to be “the bad guy” with her players.