Becky Hammon may not have to wait too long for her opportunity to become a coaching pioneer.
Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker told Coloradoan.com that he is “not closing the door on any thought” as it relates to potential candidates. That would include possibly interviewing Hammon, the Colorado State alum and former New York Liberty guard who currently works on Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with the San Antonio Spurs.
When Popovich appointed Hammon to the Spurs bench in August 2014, she made history by becoming the first full-time female assistant coach. That’s not just in the NBA, but in all of the five major North American sports.
Landing the head job at Colorado State would be groundbreaking since no woman has ever coached a Division I men’s basketball team. The late Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt says she was offered the men’s job at Tennessee several times but elected to remain as the women’s coach, famously saying “I wouldn’t want people to think I looked at the men’s game as a step up.”
Last year, Hammon interviewed for the Florida women’s head coaching position but decided to return to the NBA. This came just as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, when asked about a woman becoming an NBA head coach, said: “There definitely will. And I think it is on me to sort of ensure that it happens sooner rather than later.”
Hammon, 40, is certainly on that path, but who knows when and if that opportunity will arrive. A head coaching gig doesn’t come around that often, so perhaps the Colorado State job, assuming it is offered, is all the more appealing.
It’s not unlike the decision Patrick Ewing faced last year when the head coaching position at his alma mater, Georgetown, become available. Ewing was an NBA assistant coach for 13 years, but it wasn’t until two years ago that he was viewed as a head coaching candidate in the NBA.
Ewing was losing patience. Then Georgetown called. It was the only college job Ewing would have considered.
Hammon could be in the same boat. The college game is different from the NBA in many ways and recruiting is a big part of it. That’s something else for Hammon to consider. Also, Colorado State is not exactly in the same class as Duke, Kansas and Kentucky. Colorado State has made the NCAA Tournament just twice in the last 15 years, including 2013.
The Rams went 11-20 this season under Larry Eustachy and finished second-to-last in the Mountain West Conference with a 4-14 record.
Remaining in the NBA until a more enticing option comes along may be better than trying to rebuild Colorado State. The fact that she works for the Spurs, one of the league’s top organizations, is a huge plus.
That Hammon has the backing of Popovich also goes a long way. It certainly helped former Popovich lieutenants Mike Budenholzer, Brett Brown and Jacque Vaughn land their first NBA head coaching jobs.
In fact, the Spurs assistant coach regarded as the strongest head coaching candidate is Italian born Ettore Messina, who has two decades of international experience. Two other Spurs assistants, James Borrego and Ime Udoka, the one-time Knick, also have more experience than Hammon, who two years ago coached the Spurs Summer League squad to the championship.
The next logical step for Hammon would be moving to the front of the bench and eventually becoming a lead assistant coach. If Hammon wants the NBA, she’ll have to be patient while also being realistic about her job prospects. She’ll need an owner and a general manager willing to give her a chance.
The athletic director at Colorado State sounds like he’s ready to take a big step. The question is whether Hammon is ready to take that historical leap.
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