High Impact Leadership

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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When each of the past three WNBA champions hoisted their trophies, Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes felt more than a tinge of pride.

In 2012, Hughes watched as former point guard Stephanie White celebrated as an assistant coach with the Indiana Fever. In 2011, Hughes beamed as former assistant Cheryl Reeve led the Minnesota Lynx to the championship in her second season as head coach. The year before, he cheered as former assistant Brian Agler guided the Seattle Storm to the title.

Three branches of the Dan Hughes coaching tree have borne WNBA championship fruit. The remaining branches have produced hundreds of victories in the professional, collegiate and high school ranks.

In 11 seasons as a WNBA coach, Hughes’ impact on women’s basketball reaches across the U.S. and beyond. Thirty two of his former players or assistants are coaching, five of them in the WNBA. Alger and Reeve each have been named league Coach of the Year. White is a rising star as is former guard and current Silver Stars assistant Vickie Johnson. Then there’s former assistant Sandy Brondello, now assisting in Los Angeles after serving as head coach of the Silver Stars.

Across the Atlantic, former Silver Stars assistant Olaf Lange -- Brondello’s husband -- is coaching UMMC in the Russian Premier League.

“I have a lot of fun following their teams,” Hughes says of his former players and assistants. “I check on them all the time. It’s fun to watch their success.”

The success of such a larger number of former players and assistants is another mark of distinction for a coach who recently received another contract extension. Why do so many follow the winningest coach in Silver Stars history into the business?

Johnson, a current assistant, offers this: “He’s such a great guy and he rubs off on you so that you want to be able to reach people the same way he has.”

Years ago, Johnson had an epiphany as a standout guard. The Silver Stars were coming off a losing season. Hughes sat the team down and explained the process that would turn the team around. It worked and Johnson, a two-time All Star, told Hughes, “I want to be a coach.”

Hughes responded, “When you retire, I’ll give you your first job.” Now here she is, working the sidelines with Hughes.

In 2012, her first season as an assistant, Johnson mentored the Silver Stars’ guards. The backcourt set a franchise record for total assists (617), assists per game (18.1), assist to turnover ratio (1.42) and total steals (286.).

A few other achievements from the Hughes’ coaching tree:

  • Reeve’s first team in Minnesota went 13-21. Her second team won the WNBA championship, which marked one of the greatest turnarounds in league history. Her third team reached the WNBA finals. Reeve assisted Hughes in Cleveland in 2003.

  • Agler has won 148 WNBA games, owns an 11-8 postseason record and guided the Storm to its second league title in 2010. Seattle went undefeated at home (17-0) in the regular season and did not lose in the postseason. Agler assisted Hughes in San Antonio from 2005-07.

  • White served as a Chicago Sky assistant before joining the Fever in 2011 and assisting coach Lin Dunn on the 2012 championship team. White played for Hughes in Charlotte in 1999.

  • T.R. Dunn serves as an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He also assisted NBA teams in Houston and Sacramento and served as head coach of the Charlotte Sting. Dunn assisted Hughes in Charlotte in 1999.
  • Fifteen of Hughes former players and assistants are coaching in college. They include South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, Elon coach Charlotte Smith, Duquesne coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, Montana State coach Tricia Bader-Binford, Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti, UNC-Greensboro coach Wendy Palmer-Daniel and USC assistant Tai Dillard.

    “I’ve just had a lot of guards,” Hughes says, “who honestly were coaches on the floor.”

    White was one such floor leader."Dan pays attention to details in all aspects of the game," White says."He does a great job of putting his players in positions to make them successful, even if that means adjusting or tweaking his system.

    "His passion and enthusiasm are infectious so he impacts the people he's around in a positive manner. I think it's not only a reflection of Dan's ability as a coach but as a person to be able to positively effect so many of his athletes."

    There are branches in the Hughes coaching tree that precede his arrival in the WNBA. While attending a college game in Oklahoma recently, a gentleman in the gym recognized him.

    “Coach Hughes!”

    It was Anthony Stewart, who had played more than 20 years earlier for Hughes at Mount Union College. After Stewart graduated, coach and player lost touch.

    “I knew Anthony had gone into private business,” Hughes says. “But he somehow got the desire to go into coaching. Now he’s one of the top (men’s) assistants at Ohio University. That’s so cool. I hadn’t seen him since 1989.

    “I can feel awfully successful as a coach when I see people I’ve coached be successful in life, raising family, coaching. It makes me glad to be a coach when I see people like Anthony and realize that I coached them. That’s priceless.”