Becky Hammon and Ruth Riley in 2010.
D. Clarke Evans/ WNBA

The Stars Go To Camp

By: Lorne Chan

A few dignitaries have been to the Spurs practice facility to observe training camp since it began last week. Some visitors have been familiar faces, including UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and former NBA players and coaches.

There’s also an extension of the Spurs family standing along the wall and taking a ton of notes: the San Antonio Stars staff.

The Stars’ WNBA season has been over for two weeks, but the staff has been busy getting pointers at Spurs training camp. General manager Ruth Riley, assistant coaches, and guard Kayla McBride have been in to watch the Spurs work.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to learn from the best in the business,” Riley said. “The Spurs have opened their doors to us, and it really is a community atmosphere where we can exchange ideas.”

Assistant coach Vickie Johnson said she took about 30 pages of notes in the first three days of training camp. The opening practices covered many of drills that the Stars run.

After one practice last week, Johnson spent about 20 minutes going over a practice drill with her former teammate, Spurs assistant Becky Hammon. A few feet away, Stars assistant James Wade was going over another drill with Spurs coach Will Hardy.

““What strikes me the most about Coach Pop is the way he has his players think the game and not just play it,” Johnson said.

Wade lit up as he recounted his week. He asked Popovich about post defense and had a basketball conversation with Spurs assistant Ettore Messina.

Wade had a 13-year professional career in Europe, including some time in Russia where he played against Messina-coached teams. He’s gone from watching Messina’s clinics on the FIBA YouTube site to watching him coach Manu Ginobili in person.

“This, to me, is the most beautiful place on earth,” Wade said. “This view is better than any beach or mountain because we’re watching Gregg Popovich and his staff at work.”

The note-taking and discussion extended beyond the court and to the training and weight room, where team trainer Tonya Holley and strength and conditioning coach Chrissy Stragisher got pointers from their NBA contemporaries.

“This is sports science heaven,” Holley said. “This is going to help us take our game to another level.”

The training camp experience is just one boost the Stars have gotten lately. Last Thursday, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and assistant coach James Borrego were high-fiving and congratulating Riley and the Stars staff as the team was awarded the No. 1 pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft Lottery the night before.

When the Spurs season ends, the Stars hope to keep the AT&T Center buzzing.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time for the Stars right now,” Riley said.  “It makes us grateful to see that the Spurs are just as excited for us.”