Gillom leaving her stamp on Lynx

By Jayda Evans
Updated: June 12, 2009

Jennifer Gillom

Jennifer Gillom

MINNEAPOLIS — Los Angeles forward DeLisha Milton-Jones had to say something to Minnesota Lynx coach Jennifer Gillom.

Milton-Jones had just experienced a flashback during L.A.’s recent loss here.

“The first thing she did was congratulate me on the job I was doing,” Gillom said of the conversation. “The second thing she said was, ‘Oh, my God! I thought I was seeing Jennifer Gillom all over again on the court when I saw Nicky [Anosike]. She’s got your move down pat.’ “

Well, there’s one piece missing: The kick at the end of Gillom’s patented turnaround jumper.

“Thank God,” Milton-Jones told Gillom. “Cause you used to kick me all the time.”

Right now, Gillom is getting a kick out of how her life in basketball has changed.

Saturday, she’ll be one of six inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Last week, she became just the second former WNBA player to be named a head coach in the league (joining Sacramento’s Jenny Boucek), replacing Don Zierden for the 3-0 Lynx.

“Being a Hall of Famer was just a dream come true,” said Gillom, who starred for Ole Miss and the Phoenix Mercury. “My next goal was to be a head coach, win a championship and all that. But I didn’t expect it so soon. I’m a head coach already? I haven’t even been inducted into the Hall. It all happened so quickly and I just hope the championship happens quickly.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this quick.

Zierden intended to coach the Lynx this season after compiling a 26-42 record in his first two. But in April close friend Flip Saunders was named coach of the Washington Wizards, and the rumors began.

Zierden worked with Saunders as an assistant for the Timberwolves (1999-2005) and Detroit Pistons (2005-06). Those close to him said he was torn between returning to the NBA, where he’s a few years from being eligible for the league’s pension plan, and keeping his family in Minnesota to complete the season with the Lynx.

While his family remains, including his son, a Lynx ball boy, Zierden left.

“I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to work with Flip again,” Zierden said in a released statement.

“It was brewing for a while,” said Roger Griffith, Lynx chief operating officer, who has just four players that played under Zierden.

“He had been open with us. The transition is made easier because of who Jennifer is. Last year, our post players got to work with her, and this year she was coaching the guards in training camp. And it’s also a strong statement to our team. The leadership core of our group has really stood up this year.”

A coach leaving for the NBA is nothing new for the WNBA, which can’t compete with the men’s salaries.

Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper left for Denver, returned, and is leaving for Southern California at the end of the season. Paul Westhead was an assistant for the Sonics after winning a WNBA championship and now coaches the University of Oregon women. Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer is rumored for NBA positions annually. Chicago’s Dave Cowens left to become a Pistons assistant.

“I look at myself as a women’s basketball coach,” said Storm coach Brian Agler, whose team is 2-1 heading into Friday night’s game against Minnesota. “I would assume that my career will conclude coaching women’s basketball.

I see it that way.”

Gillom, who also turns 45 Saturday, said the transition has been easy. Zierden met with players and her before leaving for D.C., stating “you’re ready.”

“It was a surprise that Coach Z left, but it was about him bettering his family,” Lynx forward Seimone Augustus said. “And we stayed with a coaching favorite because everybody on our team loves coach Jen. She’s Grandmama. You can go to her and talk to her about anything. Even though she’s a head coach, she understands from a player’s point of view.”