My very first practice with the Colorado Chill, a semi-pro women's basketball team that folded in 2006, I was on the same team as Hammon during a scrimmage. (She played three seasons for the Chill, in a league that ran opposite the WNBA season.) Hammon had no clue who I was; I, of course, knew exactly who she was, as she'd just recently exploded with the New York Liberty, earning a spot in the 2003 WNBA All-Star Game after going undrafted out of Colorado State.
About three minutes into the scrimmage, during a break in play, Hammon walked over to me and said the following, pretty much verbatim: "So it seems like you're most effective as a spot-up shooter. Why don't you start on the wing and find the open space when I drive -- I'll get you the ball."
In that split second, I realized that she had scouted my game and processed exactly how I might be most effective and also exactly how she could take advantage of my strengths. Translation: In just a few minutes, she knew about as much about my game as I knew.
As a player, Hammon has never been particularly fast or quick -- she'd be the first to say the same. And yet her knowledge of the angles of the game -- the court seemed to appear to her like a backgammon board -- ensured you could never keep her from the basket. The harder you tried, the faster you went, the more she slowed down and exploited everything you thought you knew. Whatever way you were clearly leaning, or even thinking about leaning, she had already processed, and was already moving toward the open space.
In the coming days, people will talk about what it means that the NBA now has a female assistant coach. They'll wonder if the players will give respect to a woman, if they'll scoff at her advice because she's never played above the rim, if they'll dismiss her scouting report because she doesn't know what it really feels like to try to guard LeBron James.
These are the things that will be talked about by people who aren't in the gym with the Spurs. Because I'm sure the people in the gym with the Spurs know one thing, very clearly, and it's the same thing everyone who has ever been around Hammon knows.
She was always going to be a coach.
So why not start at the highest level?