Dan Hughes speaks at basketball camp
MORRISTOWN — Be a good teammate, make the sound of work part of your life and be an energy giver.
Those were three of the chief topics that recently retired WNBA coach Dan Hughes covered during a 25 minute speech as he addressed more than 60 youth at the inaugural Union Local Girls Basketball Camp Tuesday morning.
“When I speak at these types of things, I tailor the messages, but I’ve found that I end up speaking about culture an awful lot,” Hughes, who is a 1973 graduate of Fort Frye High School, said. “I talk about leadership, team and those things. I really enjoyed this opportunity and that to me is something that will carry on as I go into the next chapter of what I am doing.”
Hughes’ appearance at the Union Local camp came together quickly.
Actually, Union Local girls head coach Lou “Scooter” Tolzda was talking to a former assistant coach — Tyler Engle — about the event.
Engle — also a Fort Frye graduate — pointed out he had developed a pretty good relationship with Hughes over the years and was willing to reach out.
“I have great, great respect for Tyler and he reached out and I made every effort to see what I could do,” Hughes said. “I like to give back to the game and communities. Plus, I was a high school coach (at London Madison Plains) in Ohio and recognize the importance of these camps.”
“It was a one in a million shot,” Tolzda said. “Tyler said he knew him and they became friends. I literally got on the phone with (Coach Hughes on Monday) and he lives near Cincinnati and came all the way up here. He’s very down to earth, humble and you can see why he’s successful. When you’re talking women’s basketball and people to get to come talk, it might be Geno (Auriemma) one and then Coach Hughes. And here he was.”
Many parents were on hand to listen to Hughes’ speech. The Union Local Girls Basketball Team presented Hughes with a small gift as a token of their appreciation.
If it wasn’t for one of the most difficult decisions he’d made in his professional life, Hughes would have been unable to attend the camp.
Hughes actually started the season on the bench with the Seattle Storm, but after a lengthy discussion with his wife and seeing the state of the organization, which includes two of the last three WNBA championships, including the 2020 title in the bubble last summer, Hughes felt it was time.
“The decision was really hard, but sometimes you just know when it’s the right time,” Hughes said. “When the succession plan is in order, and you know someone is right, it’s different. Our team was 5-1 and playing well, but our staff was positioned to the point where me stepping away wouldn’t impact the team negatively.”
Hughes’ retirement followed up a 2020 season where he was not permitted — by his doctors — to go to the bubble, which was located at IMG Academy in Florida because he is a cancer survivor. Thus, he was deemed high risk for COVID-19.
Though he was not with the team on a day-to-day basis during the games, he was involved daily. Like so many in the world, Hughes learned how to coach basketball virtually.
“I talked with players via Zoom, texting, phone calls and became kind of an advanced scout,” Hughes said. “I became like an advanced scout and then talk with the coaches. I just wanted to find a way to help. Plus, the running dialogue I had with players was something I wouldn’t want to trade for the world, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
Hughes was adamant that his career as a head coach is over. But, he didn’t close the book on other opportunities that may present themselves in the sport.
“I have no desire to be a head coach again, but I am going to do things, even if it’s things like (speaking),” Hughes said. “The game has given me a lot and I want to give back. I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with a lot of people, so we’ll see what happens. I could see myself helping coaches or teams in other ways.”
Hughes won’t have to wait long, actually, to get back on a bench. He’s going to serve as one of the assistant coaches for Team USA at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. The women’s team will convene in Las Vegas in the middle of July to begin preparations.
Since he’s been fully vaccinated, Hughes received a full go-ahead from his doctors and his family.
“The vaccination was the issue why I couldn’t go to the bubble,” Hughes said. “Once I got vaccinated, I got back involved with everything. I took care of myself really well because I wanted to be able to be a part of the Olympics and ending the coaching on my terms.”
Though he won’t have much say in the roster, Hughes believes there’s a really good chance he will get to coach some of his former players once again. He believes Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd all have legitimate chances of making the Team USA squad.
“If this is the last thing I do (in basketball), it’s really neat,” Hughes said. “To represent your country and to have some people who have meant an awful lot to me be a part of this is a blessing. I look forward to interacting with them as part of the team and us doing everything we can to bring home a gold.”