They say it’s the teacher of fools and the mother of wisdom. Good or bad, it teaches you something. That’s the funny thing about experience—you can have so much of it, share years worth of wisdom with those around you, and still have a fresh perspective to offer each day. That’s exactly what new assistant coach Shelley Patterson embodies for this Washington Mystics team.
Patterson has been around basketball longer than most. “You’re talking about someone who’s been in the league longer than I have,” head coach Mike Thibault explained, and it’s true. Patterson has been in basketball for over 40 years, starting back in 1980 when she played guard for the Cougars of Washington State University. While her playing days ended there, her basketball career didn’t. She landed her first coaching position at Eastern Michigan University before becoming the recruiting coordinator at Indiana State University in 1989.
From there, the San Jose, California, native has jet-set more than the average millennial. She made coaching stops at Ohio University, the University of Arizona, Wake Forest, and Dayton before securing her first professional position as the assistant coach of the Philadelphia Rage in the American Basketball League (ABL), a professional women’s league.
Then, in 1999, Patterson began her WNBA resume with the Houston Comets, helping them win a WNBA championship in her first year as the Director of Basketball Operations. She then spent four years from 2000 through 2003 working as an assistant coach with the Indiana Fever. Following her time in Indiana, Patterson moved on to the Phoenix Mercury in 2004. In 2005, she was named the head coach of the Chicago Blaze of the National Women’s Basketball League. Patterson’s resume continued to grow. After a short stint with the Los Angeles Sparks, she spent three seasons as an assistant to long-time coach Brian Agler on the Seattle Storm bench. She then went to the Minnesota Lynx, helping Cheryl Reeve win multiple championships. Before the Mystics, Patterson also spent some time with the New York Liberty.
Got all of that? Yeah, she’s had quite a career, and she’s learned so much along the way. In anticipation of writing this story, I was excited to hear all of the different things she brings to the Mystics. But strangely enough, Patterson’s colleagues were all quite similar in their comments on her as a coach.
“She brings a real fresh perspective. You know, even players that we’ve worked with for awhile who nitpick their game, she comes in and you go, ‘Oh man, she’s really good,’” offered associate head coach Eric Thibault.
“First of all, she’s brought a new, fresh energy,” said second-year assistant coach and former Mystics player LaToya Sanders. “She’s always in a good mood, always happy, always bringing that positivity around.”
“She’s been around the game a long, long time and has a lot of wisdom,” Tianna Hawkins shared. “I talk with her a lot, and she gives me a lot of pointers that I can add to my game. You know, she’s a numbers person; she knows tendencies around the league.”
Rookie forward/center Shakira Austin added, “I mean, she is just able to give all the little pointers that she carries with her. The knowledge that she has, she just tries to share it with everybody, so we appreciate that.”
For those keeping score at home, Mystics players and coaching staff members made multiple comments about Patterson’s positive energy, preparedness, and wisdom, which all result from her experience. Patterson has been around this league so long; she knows everyone’s ins and outs, and she’s been able to rely on that knowledge to help the Mystics so far this year.
“There’s different parts to the job, but one of the things she excels at is understanding opponents and how to play those people,” Mike Thibault shared.
But what does Patterson herself think about what she brings to the team? When asked, Patterson immediately chimed in, “Obviously, experience. I’ve been in this league a lot of years, and when you bring in experience, especially understanding the different teams, the coaches, the coaches’ styles, things they’re trying to do, you bring about a way to prepare for them; you bring about different scouting techniques.”
Experience. There’s that word again. To be sure, sometimes experience can work against you—when you’ve done something for as long as Patterson has, the job can grow stale, or your philosophy can be phased out, especially in the ever-changing world of women’s basketball. But there is also something to be said for continuity, the ability for one to fall back on what they know and adjust from there. After all, in sports, there’s a reason why the coaches who have lost a job for one reason or another are commonly offered others down the line, and that reason is often experience.
“I will say I bring the experience but [also] hopefully the culture piece,” Patterson remarked. “I mean, all of the teams I have been connected with, our main goal was always to have great culture. I mean, it started in Minnesota. We had the same idea in New York, and I know that Mike is big on that, and [that is] something that I hope to continue to bring.
“[I hope] just knowing these young players know what I’ve done in this league, what I’ve brought, and hopefully, that gives me an edge as far as just the respect, have a respect.”
However you phrase what Patterson has brought, it has helped this team immensely. The Mystics are off to a fast start, coming out of the gate with a 5-2 record and feeling very confident in themselves. A lot of Washington’s success thus far can be attributed to the coaching staff, particularly the presence of Patterson.
“I come in with a smile every day. Even if I’m not feeling it, they’re gonna feel that my energy is gonna be high,” Patterson explained. “And I just always want people to know that what you see is what you get. You know, that’s who I am. I’m not a fake. I’m not a phony. I come in here, [and] I work hard every day.”