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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

From Los Angeles to Sydney, Noelle Quinn's basketball journey continues with Team Canada

Noelle Quinn’s earliest memories of basketball take place on a kindergarten playground. Though her mother, Golden Quinn, tells her she used to dribble a basketball at three years old, Quinn first remembers playing basketball outside with the rest of the kids, her and her teacher versus everyone else. From the very beginning, basketball was it for Quinn.

"It's like destiny," Quinn said. “It was something that I truly picked up on my own and gravitated toward.”

34 years later, the game still has that same hold on Quinn. After a 12-year playing career in the WNBA and overseas, she has a hold on it, too, serving as head coach of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and recently joining the Canada Basketball family as head coach Víctor Lapeńa’s lead assistant. Quinn and Lapena made their debut with Canada at the end of February at the FIBA Women’s World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament in Osaka, Japan where the Senior Women’s National Team qualified for this year’s upcoming FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney, Australia.

“Our first go around we were able to qualify so that was cool to start on the right foot with some wins,” Quinn said. “What really drove the experience initially was being able to chat with Michael Bartlett, Denise Dignard and Mike Mackay. Getting to know them through the interview process, I felt the professionalism, I felt the ambition and the goal to create something great for Canada Basketball. When I got a chance to connect with Víctor, initially his spirit and his passion really made me want to be a part of everything. The entire basketball staff and being with the players, it was a really cool experience.”

Quinn comes to Canada Basketball after being named head coach of the Storm on May 31, 2021. She is the first Black head coach in Storm history and only the 19th Black woman to serve as a head coach in the league's history. This comes following two years as an assistant with the Storm, which followed four years coaching at her high school alma mater, Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance, California. During her high school playing career, Quinn led the team to four California state championships.

Photo Credit: Seattle Storm (WNBA)

Growing up in Los Angeles meant growing up as a Lakers fan, but the arrival of the WNBA and the Los Angeles Sparks was a pivotal moment in Quinn’s own basketball journey.

“My mom got season tickets for the inaugural season, and she's had season tickets since then,” Quinn said. “Being able to watch the Sparks in the Great Western Forum, even at that time it didn't register to me that I could one day be playing in the league, but just knowing that it existed, just as a fan, I loved it.

“When I got older and went to college, then hearing that I could be drafted, I think not until then did it become a reality for me,” Quinn continued. “Up until that point, it was always a dream, of course, but it was more so now I didn't have to say, ‘Oh, I want to grow up and play in the NBA’. Now I can say, ‘I can play in the WNBA because there’s a league specifically for women.’”

Like every 15-year-old basketball fan in 2000, Quinn’s favourite basketball movie is Love and Basketball. Thanks to her mom’s season tickets, Quinn was in the building when the movie’s final scenes were filmed.

“I was at that game, and so it was so crazy,” she said. “Before the game, that was the real game intro introduction and everybody in that section was like, ‘Who is that girl? Who is Monica Wright-McCall?’ Even the part where she looked back and looked at Quincy and her daughter, in the seats, I remember her doing that. I'm like, 'What is this girl looking at?’ Then all of a sudden, she's not playing. And then when the movie came out, I was like, ‘Oh, that was the game I went to, with the random introduction of that girl.’”

Rooting for the Lakers and then the Sparks, Quinn chose to go to UCLA where she became the first UCLA men’s or women’s basketball player to total 1700 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists in her career. Her mother was there in the stands for all of her games. After getting drafted 4th overall in the 2007 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx, Quinn began the nonstop grind of a female professional basketball player, spending her summers playing in the WNBA and the rest of her year overseas, where she played in Turkey, Lithuania, Russia, France, the Czech Republic and Italy.

After making the decision to return home to finish out her career in the WNBA with the Storm, Quinn won a WNBA title with the team in 2018. A year later, she was named an assistant coach with the Storm. Two years later, she was announced as head coach of the team.

Photo Credit: Seattle Storm (WNBA)

What may look like a fast ascension on the outside has been a lifetime in the making. During all of those years playing professionally overseas, Quinn kept a notebook of her favourite plays and schemes, not yet realizing that she was creating a playbook of her own for a post-playing career. Whenever she wasn't playing basketball, she was thinking the game. Motivated by an intense competitive desire, Quinn began to realize that though she wasn't the loudest voice in the gym, she was always one of the most knowledgeable.

“I never envisioned myself as a coach,” she said. “I'm quiet by nature. My demeanour isn't boisterous, I'm very calm and I didn't really correlate my demeanour with being a coach. A lot of my opportunities have come from what other people have seen in me. That’s what my coaching opportunities have been. Within those opportunities, I fell in love with it.”

Quinn credits her time coaching high school basketball with helping her to realize her passion for the profession and for helping to develop basketball talent. Her mother is a teacher and Quinn said if she hadn’t gone on to play and then coach basketball, she would likely be teaching as well. Coaching has become an extension of that, where her patience and calm have become her greatest strengths.

When Storm ownership offered her a role with the team as an assistant coach, it was a natural fit. Quinn also began coaching the same players she shared the court with just a year earlier.

“I just honed in on it and just sharpened my tools,” she said. “I got better and used my knowledge and referred back to the things that I learned as a player from other coaches that I thought were great and were not great. I took things from them.”

Photo Credit: Seattle Storm (WNBA)

From those early days watching the Sparks with her mother in their season seats, to today, when the Storm face the Sparks on the road in Los Angeles, her mother is still sitting in the same section, in her same seats. Quinn considers her mother to be her biggest inspiration and champion.

“My mom watches everything,” Quinn said. “She watches high school basketball, college basketball, NBA, WNBA, the Olympics. She's constantly watching basketball and she knows what she's talking about. She’s really a fan of the game, but she's actually become a student of the game. I think aside from her being my superhero, we have bonded over basketball because she's taken the time to learn and grow with me, to take me to games and to pay for my travel. My senior year in college, my mom was at every single game, even on the road. She made that commitment. Her commitment, her sacrifices to see me through my journey, that’s why I stopped going overseas because [there was a point where I knew] I need to be around her more. Money is not important to me. Our bond, our relationship, our time together trumps anything at this moment, and knowing that my career was obviously coming to a close, that's how tight we are.”

In addition to her mother, Quinn also considers her older sister to be one of her biggest role models and inspirations to this day.

“Same thing as with my mom, she was always the biggest support,” Quinn said. “She would drop anything to help me and I would give her my last anything. I look up to her, to her drive and dedication. She’s an amazing mom. I feel like the older she gets, the better she gets. I always want to honour those two ladies. They’re the driving force of my life.”

Another thing that drives Quinn is knowing that there are young girls and boys watching her, and that through seeing her excel, are learning that they can follow and accomplish their own dreams. Quinn said she is proud to be part of Canada Basketball‘s Women In Basketball Month Speaker Series because she wants to encourage and inspire those coming after her.

“If my experiences can help someone else in their life and their journey, then I need to express that and speak on it because what I have and what I've done is not for me and solely me,” she said. “To show other women who look like me, young girls and young boys who look like me, that there are opportunities to have more than just one role in your life. You don’t have to only be an athlete. You can be the coach. You can own the team. You can be the general manager, you can be all of the things that you want to be. I think it's important to first see and to know. When you know better, you do better.”

Knowing that there is an impressionable audience watching her journey only increases Quinn’s desire to win.

“Now I have this bigger responsibility to make sure that I do it the right way and make sure that I'm setting up other future generations who may one day be in my position,” she said “Now I’m going to go harder. That’s the driving force behind my work ethic now, or the driving force behind why I want to push to be the best version of myself because people are looking at me and looking to see me win. I have an opportunity to inspire them just by being me, which is dope to me because that's the only way that I know how to be, you know? To me it’s humbling and I’m honoured by it.”