Same Aspirations, Different Classroom

Noelle Quinn brings childhood dream of teaching to the basketball court



From the time she was growing up in Southern California, Noelle Quinn envisioned herself being a teacher.

She just never envisioned teaching on a basketball court.

“My mom was an educator, so I always said I would be a teacher,” Quinn said this past Wednesday afternoon following a Seattle Storm practice in the lower gymnasium at Seattle Pacific University. “When I think about it, this is my form of teaching.

Lesson No. 1? For the 37-year-old Quinn, the answer to that is easy.

“Sometimes, we only have today,” she said. “I just try to be where my feet are and enjoy my moments and not look too far ahead.”

Quinn and the Storm are looking only as far ahead as Sunday when they open the WNBA playoff semifinals on Sunday on the road against Las Vegas, tipping off at 1:00 p.m.. The Aces are the No. 1 overall seed and swept their best-of-3 series against the Phoenix Mercury in the first round.

Seattle is the No. 4 seed and swept its first-round series against the Washington Mystics.

For Quinn, this is already one step further in the postseason than the Storm got last year when they were eliminated at home by Phoenix in a second-round knockout game, one step short of the semifinals.

In the 11 months that have gone by since then, the soft-spoken Quinn, who would much rather talk about her players than talk about herself,  has had a chance to get her feet firmly where she wants them.

After being thrust into the head coaching role on May 30, 2021 following the sudden retirement of former coach Dan Hughes, she was relying not only on her knowledge of the game and knowledge of the team, but also on her instinct throughout the remainder of last season.

That knowledge – gained from 12 years as a player, one year as a Storm assistant coach and one-plus as associate head coach – and that instinct  are still there. But so is an added understanding of what she wants to do and how she wants to go about getting it done.

“I think I’m more comfortable with everything – our preparation, my preparation for the game, our practices,” she said. “I’m a team player, so I delegate a lot. But at the end of the day, the collaboration I have on my staff and the ability and leadership to say, ‘We should do X-Y-Z,’ I think I’ve grown more comfortable in that leadership role.”

At her introductory press conference on the day she took over for Hughes, Quinn gave a sneak preview of how that role would become clear to her players – all of her players, including her multiple Olympians.

“Those that know me know that I’m quiet. But at the same time, when I have something to say, it’s important for people to listen,” she said. “My leadership isn’t going to be loud and boisterous, but it’s going to be sharp, it’s going to be dominant, and it’s going to be necessary.”



Now, the person who never planned to become a coach until she actually became one has to remind herself to step back from it at certain points during the day to benefit not only herself, but also her team.

“I think I’ve found a little more balance in not beating myself up,” she said, smiling slightly. “It’s about going home and turning my brain off basketball for at least a couple of hours before I get back to it and having that life balance

“I struggled with turning if off a little bit,” she acknowledged. “Even in my sleep, I sometimes wake up and watch film and prepare that way. I get very consumed because I care and because I want to be great for my team. (But) if I get too consumed in it, I can’t be my best self.”

Like good coaches everywhere, Quinn enjoys “talking shop” with others. One of her particular favorites is former Storm star Tanisha Wright, who just finished her first season leading the Atlanta Dream.

In this case, not only are Quinn and Wright fellow coaches, they also were Storm teammates in 2013 and 2014.

“I talk to Tanisha a lot. I’ve grown to have an appreciation for her mindset of basketball,” Quinn said. “She has started her coaching career a little bit different from me in that she’s molding these players into a system, where I kind of came into a system, had veteran players and was just trying to tweak the system and improve it in various ways.

“It’s good to have somebody to lean on in this business,” Quinn added. “Except for when we play her, I want her team to win.”



Even with her determination to keep focusing on the immediate task at hand, Quinn also has a big-picture aspect to how she does things – and why she does them.

One significant and meaningful part of her big-picture outlook is not only opening doors to others, but then encouraging others to step through those open doors – especially women in general and women of color in particular. That includes coaching on the court, or running a team in the front office.

“What I really want to start doing is just impacting our communities a lot more, whether it’s here in Seattle or in L.A., where I stay in the offseason,” she said. “You think about clinics or academies to show young girls, young kids – especially kids who look like me – that there is an ability to have a leadership role. An ability to coach, an ability to work in a high level in an organization, because I’ve done it,” she said.

“Whether it’s the knowledge of how to get there, or the preparation of how to get there, learning a skill, that’s near and dear to my heart and something I would see myself taking another path alongside coaching.”

Sue Bird, both a teammate with Quinn and now a player under her during her storied Storm career, addressed that very issue on the day Quinn was promoted.

“I think it’s amazing and I think it’s a step that has been needed, and a step that will probably open more doors for more women, for our former players, and for people of color,” she said. “Noelle kind of embodies all of that, and what she also embodies is a player who had a long and successful career who, by nature of experience, just has a ton of knowledge under her belt.”

That knowledge certainly will be put to the test against Las Vegas, which took three out of four games from Seattle during the regular season.

But for Noelle Quinn, it’ll just be another chance to do what she does best.

“This is my lab, my classroom,” she said, looking around the SPU gym. “This is a different version of teaching, but (teaching) is what I saw myself doing as a young child.”