Coach Gail Goestenkors always dreamed of playing in the Olympics. In Athens, she got her chance to live out that dream as an assistant coach on the U.S. women's team that took home gold. Goestenkors didn't forget Duke, however, drawing up plays on the plane ride home.
It was the Big Dance—sort of. Not exactly the one that the red-white-and-blue-uniformed team was used to. And, not the time of year that the pageantry of basketball usually takes place.
Instead, it was Aug. 5 and the USA national women’s basketball team was on stage at Radio City Music Hall. As a mix of show tunes floated through the half-filled theater and fans settled in their faded red plush seats, the team took to a temporary court against the WNBA All-Stars.
On the sidelines, otherwise known as backstage, Van Chancellor, head coach of the WNBA’s Houston Comets and the 2002 World Champion U.S. team, commanded the play of his U.S. national team with hand motions and shouts.
Stage right of Chancellor sat Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors, a national team assistant coach, more reflective and passive than she is on the bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
When the night’s action had concluded, the National team ready, set to head to Europe for training before the Athens Olympics.
This game at Radio City marked the last domestic appearance for a team that entered and left Athens this summer with a perfect record. For Goestenkors, Radio City marked the beginning of a trip of a lifetime. She said she had wanted to participate in the Olympics since she was a child. Working with the gold medal winners who dominated their competition with a perfect 8-0 record against the world’s best fulfilled this dream.
In her role as an assistant coach, Goestenkors worked as the team’s scout, scouring videotape of U.S. opposition. Goestenkors filled the same role under Chancellor for the 2002 World Championship team.
With a few blowouts over the two-week Olympic period, it may seem that the U.S. National team had an easy time securing its place atop the world’s basketball powers.
The team’s dream, however, was almost defeated in a tight semifinal contest against Russia. With a final score of 66-62, the Americans were able to squeeze by in a game marked by strong defense on both sides. Three days later, Chancellor’s squad went on to win 74-63 over Australia for its third consecutive gold medal.
Although the action on the court secured the team its gold medal and the coaches their commemorative rings, Goestenkors said it was the honors and the festivities that were most memorable.
“That was an incredible feeling walking out from the tunnel just seeing everyone,” Goestenkors said of the opening night ceremony. “Going around the track was awesome.”
All the while, the Duke coach had her mind partially in Durham. On the 10-plus hour flight from Athens to New York, Goestenkors spent the time drawing up plays for her Blue Devils. Fellow national team assistant Anne Donovan, head coach of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, questioned Goestenkors on what she was doing.
“Well, I am diagramming up plays and writing recruits at the same time,” the multitasking Duke coach said.
To that, Donovan replied, “I don’t miss college at all.”
“I was like ‘I can’t wait to get back.’ I was so highly motivated and energized,” Goestenkors recounted, noting that she was also text-messaging recruits. For now, Goestenkors will restrict her preparation to paper until her Blue Devils can hit the court in October to begin their trek toward the more traditional Big Dance.
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