'That means a lot': New Raptors coach Brittni Donaldson happily takes on job of role model
Donaldson had served as a data analyst for the team for the last two years
Last week, the NBA-champion Toronto Raptors announced that Brittni Donaldson will be the club's newest assistant coach. The 26-year-old has spent the last two years as a data analyst with the team, and was tasked earlier this year with getting Marc Gasol up to speed after he was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies.
On Tuesday, the native of Sioux City, Iowa — who played four seasons at the University of Northern Iowa and still holds the school record for most three-point field goals in a single game with eight — spoke with CBC Radio's Metro Morning about her promotion, the pain of injuries and being a role model for young girls.
The transcript of this interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Matt Galloway: You went from crunching stats for the team to assistant coach. Tell me a little bit about how you're feeling when it comes to this move?
Brittni Donaldson: I'm surprisingly feeling very comfortable and very excited with it … I haven't not been on the court or not been around the coaching staff for the past two years, I've been pretty integrated already. So it's going to be more than a comfortable transition and I'm really excited.
MG: That's a big move to become an assistant coach in the NBA. How did Nick Nurse the head coach break the news to you?
BD: It's definitely a big move. There was a spot open on the staff and they presented me with the opportunity and it was something that I couldn't pass up.
MG: Masai Ujiri told ESPN she, being you, has coaching in her DNA. Tell me about that and what he saw in you?
BD: That would be a better question for him. But I was fortunate enough to go over to Africa with Masai for a couple of his Giants of Africa camps this summer. I think that's where he probably saw me in my element, coaching those kids. I've been fortunate enough to get a little time on the court with the Raptors players over the past two years. Nothing crazy, just helping put them through workouts … Basketball is in my DNA and it probably shows when I'm out coaching.
MG: What do you love about the game?
BD: So many things. It's been such a huge part of my life since a very young age. It's taught me a lot of life lessons. A lot of my greatest moments of my life and some of the hardest moments of my life were connected to basketball.
MG: What's an example of both? What's a greatest moment?
BD: There's a bunch that stand out, but in a general sense it's brought me to a lot of insane places that I'd never go to otherwise and all of my best friends, closest people in my life, I've met through the sport. So it's a really essential part of who I am.
MG: What was one of the toughest?
BD: In college when I was playing I underwent four knee surgeries, and the last two were pretty traumatic. I had to spend a lot of time on crutches, non-weight-bearing, a lot of time re-learning how to walk. So being taken away from a sport I love so much and that I did every single day and not only that but just day-to-day re-learning how to do basic daily activities. That was a really tough time at the age of 20, 21. I would never wish injury upon anybody. Those times, they really, really taught me a lot and shaped me into who I am today and helped me handle adversity.
MG: What do you love about coaching?
BD: I'm obviously still learning, but I really love how I can take everything I've learned as a player, as a data analyst, you know I've seen the game through a lot of different lenses now even at this point in my life. So being able to give that wisdom or that knowledge back is really fulfilling to me. And I work with a great group of people that I learn from every day. It's just a constant learning process and that's something that I really love. I feel like I'm being pushed, which is ironic because I feel like I'm the one who's supposed to be pushing somebody. But it's a very give and take job. You're giving a lot but you're also getting your cup filled.
MG: We heard that when Marc Gasol came here, you were entrusted with running him through the paces and getting him up to speed. How did you gain the trust of a player like Gasol?
BD: That's a good question. I think it begins with just finding a common ground. For me, I'm out there on the court with the players but I try to get to know them on a personal level, as well. So just asking them about what's going on back home or their families or whatever. That's somewhere very basic that I can start. But on a basketball level, you can kind of tell if somebody has played before or has coached before or has been around the game a long time and I think that general understanding that 'okay she's been through this, she knows what I'm going through to a certain extent,' that helps kind of gain that trust.
MG: The parade wasn't that long ago and on Instagram there's a great photo of you on the bus with a cigar, having a great time in the midst of that celebration. What's the mood like on this team? Are people still floating given what the team accomplished?
BD: We haven't really had any downtime, which sounds crazy. But straight from the parade, a few days later we had the draft and then we were into summer league and we were all over the place for the summer for summer workouts. So for me personally I haven't had much downtime to kind of digest anything or to reflect on anything. But I think come opening night when they have the ring ceremony and hang the banner, that's when it will really, really set in. But we have another season ahead of us so we have to get ready to change gears, as well.
MG: You know a lot of young girls will look at you and see them in you. You're the tenth female NBA assistant coach and that means a lot to people. What do you take away from that?
BD: It means a lot to me, to be honest. I'm really excited to take on that responsibility. I think representation is so important, especially for younger girls and boys. You don't really get an idea planted in your head unless you see it or hear it first. And so for me at a young age, I didn't even know that this would be a possibility. And so for me to be somebody for young people to look at and they can say, 'I look like her or I empathize with her in some way and I can do what she's doing,' that means a lot to me and I'm not going to take it lightly.