Discover more from Fieldhouse Files with Scott Agness
Becky Hammon on her bond with Jenny Boucek and hiring Tyler Marsh on her Las Vegas staff
Hammon on Boucek: "I’m super happy to see what she’s doing. She’s a super bright basketball mind and a really loyal friend."
Shortly before tip-off Sunday afternoon, a familiar face made her way over to the Las Vegas Aces bench. They were in town to play the Indiana Fever and because Gainbridge Fieldhouse is closed to complete the final phase of renovations, the game was played at nearby Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Walking behind the bench was Pacers assistant coach Jenny Boucek in black pants and a white top. She stepped up and onto Butler’s raised court, then hugged both Becky Hammon and Tyler Marsh, the former Pacers assistant.
Boucek played in the inaugural WNBA season (1997), then spent nearly 20 years coaching in the league before moving to the NBA. First with the Kings, then the Mavericks and Pacers.
Over that time, Hammon has been one constant for Boucek, a close friend and another smart basketball mind. They talk often and Boucek even flew out to Las Vegas to be with Hammon for training camp as she made her head-coaching debut.
“First of all, we’ve been friends for over 20 years so there’s not many people that you can say that about,” Hammon told Fieldhouse Files after the game, a 94-69 Aces win
“We’ve formed a bond and friendship that I think surpasses anything basketball wise. When I think of things, I definitely pick up the phone, call her and pick her brain about basketball stuff. It’s a much deeper friendship for us than that.
“I’m super happy to see what she’s doing. She’s a super bright basketball mind and a really loyal friend. She’s somebody who, when the going gets tough on and off the court, she’s the person I pick up the phone and call.”
Boucek was on Rick Carlisle’s staff in Dallas and she came with him to Indiana one year ago when he returned as Pacers head coach. Her strengths include offense, late-game situations, leadership and connecting with players.
As Hammon worked to build her staff earlier this year, she tried to recruit Boucek, who likes her current situation with the Pacers and elected to remain in the NBA. However, she played connector and is credited with the assist after she suggested Hammon hire Marsh on her staff.
Marsh has worked in the G League and NBA, most recently spending the last two NBA seasons with the Pacers as an assistant coach for player development. He came to Indy with Nate Bjorkgren from Toronto in 2020 — he was part of their 2019 title-winning team in 2019 — and then stayed on the staff with Carlisle.
“He came very highly recommended from Jenny,” Hammon said. “He’s got a really great eye. I really trust his eyes out there. He sees things live and in action; he’s not a coach that has to go back and look at film. He can give you live, relevant information that can help you win the game in the moment. So I’ve just tried to empower him to use his voice and speak up. He knows his stuff, he knows what he’s talking about and I think the girls have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he brings to the table.”
With the Pacers, Marsh sat behind the bench during games and focused on player development. Now with the Aces, he’s tasked with handling player personnel and assisting on the offensive end.
“He’s just another person who’s a rock-solid person, first and foremost,” Hammon continued. “So it’s always nice to have those kind of people that you can fall back on as a coach. Because a lot of times you can feel exposed out there and those people that have your back, like Tyler and my other coaches, are something that’s really invaluable.
“And then just learning and growing together. I’m a first-year head coach so I’ve always asked them when I come in with things, I’m like, ‘You need to tell me why not. Poke holes in my theory.’ I’ll throw something out there and I’m like, ‘Go! Tear it apart.’ Iron sharpens iron and again, he’s somebody that I can’t really quantify the impact and how good he’s been.”
Before hiring Marsh, Hammon added Natalie Nakase as her top assistant. Nakase, like Hammon and Marsh, has an NBA background. She was previously on staff with the LA Clippers organization.
Marsh isn’t naturally loud or outspoken. He’s more likely to put his arm around a player and point something out quietly than shout across the court or show any signs of a temper. That’s just not his demeanor.
Pacers vice president of basketball operations Ted Wu and video coordinator Dylan DeBusk were also at the game to support Marsh.
As Hammon said, she empowers her assistants to use their voice and impact the team. That goes beyond the court. She doesn’t want a bunch of yes-men. She wants to be challenged and pushed so they will be better as a collective. And so she instructed them to arrive to coaches meetings with their own ideas.
“It shouldn’t just be me talking or whatever,” she emphasized. “Everybody, not just Tyler, needs to speak up. You have a voice so you need to use it.
“I want different ideas. I don’t want a bunch of people agreeing with everything I say, and so I think that’s how we come up with the best game plan, the best schemes is when everybody has a voice. And then whenever we decide — the ‘I got your back’ piece comes in. Because maybe someone didn’t like something, ‘We should of done this, we should of done that.’ But when we go out there, we are a collective group and we have each other’s back so when we present it to the team, there’s no cracks.”
The Aces (22-8) have been atop the WNBA standings for much of the year, they recently won the Commissioner's Cup and are riding a league-best four-game win streak.
Together, they’ve handled the pressure well of making a splash hire in Hammon and having the talent to compete for a championship. The Aces had four WNBA All-Stars, including three starters, and are one of the most exciting teams to watch.
Marsh is missed in Indy, but he chose to get out of his comfort zone and take on additional responsibility with the Aces. The Pacers were his favorite team growing up so it wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s an experience that he has enjoyed.
And you can hear more from him soon. I sat down with him last weekend to record a podcast about his coaching journey.