The Seattle Storm may be defending WNBA champions, but after a single hectic week last month, basketball is just one of their many concerns.
Reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart suffered an Achilles injury on April 14 that turned out to be season-ending — before the WNBA season even began. And just five days later, Storm head coach Dan Hughes publicly announced he had been diagnosed with cancer.
The loss of Stewart, while heartbreaking for the team, at the very least has some semblance of a timetable attached to her return. But for Hughes, who left the team on May 9 to prepare for cancer surgery he underwent on Tuesday, the future is a little less clear.
After Hughes complained of feeling unwell while attending the NCAA Tournament in March, he had an emergency appendectomy that revealed a carcinoid tumor in his appendix. According to the Mayo Clinic, carcinoid tumors “are a type of slow-growing cancer that can arise in several places throughout your body.” These tumors generally begin in the digestive tract, which includes the appendix.
But the success of Storm assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg — who will take over head coaching duties in Hughes’ absence — is well-documented. As interim head coach, Kloppenburg led a nosediving Storm team to a No. 8 seed in the 2017 postseason.
That said, Kloppenburg acknowledged that beginning the season — even the preseason — as interim head coach once more puts him in a much different position. It showed in last night’s loss, not so much as a reflection of Kloppenburg’s coaching, but what he had to work with. With Sue Bird resting and Alysha Clark, Jewell Loyd and Sami Whitcomb unavailable, Kloppenburg had to make do with the non-starter players he had, giving the rookies plenty of playing time in the process.
Hughes said he was confident in a “seamless transition” between himself and Kloppenburg, and in a way, that also showed in last night’s close loss. With leadership that includes 2018 championship squad member and 11-year WNBA veteran Noelle Quinn as newly-minted assistant coach, this seems to be the best possible scenario for a team that needs as much “best possible” news these days as they can get.