After being away from his team during its run to the 2020 WNBA championship, Seattle Storm coach Dan Hughes is fully vaccinated and will be back on the court this week in San Antonio for USA Basketball's second women's national team minicamp of 2021 ahead of this summer's Tokyo Olympics.
"I was really lucky," Hughes told reporters during a media availability Monday. "I was one of those people who got it pretty early because they had an extra vaccine that was going to go to waste.
"What's really amazing is I got the call from my point guard in 1978 [at Madison-Plains High School in London, Ohio], who said, 'Hey Coach, can you get here in 45 minutes? We've got an extra vaccine that they'd love to give to somebody.' I now live in an area near where I started my coaching, and I jumped in the car."
Because of Hughes' age -- he's 65, which made him eligible to receive the vaccine in Ohio -- and medical history, doctors rejected his travel to the WNBA's campus site at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, last year due to his increased risk for severe illness if he contracted COVID-19. Hughes underwent surgery in May 2019 to remove a cancerous tumor in his appendix, missing nine Storm games before returning to the sideline.
"It was really difficult, but it's like a lot of things," Hughes said. "I think I'm going to look at this year and be very proud that we made it work but also very glad that maybe I don't have to go through it again."
With Hughes advising from his home in Ohio, including scouting upcoming opponents, the Storm won a second championship in his three years with the team. Assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg, who had previously served as acting head coach during Hughes' recovery in 2019, resumed that role during the season. Kloppenburg's presence helped the Storm avoid skipping a beat.
"I used the word the other day 'partnership.' That's how I viewed it," said Hughes, describing their relationship. "And I've viewed it that way pretty much since the time I got the job and went to Klop.
"He and I have seen a lot of this league and he and I come at a certain point where we don't really care who gets the credit. We care that we're successful, that we win championships. That's pretty rare. I'd like to think I'm that way, but I know Gary is that way. It's truly a partnership. Whatever's been accomplished in Seattle has been accomplished together."
Still, Hughes is excited to return to on-court coaching. He previously participated in USA Basketball's minicamp in Columbia, South Carolina, in January.
"I feel very blessed that I am doing what I've done most of my life and being able to interact with players and be on the court, looking at the game from that standpoint," Hughes said. "Sometimes we take for granted some things and what this experience of the pandemic has taught us is we don't take anything for granted anymore. We feel blessed when we have a chance to be in that day, doing what we're supposed to be doing."
This time, it's Hughes who could be helping lead a team in the absence of its head coach. U.S. women's national team head coach Dawn Staley is busy guiding her South Carolina Gamecocks in the NCAA tournament. If top-seeded South Carolina beats No. 6 seed Texas in Tuesday's regional final to reach the Final Four, Staley will be unable to participate in the minicamp, leaving Hughes and the team's other assistants (Cheryl Reeve and Jennifer Rizzotti) in charge.
Staley was on a Zoom call over the weekend with the assistants, helping them prepare for the minicamp.
"We went through this last year and we're going through it this year," Hughes said. "I reach out to her and kind of draw from her a little bit. She's very aware but she's very good about trusting us and letting us take care of business."