Last year, we saw multiple players in the WNBA choose to opt out for the 2020 WNBA season due to COVID-19.
One of those players was Jessica Breland, who received a medical exemption from the league due to a history with cancer, which has been linked to higher chances of experiencing symptoms from COVID-19.
“It was a tough decision for me to make last season when I decided to sit out,” Breland stated. “It’s one of the hardest things to do to sit out.”
However, while she wasn’t able to compete in the WNBA bubble, a new opportunity came when she joined the Duke women’s basketball staff as an Operations Intern for the 2020-21 season.
“The WNBA provided this awesome internship that allows you to pick whatever career path that you would like. I chose the director of operations position to really see what life after basketball will be like for me.”
A WNBA All-Star and All-Defensive team member, there is no doubt that Breland provided a wealth of experience and knowledge to the team. However, Breland says she found herself more in awe of head coach Kara Lawson, and her vast knowledge of the game.
“She breaks down the game in a way that just like, ‘wow,’” Breland said with a smile. “Sometimes I would be in her office and just be in awe of her. The way she sees it, the way she breaks it down and even the way she coaches it to the players.
“I remember her talking to me about the way she prepared each season going into the WNBA. You know pushing yourself to your breaking point every time and how hard it is to do that as a player. She pushes us and her team to the max to really get everything out of you.”
Breland went on to explain that the internship with Duke also provided her the opportunity to step in the coach’s shoes, as she helped the staff with a few scouting reports early in the season.
“What I have to say about coaches is that I will hug each and every coach that I ever come in contact with because all of the stuff and all the hours. It is just mind blowing. As a player you know it takes coaches hours to do these things, but you don’t understand the heaviness of it until you really do it.”
Fever head coach Marianne Stanley, who started coaching at a very young age, is happy to see Breland explore basketball from the coach’s perspective.
“You know I just appreciate that Jess has put herself in this position,” Stanley stated proudly. “I think it takes getting on the other side of things for players to understand how much work is involved. You know they are doing the physical labor of going through practice, lifting weights, and the physical part of being an elite athlete. However, there is a mental part and a preparation part that coaches are just as ardently and passionately invested in for their team.
“So, I think for Jess being a young person this is great. I’m sure it will inform everything she is going to do in practice, watching film and everything else. That just adds another layer of experience to her that is so valuable.”
After signing a contract with the Fever during free agency, Breland is eager to get back on the court with her new team, using the knowledge she gained at Duke.
“I learned a lot being under Kara Lawson, and I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life from running behind those 20-year-olds at Duke,” Breland said while laughing. “You know you can’t pass on great leadership when people like Lawson and Catch [Tamika Catchings] are out here developing people, changing the game and making room for women like myself to come in.”
As for her future as a coach, Breland says only time will tell.
“I don’t know if I would really want to coach after basketball, I just want to be prepared if the doors open for that and understand what it takes and be able to be my best self.”