When Jenny Boucek travels with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, she sometimes draws questions or confusion. “I get asked a lot in the elevator if I am on the training staff. And when I say ‘coach’—and this is just general fans—it’s definitely a surprise,” says the player development coach.
Occasionally the questions lead to something positive, says Boucek, who is just one of two women coaching in the NBA—and one of only three to have ever done it.
Boucek (Educ ’97), who started working with the team in late September, says she knows the risks involved in breaking barriers.
“Any time you go outside of status quo, it’s controversial and perceived as a risk,” she says. However, “as women get involved in different areas of business, of sports or areas known to be taboo or risky, the fears that were there start to go away and it becomes a more objective conversation.”
Especially when those women are as experienced as Boucek, 44, who spent 18 years as an assistant and head coach in the WNBA before joining the NBA.
“I’ve grown to know Jenny as a talented basketball coach with a keen mind for the game,” said Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger, when Boucek was hired in mid-October. “Her ability to teach fundamentals and develop talent will serve as an asset for our core of young players.”
At UVA, Boucek earned All-ACC second team honors while helping lead the Wahoos to back-to-back regular season and tournament ACC championships and Elite Eight appearances in 1992 and 1993.
“She was a very intelligent player, very intense, and she fueled our offense with her defense,” says former UVA women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan. When Boucek graduated in 1997, the WNBA had just begun.
She played one season for the Cleveland Rockers before retiring because of a back injury. She became an assistant coach for the Washington Mystics, then the Miami Sol. In 2007, she became head coach for the Sacramento Monarchs, becoming the first person in WNBA history to serve as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
Boucek then moved to the Seattle Storm, and took over as head coach in 2015, a position she held for two years before being fired in August 2017.
Joerger called less than a week later and hired her as a player development coach for the Kings, an evolving role that includes a variety of duties, from meeting with him to discuss leadership and player roles, to working with the assistants in practice on drills, particularly focusing on the Kings’ offense.
“In the beginning she sat back and just observed,” Kings All-Star forward Vince Carter says. “By the middle of the year, we felt her opinion mattered. I’ve worked out with her, and she’s as qualified as any other coach, any player development coach in this league. She’s definitely showing and proving her worth.”
Boucek says she’s enjoying the process and focusing on the skills she brings to the team. “Most of these guys were raised by women and not men, so there’s a different dynamic there that I think can be very valuable and bring out a really noble side of these young men.
“It’s been such a joy working with them; they’ve been such gentlemen, above and beyond what I would’ve expected.”