HARTFORD, Conn. Kelly Raimon doesn't consider herself a tech-savvy person, but when her first job in the WNBA required her to master scouting software, there she was, teaching herself through YouTube videos, editing and splicing together scouting reports, even filling in once for the team's video coordinator.
Learning on the fly as she did in that position development coach and advanced scout with the Chicago Sky became crucial for Raimon (nee Schumacher), a national champion at UConn who played eight seasons in the WNBA, as she made her way back into basketball following a stint as a professional beach volleyball player. And though it seems her career took a winding path, it all pointed toward her most recent gig: assistant coach for one of the WNBA's most exciting franchises, the New York Liberty.
It's also what makes her future in the league so bright.
"Everybody raves about her," said Geno Auriemma, Raimon's coach at UConn from 1997-2001. "Everyone is really impressed with her basketball savvy and her work ethic, and she's so excited about this opportunity in New York."
Back during her college years, it wasn't obvious to either Auriemma or Raimon that she'd end up coaching. A communications major at UConn, Raimon knew she loved to analyze the game but saw that potentially leading to broadcasting more than anything else.
The player UConn fans might remember as "Schuey" or "Schu" wound up as the Indiana Fever's first-round pick in the 2001 WNBA draft, a year after she famously blocked nine shots against Tennessee in the national championship game to propel the Huskies to their second title. She may not have been a superstar in Storrs but nonetheless had been groomed by the 'Husky Way,' which emphasizes attention to detail and hard work.
With that foundation in tow, Raimon had a lengthy professional basketball career as the sort of player who, as she describes it, "thought the game" and took "X's and O's seriously." That culminated in being part of back-to-back WNBA titles, one with the Phoenix Mercury and the next with the Detroit Shock, in 2007-2008.
For a few years afterwards, basketball took a backseat to beach volleyball, a sport she'd always loved. Raimon managed to make her way onto the AVP Tour and represented Team USA in multiple competitions, while on the side trying out commentating volleyball and basketball games at the University of Miami.
"As I was playing beach volleyball, it's a two-person sport, and a lot of times I was the older player who thought more strategically, so I was the one coming up with the game plans because you basically coach yourself," Raimon said. "And so that's kind of when I started realizing, 'Wow, I'm kind of good at this and it's something that I enjoy.'"
She added, "I loved a lot of aspects of broadcasting, as far as analyzing the game and seeing what's happening and just really the overall strategy behind it. But what I didn't like is that you're not really a part of the team itself, and so I think that's when I started realizing that coaching might be something more fit for me."
While many of her professional connections may have been in basketball, Raimon still had to grind her way back into the sport, first as a volunteer on Kevin McGuff's staff at Ohio State and then in player development and scouting with the Sky for the 2017 season.
"It was really just a lot of learning and problem-solving and confidence-building because, whatever it was, I knew that I could just tackle it, figure it out, and go from there," Raimon said.
After a year in Chicago, Raimon was looking to make the jump to an assistant coaching position and called up her old coach Bill Laimbeer. The former Shock coach was heading west to Vegas, where the San Antonio Stars franchise was moving and rebranding as the Las Vegas Aces.
Laimbeer brought Raimon onboard, and the duo turned an Aces team that missed the playoffs in 2018 into an instant contender with a roster full of compelling stars. The Aces fell to the Washington Mystics, the eventual WNBA champions, in last season's semifinals.
"Learning how Bill built that organization and culture and seeing the behind-the-scenes was really awesome," Raimon said. "It was a great opportunity to see how to start from scratch as far as teaching plays and just the culture that you want as coaches and bringing in the type of players that you want."
What Raimon absorbed from those two seasons with Laimbeer should only help in her next chapter in Brooklyn. In April, she was introduced as an assistant coach for the Liberty as the franchise ushers in a new era. Over the past five months, Minnesota's Walt Hopkins was hired as head coach, former Husky Tina Charles was traded away and Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu was drafted No. 1 overall in the league's virtual draft. The Liberty's home arena is now Barclays Center, an upgrade over Westchester County Center.
Hopkins appreciates Raimon's attention to detail and recognizes the unique perspective she brings to the staff as a former player who's worked in various roles for multiple teams.
"She's a really eager learner," Hopkins said. "She brings such a good energy to the group, in terms of not just her excitement about what we're doing and where we're going, but also her level of preparedness, and her ability to catch onto things really quickly has been really fun to watch. She is just like a sponge. I mean, it's been really impressive."
Hopkins hopes that those won't be the only things that'll carry over from her previous experiences.
"Obviously, her experience with winning cultures is huge," Hopkins said. "She knows what it takes, and that gives her an additional layer of credibility with the players, on top of having played at a high level at every level she's played."
With the postponement of the 2020 WNBA season, Raimon hasn't been able to get on the court with her new players yet, but she's eager to join Hopkins' staff and start feeding off his positive energy and new-age approach to the game. She'll be reunited with her former Fever coach, Shelley Patterson, and is looking forward to experiencing all Brooklyn has to offer.
There's no telling where her unusual journey into coaching might lead.
"Sometimes a kid is preparing to be a coach their whole lives and sometimes it just kind of happens to you," Auriemma said. "Ever since she got in it, I keep thinking it's going to wear off, but you know what? I'm proud of her. It hasn't. As a matter of fact, it's just gotten better and better."
2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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