A coach on and off the floor
As Nikki Blue called out the play “high-low” in the fourth quarter of the Washington Mystics’ 72-61 win over the Atlanta Dream on Friday, she noticed a weakness in the Dream’s defense.
The play is designed for the ball first to go to guard Alana Beard running off a screen for a jump shot, then to forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the post as a secondary option. But as the Mystics started the play, Blue noticed McWilliams-Franklin open under the basket and zipped her a pass for an easy layup.
It was a minor adjustment for Blue, but it exemplified the prudence all successful point guards must have. It’s also an essential characteristic of the people who devise the plays. And this offseason, Blue will become one of them, entering the coaching ranks as an assistant at UNLV.
“I’ve been interested in coaching ever since college,” the 24-year-old Blue said. “I admired my college coaches and the way that they had an influence on and off the court for me. Plus, I love basketball. I’m the coach out there on the floor, so why not try to be it off the court as well?”
Blue will join the staff of first-year UNLV coach Kathy Olivier, who coached Blue at UCLA from 2003 to 2006. Blue earned first-team All Pac-10 honors in each of her four seasons with the Bruins. The two developed a rapport with each other as coach and player and are looking forward to being colleagues.
“She trusted me, I trusted her and we were very successful together,” said Olivier, who is coaching her alma mater. “She made me look better. We had a mutual respect for one another, and it wound up being a great college career for Nikki.”
Blue said Olivier’s influence sparked her interest in coaching. Their relationship at UCLA extended beyond basketball, and Blue hopes she can forge a bond beyond X’s and O’s with some of the Runnin’ Rebels.
“She’s instilled in me so many values not only on the court but off the court,” Blue said. “She’s not only taught me the game of basketball but the game of life. I hope that I can be a blessing to some other kid like she was for me.”
Blue said she was nervous during the interview process, which was done over the phone. But she is confident her experience as a point guard will provide the foundation she needs to become a successful coach.
“Being a point guard I have to be that floor general and coach on the floor,” Blue said. “I know that system inside and out because I played for this coach for four years, so I think I can do a great job.”
Olivier sees upside in the hiring because Blue has credibility. Olivier said the Rebels will listen to Blue because of her three years of professional experience with the Mystics and will take in what she teaches because her age is close to theirs.
Because of her new job, Blue will forgo playing overseas in the offseason. She said she will miss it but looks forward to resting. And if it doesn’t work out, Blue always can start playing again.
“This year is the test year to see if I can do it,” she said. “There’s always overseas, so if I don’t do well in coaching or don’t like it, I can go back overseas. But if I do, it’s definitely something I can get a feel for.”
Although Blue eagerly awaits her new opportunity, she has not forgotten about her current job.
“I’m so excited. I can’t wait to get out there with the girls, but I’ve got some business to take care of here first,” she said.