Normally, The Aggie does not run these Inside the Game stories on student-athletes twice in their career. Yet, seeing that this Aggie was last featured in the mid 90s, we made an exception.
Head Coach Jennifer Gross is quite possibly one of the best players to ever grace the women’s basketball program at UC Davis, and has full proof in the UC Davis record books.
This year, Gross has stepped into her new role as head coach following UC Davis legend Sandy Simpson’s retirement, and has adjusted nicely. The Aggies currently hold a 15-8 overall record, and are 7-4 Big West Conference.
Though Gross had been featured back in her days as a player for UC Davis, she sat down with Aggie Sports Writer Matthew Yuen to discuss her return to UC Davis after a stint abroad as a professional, her new role as head coach and why basketball coaches yell so darn loud.
What brought you back to UC Davis to coach after playing professionally in Denmark and Israel?
I never thought I wanted to get into coaching so I got into some other things after I got done playing. I got a job working for a sports marketing company down in San Diego and when I was down at my old high school’s game, the coach asked me if I could come out and help. The very first day I went out and helped there was something inside me that said ‘wow this is really fun.’
Two years later an opportunity came to coach with Sandy Simpson, and there were a lot of things at the time that could have kept me in San Diego, my family, friends and I had a good job, but there’s something special to me about Davis. There’s something really unique about what the previous coaches have built and the people and kind of student-athletes that UC Davis attracts.
What does it mean to be back coaching here at your alma mater rather than another school?
I wore the uniform here. I remember tearing up the last time I took my jersey off because it meant that much to me. Having played here as a player and being able to come back and compete as a coach, there’s something different about that. This is my dream job because UC Davis is such a special place for me and I want to see our program do well. I want to be a part of helping it grow.
What’s it like, seeing players on your team reaching milestones like Kasey [Riecks]’s 1000 points and Hana [Asano]’s steals and assists?
It’s exciting to me. I played in a different era; we were [Division] II and we were a very competitive program, but it’s really hard to compare. Playing against some of the best [Division] I players in the country is fun and challenging. I get excited when kids reach those milestones because that shows how consistent they’ve been all their years for the program.
Do you ever see things happening in games and think ‘I would have done something different’?
We like to relive the glory days all the time and now my mind says I can do this, but my body says no you can’t. Each one of our kids bring a lot to the table, and I’ll tell you one thing: they’re a lot more athletic than I was and they can do a lot more physically than I could. The days where I think of myself as a player rather than a coach are gone, my goals now as a coach is to maximize our players potential and help them be the best that they can be.
As head coach, it looks like you’re yelling a lot during games and it appears to be anger, from the audience’s standpoint. Why is that?
A lot of times when I’m up, it’s just communication, I’m saying things in an urgent tone and the volume is high so the players can hear me. Ninety percent of the time I’m talking to our players and communicating with them. Visually it might come across as frustration or anger but really it’s just communication and trying to motivate your team. The other 10 percent of the time, it’s just trying to make sure our officials are staying on top of it.
Have you ever been issued a technical foul?
When I was coaching high school I got one, but I have a long way to go to reach Coach Simpson in that category [laughs].
You were playing here while Davis was Division II and you first came to coach at the beginning of the transition into Division I. How has UC Davis basketball changed over your time here?
When I first got here, Coach Simpson and I analyzed our program at the time: where we wanted to go and what was possible for us at the time. We wanted to become one of the top teams in the West Coast, and in the first four years we were eligible, we won the Big West Conference and made the NCAA tournament. We’re happy about our accomplishments, but our goal is to reach our potential and our potential is to go deep into the NCAA tournament. I think we’re building that mindset and the mentality to get ourselves there.
Have the goals for the program changed in your time here?
We all know what we want to achieve and of course we want to be cutting down those nets at the end of the year. My coaching philosophy has nothing to do with basketball, it’s about helping our student-athletes achieve so much more — all kinds of values they can use throughout their life and we get to use basketball as a fun medium for that.
Finally, you recently had your son Joshua. What’s it like as a new parent and coaching alongside your husband, coach Joe Teramoto?
Having Josh, our son, has changed our approach on things. We’re coaching somebody’s daughters, and we look at how parents are coaches — they coach their kids everyday. The kinds of things we’re trying to teach our son we’re trying to teach our team. It’s challenging at times to be a great coach and a great parent, but you have to have balance in your life. Sometimes in our profession you can get caught up being successful and achieving stuff that you forget that it’s supposed to be fun.
MATTHEW YUEN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.