Most people don’t become the general manager of a professional sports team at 31, but life always makes space for the exceptional.
Talisa Rhea, graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, and college and professional basketball player, was recently promoted to GM of the Seattle Storm, taking over from Alisha Valavanis. The Storm is Seattle’s WNBA team and won the league’s championship in 2020.
“I’m really excited. I feel like I’ve been working toward this and I’m excited for the next step with the organization,” said Rhea in a phone interview. “I started as an intern, working with the team. It’s been a steadily progressing role. I’ve loved every minute with the Storm.”
According to former coaches and teammates from Juneau, Rhea’s focus on fundamentals, intelligence, hard work, and innate, reflexive understanding of the energy of basketball got her to where she is.
“In high school, I think there were times where Talisa had to dumb down her a game a little so the rest of us could catch up,” said Mary Berry, who began playing basketball with Rhea at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School all the way through JDHS, in a phone interview. “She has this basketball knowledge that very few people have and she’s had it for a long time.”
As general manager of the Storm, Rhea will focus on getting players on the roster that complement the Storm’s style of play.
“She must have just been born with this basketball knowledge. A lot of kids, it takes a long time for them to understand basketball the way Talisa did at an early age,” Berry said. “She didn’t do fancy tricks or anything. She just had fantastically executed fundamentals. That was her game all the way through college. She was just by-the-book. That’s why I enjoyed playing with her. “
A supportive basketball culture
When Rhea graduated in 2007, Juneau still only had one high school, with an extremely competitive and supportive sports culture, Rhea said.
“I think Juneau-Douglas has always had such a strong sports background. I feel lucky to have been a part of that, being a part of a community that supports sports as much as Juneau does,” Rhea said. “There’s just so much support from the community; how much they show up to games, they follow along and you feel like you have a ton of people behind you.”
Berry said that culture of competitiveness made JDHS a powerhouse, even against bigger-city teams.
“There’s a strong basketball tradition at JD. There’s been some pretty big names over the years. The basketball culture is just exciting. It’s been around for a really long time. There’s been some really amazing names that came through the program,” Berry said. “Not just the men’s games, but the women’s games were always packed. They were full. They were competitive with the big teams up in Anchorage.”
Rhea complimented high school coach Lesslie Knight for grounding her in the fundamentals of the sport. Knight was vocally supportive of her former player and her prowess on and off court.
“How incredible to have set your goals and reached them at her young age. What an incredible opportunity. It’s nice that she represents Juneau so well,” Knight said in a phone interview. “The biggest thing with Talisa is, she was a player. She gets the concept of the personalities of competitive Division 1 athletes. The second is, she was a really good student. She understands the academics of the game and the business. The third component is that she’s a really strong people person.”
After playing college basketball, Rhea played professionally overseas in Poland before returning home and going on to graduate school for sports management. That transition can be tricky, Berry said.
“When you play college basketball and you kind of wrap up your tenure, it’s challenging. Your identity for the past decade has been basketball. It’s a really challenging transition. It’s like, what’s next for me?” Berry said. “I remember talking with Talisa after Poland and her kind of feeling that way. Fortunately, she was able to get a foot in the door with the Storm as an intern, not really knowing where this road was going to take her. It’s a really hard transition.”
Knight was proud of the rarefied heights Rhea had reached, a prestigious level for any Juneau graduated.
“Her career path has just taken off. She had to put in time at the very beginning at the lower end,” Knight said. “She struggled. She was working multiple jobs to be a part of the Storm. It’s good she was elevated.”
Seizing the opportunities that are presented is something all players, especially Juneau’s players, should aim for, Rhea said.
“The biggest thing is to enjoy the opportunities you’re currently given and strive for more. Growing up in a smaller town, we’re not as exposed to some opportunities,” Rhea said. “The first part is taking advantage of those opportunities and taking part of it. The second part is to dream big. If you’re willing to put yourself forward and take a risk you can achieve a lot of those dreams.”
Rhea’s hard work and talent got her far, Berry said, and the community supports its own.
“It didn’t take long for the Storm to pick that up: Talisa is everything basketball. Her knowledge is obvious. I’m just thrilled her passion is her profession. She’s always had success in basketball. There’s more to come from her for sure,” Berry said. “She’s a treasure. Lucky for the Storm that they picked this up. The community here knows Talisa’s name and we’re proud of her.”
Rhea said she’s excited for the opportunity and excited for the future with the Storm.
“I’m definitely enjoying being in this role in this organization,” Rhea said. “I’m excited to see where the Storm continues to go.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.