Talisa Rhea, shown here on October 6, 2020 after the Seattle Storm won the WNBA championships, has been promoted to general manager of the team. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Talisa Rhea, shown here on October 6, 2020 after the Seattle Storm won the WNBA championships, has been promoted to general manager of the team. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

From rainy Juneau to the Seattle Storm: JDHS grad promoted to GM of WNBA team

One of Juneau’s brightest stars keeps climbing,

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.

[Lumberman scuttling on weather hold for now]

“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.”

Going pro

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 mlockett@juneauempire.com.

More in Sports

Gold medalist Lydia Jacoby of the United States celebrates on the podium after the final of the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.(AP Photo / Matthias Schrader)
Seward embraces state’s 1st swimmer to win gold

“What happened last night couldn’t happen to a nicer kid,” he said.

Aukeman Triathlon supporters and volunteers cheer on a swimmer as they leave Auke Lake on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Juneau is being considered to host a three-year series of Ironman triathlons, the first of which would be held next August. (Nolin Ainsworth/Juneau Empire File)
Juneau is in the running to host an Ironman triathlon

Running, biking and swimming to the finish line

Lisa Stengel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, weighs a halibut on Monday, July 12, 2021, at Coal Point Seafoods in Homer, Alaska, that she caught with a pole spear while free diving in Kachemak Bay. If verified, the 71.4-pound halibut would be the International Underwater Spearfishing Association world record for a Pacific halibut caught be a woman using a pole spear. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Florida woman sets record for halibut caught with a pole spear.

Stengel speared big halibut while free diving in Kachemak Bay.

Big games for Little League: All-star, state tournaments come to Juneau

Regular season champs crownded, all-stars announced.

Hannah Lafleur, 32, of Seward defends her title in the women's Mount Marathon Race in Seward, Alaska, on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Lafleur, Norris rack up more MMR crowns

The 3.1-mile scramble up and scream down the mountain of about 3,000 feet returned to Seward after a pandemic-forced pause in 2020.

Runners participate in the Treadwell Ditch Trail 10k on May 29, 2021. (Courtesy photo / Juneau Trail and Road Runners)
Ready, set, go: Juneau marathon to be in-person once more

Juneau’s biggest marathon is live and in color.

The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé softball team were crowned state champions on Jun 5, 2021, winning the championship for the first time in approximately eight years, said coach Lexie Razor. (Courtesy photo / Shaley Hunt)
JDHS softball takes home state championship

High temps didn’t stop the softball team from bringing the heat.

The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé baseball and softball teams will travel to Anchorage this weekend to compete in their respective state tournaments. (Unsplash / Thomas Park)
Beginnings and ends: Teams head to state as others wind down

Young teams will make for lively seasons next year.

Members of the JDHS girls soccer team celebrate after clinching the state soccer title. The team capped a perfect season by besting the Soldotna Stars 5-1 to clinch the Division II title. (Courtesy Photo/Carolyn Kelley)
JDHS girls soccer clinches state title

Juneau’s soccer teams dominate state tournament