Talisa Rhea has always had a head and passion for the game of basketball.
Whether competing on the court or sitting on the sidelines, she was a student of the game, the 94-by-50-foot court serving as a classroom of sorts.
That classroom now includes a promotion to the position of manager of basketball operations for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, the next best thing to playing, according to Rhea, a 2007 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate.
“It is a great opportunity for sure,” Rhea said. “I am in charge of the operational side of the team: travel, logistics, scheduling practice and team travel, meals, housing, equipment … all that stuff.”
Rhea will also work with president and general manager Alisha Valavanis on the business side of the team, and with head coach Jenny Boucek and assistant coaches Ryan Webb and Leah Drury on player-related issues such as scouting and film work.
“I kind of get to put my hands on a little bit of everything,” Rhea said. “I get to be involved in a lot of different things, which is really cool.”
Rhea started the job Oct. 12. The 2014-15 Storm season ended on Sept. 13 with an 11-25 record.
“We are waiting for the league to release the new schedule right now,” Rhea said. “We do a lot in the off season as far as tracking all the Storm players who are playing overseas and following their progress. There are little things to get ready for next season, such as ordering equipment and always something to do year-round. The stuff I am working on now is mostly following our players overseas and helping our coaches with whatever they need, whether that is reviewing film from last season to get ready for this season, helping the general manager with whatever she needs … just being around the people in the office and getting to know them and prepare as much as I can.”
Last summer Rhea took an unpaid internship with the Storm’s basketball operations department and continued her master’s degree in sport management.
“I didn’t have a plan set in stone,” Rhea said. “I just knew I wanted to be in this area. Then this job came up unexpectedly and it was a great opportunity. I learned a lot and it was a lot of fun to be around the team and the coaches and everyone else on a day-to-day basis.”
Rhea said she hasn’t suited up to play on the practice squad or even as much as a game of horse for the Storm.
“It is still fun to be around,” Rhea said. “Just to see the highest level of basketball on a day-to-day basis is really cool. I reflect back a lot on how I got here.”
Rhea’s career began with four seasons (2004-07) for the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears, which included a state title as a sophomore, three state championship game appearances with three all-state team honors, numerous all-tourney and academic honors and a Gatorade Player of the Year award. Her play led to a Division I scholarship at Oregon State.
“As a player, Talisa played point guard because she was so court saavy,” JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. “Her greatest skill was passing. She had an incredible ability to see the floor, anticipate openings and read people coming off screens. She had the ability to read situations and control the tempo of a game. Personally, I was disappointed that she was cast as a 3-point shooter in college — that was not half as fun to watch.”
Rhea played in all 31 games for the Beavers as a freshman, starting 13, and finished second in school career 3-pointers. She was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team.
As a sophomore Rhea started all 32 games and set the Pac-10 record for 3-pointers in a game, being named Pac Player of the Week. She also garnered All Pac-10 Team mention, all-academic honors and ESPN The Magazine All-District honors.
Rhea’s junior year she started all 31 games, leading the Beavers in scoring and earning a selection to the All-Pac 10 Team while receiving all-academic accolades.
Rhea transferred her senior season (2010-11) to Seattle University to play for coach Joan Bonvicini. After sitting out a year, Rhea, chosen as the team’s captain, led the Redhawks to the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitational and was selected College Sports Madness Independent Player of the Week three times. She was the second-leading scorer, led the team in assists and finished 26th in the nation in assist average.
“I think this is a great opportunity for Talisa,” Bonvicini said. “One of the reasons she was hired by the Storm is because she did a fabulous job as an unpaid intern. The thing is, you never know that you are constantly, every day, being interviewed. She didn’t even know that, but she had done such a good job. She is smart and does whatever she is asked. I think she will do a fabulous job for the Storm. As a player she was incredibly smart and heady. She was always about doing what was best for the team and that is how she will be with her opportunity with the Storm.”
While attending the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association clinic at the 2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four, Rhea was contacted by the Polish team Lotos Gdynia of the PLKK League and the European League. Rhea signed a one-year contract and began playing that August with Centrum Wzgorze Poland and was the team’s second-leading scorer, third in assists and its top free throw shooter.
Rhea then moved into the high school coaching ranks. As a head coach, she brought the University High School Illineks from Urbana, Illinois, to last season’s Capital City Classic. She missed Seattle and moved back.
Rhea said the Storm culture is unique in that they value people.
“They empower each person that is a part of the organization,” Rhea said. “The head coach and the general manager are both awesome people and leaders in getting everyone to buy in. Everyone was really nice and welcoming and offering help. It was everything you would hope for as a young professional.
“I am always going to respect coach Knight and coach (Bonvicini) for what they did, it is not an easy job, and it is definitely a grind. I think it is a lot easier when you have passion for the game and you are willing to put the time in. I am just going to enjoy this.”