WNBA opportunity with Mercury excites McIntyre
By Dan Woods for NBL.com.au
One of Australian basketball’s most meteoric off-court rises will continue at the culmination of NBL24.
Two-time NBL title-winning assistant coach Fleur McIntyre will step into a front office job with WNBA side Phoenix Mercury, in what is the latest leap forward in a high-flying career within the professional basketball landscape.
McIntyre’s meteoric rise within Australian – and now international – basketball is the latest in a noted shift within the sport of appointing high-level, multi-talented staff with different experiences than just out on the court.
The Kings themselves have been large proponents of this practice. Their last four head coaches – Will Weaver, Adam Forde, Chase Buford and Mahmoud Abdelfattah – didn't play professionally, and the club's last full-time head coach to do so was Andrew Gaze.
It's that emerging trend, McIntyre believes, that has held her in such good stead approaching her new role with the Mercury.
“I think what we’re seeing across anything – not just the coaching and basketball space – that a diversity of skillset is really valuable,” McIntyre told NBL Media.
“When you’ve been in one position or one particular group for your entire life, that’s a little bit closed off.
"When you’ve had different experiences – and I’ve definitely had different experiences because I’m old now – that diversity of experiences and a skillset that transcends across those experiences, that’s what organisations are looking for now.
"Rather than having a set piece that answers that question, I think it’s the breadth of my experience that holds me in good stead across a range of things, and I’d like to think underneath all that the skills you have, especially your hard skills like a degree or published research papers or championships you’ve won, I think at its core you’re looking at human beings.
"The environments I’ve been working in are very human-based businesses, so while having knowledge of the basketball side of it and having all those experiences there, what your values are as a person, who you are and how you bring that every single day underpin that.
"I am such an advocate for having former players involved in the game because, again, they bring incredibly unique perspectives. I have learnt so much coaching with Daniel Kickert and Kevin Lisch who are exceptional former players, but I think the diversity of our staff makes us stronger and I think across all organisations and basketball as a whole you have the x’s and o’s side, but there’s also the organisational side.
"There’s the entertainment value of what you’re putting on the floor, there’s connection and care with the community, there’s athlete health and wellbeing. There are so many angles in professional sport from an organisational perspective that lends itself to such a diversity of experience, and by having different types of people, different experiences, different values and different personalities, that’s what I think enables you to produce different good ideas.
"At the end of the day we all collaborate with each other to move forward, but I think that sharing of experiences difference of perspectives is that helps strengthen any position."
Joining General Manager Nick U’Ren’s staff alongside Assistant General Manager Monica Wright Rogers is Fleur McIntyre.— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) January 23, 2024
Welcome to The Valley, Fleur! pic.twitter.com/7KMXHJaK2V
That breadth of experience McIntyre collected prior to storming into the professional basketball landscape includes an extensive history in research and academia. She earned a PhD in health science from the University of Notre Dame in 2009 and worked in various roles in research and lecturing at a tertiary level in Australia for almost two decades.
She’s also a board member for mental health charity ‘A Stitch in Time’, which was founded by Perth Wildcats legend Greg Hire, and she's spent time as commissioner for Western Australia’s State Basketball League.
All of those experiences marry beautifully into a myriad of roles within the highest level of basketball, and it was during McIntyre’s time as a guest assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs that a strong reference from Chase Buford helped get the ball rolling with the Mercury.
"Once I got to Vegas there were lots of Aussies over there, and Chase was over there for a couple of days," McIntyre reflected. "Nick (Phoenix Mercury General Manager Nick U’Ren) had been out to Australia the year before when he was still with the (Golden State) Warriors front office. He and Chase were friends so he sort of knew about me, but I hadn’t met him before.
"He’d been out here scouting and then he made the move over to the Mercury, he said to Chase that he was intrigued with my background, my university experience and PhD and things like that, and then my coaching.
"Chase had, very kindly, said very nice things about me and he said he’d love to get to know me more and have a coffee to learn about my background and story. Chase texted me and said ‘I hope it’s OK, I’ve given my buddy Nick your number, he’s going to message you to see if you want to have a coffee, he’s really keen on your story and wants to learn more about your background’
"It just went from there, it was very much just Nick and I telling each other about our histories, so he told me about his time working for the Warriors and how it came about that he came back to Phoenix to work with the Mercury – because he’s from Phoenix originally, and I told him about everything with the Kings, but also my academic and research background.
"That’s how it happened".
With that coffee meeting happening in the throes of the NBL off-season and the current campaign currently careening towards its heady conclusion, a lot of water has run under the bridge between then and now.
The Kings are currently locked in a battle to even make the NBL24 post-season – let alone compete for a third straight title – but if their Round 17 showing is anything to go by, their best is certainly good enough.
With the departures of Buford and former assistant coach Kevin Lisch coming prior to the start of the new season, and the likes of local mainstays Xavier Cooks and DJ Vasiljevic now plying their trade elsewhere, the bones of those uber-successful NBL21 and NBL22 Kings teams are shifting.
McIntyre says the Kings’ desire to see its own people succeed – even if it is elsewhere – is one of the key pillars of what’s been one of the NBL’s most successful organisations of the new era.
"Nick probably didn’t touch base with me until a couple of months after our coffee in Vegas. He rang me and told me ‘we’re building something at the Mercury and I’d love to have you involved, would there be any way in the world you would consider coming to work for our organisation?'" McIntyre continued.
"I’ve been coaching now for a long time, and for my career and experiences I felt there was real value in gaining some experience in the best female league in the world in the sports Mecca in the United States in a front office, and really getting some hands-on experience on that side. The whole process didn’t start until two or three months after that initial coffee.
"I’ve said it a fair bit, but to come into an organisation when I wasn’t a well-known name in basketball when the Kings employed me, I think it worked out pretty well for both of us and it’s been such a beautiful journey.
"I feel incredibly grateful our ownership was on board and willing to try something different, and I think the support – particularly from the Kings ownership and Mahmoud – when I said I wanted to explore this, they were so excited for me, they were so supportive, and that’s been the underpinning of my three years at the Kings.
"That’s not just in this opportunity to go to the Mercury, but that’s been in every conversation I’ve had, just support and complete faith. They want the best for me, not just for the organisation and the team, but the individuals within it.
"It's beautiful, if I’m honest.
"Now Nick’s forming his staff and they’re really starting to build something incredibly exciting. The owner of the Mercury is the same owner as the Suns and he’s really invested in not just the Suns, but also the Mercury.
"There are some big things in the pipeline and the opportunity to be a part of that is incredibly exciting. While it was an initial coffee that started it, it really started beginning with me telling the Kings I wanted to look at this opportunity three or four months later."
Sydney’s next game is set for Friday, February 2 at 7:30pm AEDT, live on ESPN via Kayo.