Alex Montgomery: Player-Coach

Growing up in Tacoma, Wash., Stars guard Alex Montgomery watched Gary Payton hound opponents and become one of the league’s greatest defenders for the nearby Seattle SuperSonics.
“The Glove” inspired all of Puget Sound, and maybe that’s how Tacoma produced two more NBA guards, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas, at the same time as Montgomery. As Payton headed to the Hall of Fame, a generation of tenacious Tacomans became the next generation of pros.
And in the offseason, Montgomery is back in Tacoma to teach another generation. Montgomery became the head coach of the Steilacoom girls basketball team last year, choosing to coach at a school in her hometown over playing overseas.
Before she heads back to Steilacoom, Montgomery will be playing in Saturday’s Stars game against the Atlanta Dream. Saturday’s game at the AT&T Center is Teacher Appreciation Night presented by Kraft.
“I went in and told myself just to teach them everything I know,” Montgomery said. “It turns out that they’ve taught me a lot, too. It’s a learning process, and definitely taught me a lot of patience. But I see the game differently now.”
With a young Stars roster this season, Stars coach Vickie Johnson said it has been an immense help to have two coaches on the floor in Montgomery and guard Sydney Colson, who is an assistant coach at Rice University.
Montgomery went to high school 10 miles away from Steilacoom, at Lincoln High. She coached an AAU team in Tacoma in 2016, and was given the chance to take over a high school team in November.
When she arrived at Steilacoom, Montgomery said she didn’t know experience level of the team she inherited. She knew they didn’t make the playoffs the year before.
Montgomery found out she was going back to basics.
“We were going to take baby steps when a lot of them started out without knowing how to make a lay-up,” Montgomery said.
The team began the season with an 0-5 record. Montgomery said some of the players dropped their heads, but she was there to pick them up. With Steilacoom’s first win, a giant confidence boost. Then another win and another.
Steilacoom advanced to the playoffs, clinching the berth in the final regular season game.
“I could see their faces and they were all so happy,” Montgomery said. “I told them that the season wasn’t going to be easy. Basketball isn’t an easy sport. They worked so hard every day in practice and they responded.”
When Montgomery returned to San Antonio for her seventh WNBA season in May, she was with another young team seeking a fresh start with a new coach.
Montgomery said coaching helped her focus on her fundamentals and defense, and the results have shown.
She’s the Stars’ defensive leader, often vocal on the floor and guarding the top opposing scorer.
Montgomery leads the Stars in rebounding with 5.6 per game, is a career-high number. She’s also set a career-high with 24 starts and matched another with 23 minutes per game.
“On the defensive side of the ball she’s our MVP,” Johnson said. “We need her to be locked in for us to be successful.”
Johnson knows the life of a player-coach as well. When she was an assistant for the Stars in 2011, she was still playing European basketball in Turkey.
“Playing for so many years, you kind of forget the basics sometimes because they become automatic,” Johnson said. “When you start coaching, it all comes back.”
For Montgomery, living the life of a coach on the floor and a coach off the floor is something she’s quickly grown to love.
“I can’t wait to see my team at Steilacoom,” Montgomery said. “We’re going for a championship this season.”