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It’s a Very Interesting Interim for Rousseau

She doesn’t look much like a sponge, yet that’s what she calls herself.

OK, “interim sponge.”

Last spring, Julie Rousseau got a break that would have been the envy of any high school girls’ basketball coach in America.

She became an assistant coach in the WNBA, for the Los Angeles Sparks. And since the WNBA is a summer league, she could continue as coach at Los Angeles’ Washington High School.

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“I came here as a sponge,” she said Saturday.

“My purpose was to soak up everything I could so that I could show my Washington girls how to win state championships.”

Then, the oddest thing happened.

Her new assignment: to show the Sparks how to win WNBA championships . . . if it isn’t too late.

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While Rousseau was having a hair makeover at her Melrose beauty shop on July 16, Spark General Manager Rhonda Windham called.

“Hello, interim coach,” she said.

Presto. Los Angeles had the youngest (32) and shortest (5 feet 5 1/2) coach in the WNBA.

“What?” Rousseau responded.

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Report to the Forum immediately, she was told.

First, though, Rousseau called her mom, Sylvia, principal at Santa Monica High.

“The first thing my mom said was ‘What?’ ” Rousseau said.

“Then Mom said: ‘Let’s pray, right now.’ So we did, we said a prayer on the phone.”

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After the prayer, Sylvia Rousseau got on her daughter’s case again about returning to school to obtain her master’s degree.

How often does that happen?

“Every day,” Julie said.

The Sparks’ new coach is the youngest in a family of three daughters and two sons.

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Sylvia Rousseau says Julie is a fourth-generation college graduate, and that her daughter’s maternal grandfather played and umpired in the old Negro leagues.

Rousseau’s father, Algie F. Rousseau, is in Washington, beginning work on his doctoral degree in theology at Howard University.

Sylvia earned her master’s in education after having five children, while working a hospital night shift as a nurse. And she’s one dissertation chapter from her doctorate in education.

Julie: “When our mom was working nights at the hospital, and my dad was working, sometimes my mom took all five us, and our German shepherd, Sonny, with her. She’d put us in a waiting room or somewhere, or until someone could take us home.”

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Now Rousseau is intent on having interim removed from her title. She already has coached many WNBA players in Los Angeles’ “Just Say No” summer league for years.

Rousseau points out she had a “Just Say No” championship team with Trisha Stafford (now in the ABL) and Cindy Brown (a European pro) that in its title game beat a team with Lisa Leslie.

“Julie has been an outstanding coach for almost 10 years who passed up a couple of opportunities to coach at the college level,” Windham said. “I’m very comfortable with her experience level.”

Rousseau believes her experience level won’t have anything to do with whatever happens in the next six weeks.

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“The same fundamentals apply, no matter what level,” she said.

“Offense gets you stats and headlines. Defense gets you wins. We’re going to break down our defense, build it up again and create offense with our defense.”

The team is 1-3 under Rousseau and 5-10 overall.

Her toughest adjustment? She still catches herself calling her players “our kids.”

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“I have to quit saying that,” she said. “It’s OK to call my Washington girls that. I have to get in the habit of saying ‘players’ now.”

Women’s Basketball Notes

You knew ABL people would have their spin on the Nancy Lieberman-Cline- chokehold-on-Jamila Wideman incident. Said ABL staffer Dean Jutilla: “What’s their slogan now, ‘We Got Necks?’ ” . . . Of all the WNBA players’ stories, few top that of Jasmina Perazic-Gipe, 36, of New York, on the improbability scale. A two-time Olympian from Yugoslavia who played at Maryland in the early 1980s, she was unable to return to her war-torn homeland. Her basketball activity for the past decade consisted largely of pickup games at the University of Maryland, until New York tapped her in the WNBA draft. Perazic-Gipe, who also has a 6-year-old daughter, speaks several European languages and has special league permission to continue her side business: She’s a Washington-based agent for about 30 women pros, but had to agree not to recruit any Liberty teammates.


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