Photo courtesy of the Donovan family

John Donovan is no longer the jealous child who once sat on the bench while his sister dominated the basketball court. Now, the Templeton resident and brother of Anne Donovan – Team USA’s women’s basketball head coach – has a deeper understanding of what it means to have a champion in the family.

“It was hard at that point in my life because I didn’t recognize or appreciate what she was going through,” John says. “But as we got older, when she and I would go down to the playground, I learned a lot from her because she had the best coaching in the world.”

John will witness Anne’s coaching firsthand this week at the Olympics. Anne, a member of the Basketball of Hall Fame, is a three-time Olympian who earned gold medals in women’s basketball during the 1980s.

John and his five other siblings leave today to join their sister in Beijing, where Team USA will open against the Czech Republic at 5 a.m. Pacific Standard Time Saturday.

“The priority is to see the USA women’s team win a gold medal because it’ll be the pinnacle of our sister’s success that she’s had on the basketball court,” John says.

Team USA enters ranked No. 1 in the world by FIBA and boasts a 25-game winning streak in the Olympics.

“She doesn’t want to be the coach of the first women’s team to lose the Olympics,” says Don Morris, John’s father-in-law, a Cal Poly grad and a member of Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame. “I’m not sure that she’d be a first, but you don’t want to lose – there’s a lot of pressure.”

Although Morris says the team has a good chance of winning, WNBA stars who present major concerns include Becky Hammon (who recently shunned the U.S. to represent Russia, where she plays professionally during the WNBA’s offseason) and Lauren Jackson (Australia).

“I think any coach would be concerned, but I think she’s very positive,” Morris says. “From what she told me, they could win, but it’ll be close. There are no run-aways.”

Despite repercussions that would result from a loss, her brother says that’s not important.

“One of the hard things about my sister being a coach – anyone being a coach, whether it’s coach (Kevin) Bromley on the men’s team (at Cal Poly) or coach (Rich) Ellerson for (Cal Poly) football – is that it’s really hard for people to understand that they’re valuable people when they’re being defined by winning or losing,” he says.

When Anne’s team would be eliminated from the playoffs or lose the world championships, John reminded her that family doesn’t make judgments based on a scoreboard.

“What I will tell her is that people will judge you on your wins and losses, but your family loves you no matter what,” he says.

For the Donovans, family has always been a top priority.

After losing their father when John was only 6 and then losing a brother who was murdered in 1997, the Donovans have continued to grow closer.

“Anne’s success on the basketball court, playing on three Olympic teams and her success in the WNBA has just brought us closer and closer together,” John says.

Anne’s leading the WNBA’s Seattle Storm to the league’s championship in 2004 gives her a unique distinction.

“She’s the only woman that ever won the WNBA championship as a (head) coach – it’s always been men,” Morris says. “I’d say she has really broken through the glass ceiling in women’s basketball.”

But Morris says, “There’s no ego with her . She’s just a down-to-earth, really nice person.”

Another athlete in the family

Before moving to the Central Coast in 1989, John, too, played professional basketball abroad.

After finishing school at Marist College in New York, he played for a team in Austria, where he stayed for a year before jumping to Ireland, followed by two years in Japan.

“I was so excited and thrilled to be playing for a living that I outperformed a lot of people who had more talent than me because I enjoyed doing it so much,” John says.

The overseas career was eye-opening for John as a young adult. After experiencing homesickness for the first few months, he went home to New Jersey for Christmas.

“I saw the same people sitting on the same barstools and doing the same thing and complaining about it and that’s when I realized what an opportunity I had,” he says. “I went back and my whole outlook had changed.”

When knee troubles got the best of him and NBA prospects looked slim, John ended his pro travels.

Now, Templeton, the quaint town of about 5,000 between Paso Robles and Atascadero, is home to John, his wife and five daughters.

“Playing overseas was the best experience of my life, until I had children,” he says.

His father-in-law says John is an “amazing” father – a quality Morris attributes to John’s close relationship with his siblings.

But that’s not the only experience that has come in handy for John’s current success. He says his sports background helps significantly when it comes to running a business. After getting married in 2000, John switched from working for San Luis Obispo Regional Rideshare to starting up his own insurance company.

“Being involved in sports has helped me certainly throughout all of the jobs that I’ve had,” he explains. “But in the business, it’s helped me because it’s a very competitive industry . Just running the business is a lot like organizing a team.”

Now that he’s found a home on the Central Coast, he plans to stay where the sun shines all year.

“I don’t own a snow shovel. I’m originally from New Jersey and I do not miss the cold,” he says. “I love the Central Coast and I tell everyone I know that I am never going back.”

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