BILLINGS – She wasn’t offered a scholarship from either Montana or Montana State, but basketball life seems to have worked out just fine for Choteau’s Alisha Breen.
Less than a year removed from first-team all-America status — and record-shattering numbers — Breen is now first assistant for the MSU Billings team she guided to the NCAA Division II’s promised land.
Back in March, she was a teammate on MSUB’s Elite 8 run. Now she’s alongside head coach Kevin Woodin trying to balance good cop, bad cop. Which is the former teammate?
“I think a good cop, actually,” she said, grinning at a recent Yellowjacket practice. “But he (Woodin) plays … well, it’s both, probably.”
“They’re both good cops,” guard Jeanann Lemelin laughed.
“They both kind of feed off of each other, it’s kind of funny,” said fellow guard Taylor Edwards. “It just depends on the day. Someone’s got to be a good cop, someone’s got to be a bad cop.”
Woodin was torn on how to answer.
“Ahhhh,” he sighed. “You know, I’m trying to be the bad cop. I mean, it’s different for her to coach people that she played with. Some people might think that’s a negative. I’ve actually seen that become a positive, because she was just there and she can actually help them in ways that I can’t.”
One of the big differences now for Breen is, in her words, watching a ton of YouTube videos. She’s chasing insight on player development. In charge of MSUB’s defense, Breen calls a lot of the in-game subbing and scouts opponents.
“I thought I watched a lot of film as a player, which I did, but that was based on myself, and I was getting better that way,” she said. “I watch film, it seems like, all hours of the day.”
You know that saying, ‘If I knew then what I know now?’ Turns out it even applies to first-team all-Americans.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot smarter,” Breen said. “It makes me wish I could go back and play another year just because I’ve learned so much.”
That also applies to one of her new in-game roles.
“Keep Kevin calm and not let him get a technical,” she laughed. “I actually had a conversation with a couple refs. I didn’t realize what all Kevin was saying because I was on the court for most of it, so I missed a lot of it. And I told them, ‘I didn’t realize he was on you guys so much,’ and they go, ‘Yeah, it’s more than you think.'”
Jokes aside, her IQ and recent on-court action are instant assets for the Yellowjackets.
“She just has a great basketball mind,” Woodin said. “She’s helped me a lot, it’s not just me helping her.”
“It’s nice having that relationship with him that I can bounce ideas off him and vice versa,” said Breen. “Offensively, because I did play all positions, I can see something and I still feel like I have that in-game mentality because I played just last year.”
“It’s fun to have someone that’s been your leader throughout the four years that I’ve been here, then get to continue to get to be your coach and lead you through that,” said Edwards. “It’s really fun.”
But the biggest challenge, and she expected it, has been dissociating from teammates — to a degree. The friendships are still there. The role is just different.
“When I was the captain, when I was the player I could go to them (teammates) and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK. Take what (Woodin) is saying, go prove him wrong.’ And it’s not that I can’t say that as a coach now, but I have to let the older girls do that to their own players, and that’s been the hardest part.”
One of her most telling answers on the transition comes when she’s asked why she chose coaching over professional ball.
“You know, people ask me that a lot now,” she said. “And for a while I said it was my body, and I’d had three surgeries and I was ready to be done. But, I left everything I had on the court last year. I ended at a high note, you know? We went to the Elite 8. And I was kind of … it was … good closure for me.”