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Storm coach Dan Hughes to sit out WNBA season due to ‘higher risk’ of COVID-19

When the Seattle Storm kick off the modified 2020 WNBA season in Florida next month, coach Dan Hughes won’t be with them.

Hughes will miss the season after both a “medical assessment” from the league and “consultation with his primary physician” determined that he could be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, the team announced on Monday afternoon.

Hughes, at 65, is at a greater risk for contracting the coronavirus due to his age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He was diagnosed with cancer last year, too, and had surgery to have a tumor removed from his digestive track.

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The team announced that assistant Gary Kloppenburg will take his place as head coach. Kloppenburg served as the interim head coach for the first nine games of the 2019 season while Hughes was recovering from the surgery.

“I am saddened that I won’t be able to travel with the team as everyone knows how much love I have for this organization,” Hughes said in a statement. “I am thankful to be in good health and looking forward to supporting coach Klopp and the staff and players in any way I can this season.”

The WNBA will hold a modified 22-game season next month at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida — about 100 miles from where the NBA will resume its season at Walt Disney World near Orlando. Coronavirus cases are spiking in the state, too, something that’s reportedly been a large cause of concern for both leagues.

There were more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Monday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and more than 126,000 deaths attributed to it. Florida had more than 146,000 cases, and has recorded at least 8,500 new cases a day over the past three days — by far the highest single-day numbers the state has seen during the pandemic. 

There has been concerns raised about older coaches and staff members participating in both the NBA and WNBA restarts, as their age automatically places them at a higher risk of catching the coronavirus. 

Hughes is the third-oldest coach in the WNBA, behind Mystics coach Mike Thibault at 69 and Fever coach Marianne Stanley at 66. Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer is 63, and Dallas coach Brian Agler is 61.

Several coaches in the NBA are in that age range too, including Spurs coach Gregg Popovich at 71, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni at 69 and Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry at 65. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this month that “certain coaches may not be able to be the bench coach” due to their age, though the coaches association is reportedly worried that any restrictions on older coaches could hurt their future job opportunities. 

This season would have marked Hughes’ third with the team. He’s compiled a 44-24 record over his first two years and led the Storm to a title in 2018. He has been a coach in the league since 1999, spending time with the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers and San Antonio Stars.

“While the Storm family is greatly disappointed that Dan will not be able to join the team this season, his health and family are the top priority,” general manager Alisha Valavanis said in a statement. “We know he will continue to be an important voice of support for the team and staff while we compete this season.”

Dan Hughes was diagnosed with cancer last year and underwent surgery to have a tumor removed. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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