Ailene Voisin

UC Davis women’s coaching couple make it work

Aggies coach Jennifer Gross, center, and players watch the scoreboard during a 3-point shooting drill. At rear is assistant Joe Teramoto, Gross’ husband.
Aggies coach Jennifer Gross, center, and players watch the scoreboard during a 3-point shooting drill. At rear is assistant Joe Teramoto, Gross’ husband. aseng@sacbee.com

Jennifer Gross once wondered if it was possible to have it all. The house, the kids, the job, the husband at her side. When she delved more deeply into her chosen profession – coaching women’s college basketball – she identified a handful of women who reached for the sun, the moon, the stars, and came away with her ideal life.

And all those victories. Can’t forget all those wins.

Gross, who recently was named the Big West Conference Coach of the Year for guiding UC Davis to a 23-6 overall record and league title, has checked all the boxes – the house, the kids, the husband – except for one: an NCAA Tournament berth, though that could change soon.

The top-seeded Aggies are red hot entering Friday’s conference tournament semifinal against No. 4 UC Santa Barbara, having won 10 consecutive games and performed well beyond their years. This is a precocious bunch, to say the least. The starting lineup features two sophomores, and there is only one senior on the roster.

“Even though we’re young, this might be the most consistent group we’ve had,” said Gross, “and every night it’s somebody different. We have good balance and good shooting.”

We should be accustomed to this by now. If it’s spring, the Aggies are competing for conference titles and postseason bids – from the AIAW days to Division II to their current D-I status – while their coaches amass annual honors and, in the case of Jorja Hoehn, a women’s basketball Hall of Fame induction.

In a historical sense, Gross, who succeeded Sandy Simpson after the two-time Coach of the Year oversaw the transition to D-I, grew up on the farm. She was the starting point guard on Simpson’s best teams, and after graduating and experimenting with a career in sports marketing, she returned as an assistant in 2004.

Soon afterward, she fell for Aggies assistant Joe Teramoto and was forced to confront one of life’s thorny, wrenching decisions. What if Simpson rejects the deal? Does she dump the guy or ditch the job?

“There was some nervous laughter when they came into the room to tell me,” Simpson recalled. “I was sitting there going, ‘What’s with these two?’ I think they were a little concerned because, of course, it does bring a different dynamic to the team. But I was happy for them. And they made it work.”

As it turns out, that was phase one of the Gross-Teramoto adventure. When Simpson retired in 2011, he recommended Gross as his replacement, for all the obvious reasons. Her history with the program. Her effectiveness as an assistant. Her appeal as a candidate at other schools, some of which were starting to make inquiries.

Former UCD athletic director Greg Warzecka moved swiftly and promoted Gross, aware she would hire her husband as associate head coach. Convention be damned. And, as Simpson predicted, they made it work.

Gross-Teramoto is a thoroughly democratic New Age undertaking, going something like this: Joe does the cooking because he is the superior chef. Jennifer does the housework, time permitting. The couple share the child-caring duties for Josh (5) and Amelia (3), with significant assistance from both sets of grandparents.

Asked how they avoid being consumed by the game, Gross grins and blurts: “We don’t. We talk hoops all the time. It’s the thing we are most passionate about, other than our family. The kids will get on us sometimes, though. I’ll be watching film, and Amelia will walk over and close my computer. ‘Focus on me now!’ Josh, on the other hand, is a total junkie. He wants to talk about the team, the league. He is in the huddle during introductions.”

The players characterize the Gross-Teramoto coupling as sort of a “Family Affair” without the butler. Gross is a willing delegator, and though she makes final decisions, all of her assistants have major roles. At an Aggies workout before the trip to Anaheim, Teramoto – who is the more organized, detail-oriented of the two – jumped into the lineup with the scout team and was left winded and sweat-soaked, but in a playful mood.

“They know what each other is thinking,” observed UCD forward Morgan Bertsch, with a grin, “and they’re not afraid to tell each other, ‘No, that’s not how we’re supposed to run that.’ It is a little different, but we’re all really close. And we get on Joe all the time because he comes up with these dorky dad jokes. For example: When we showed up at CSUN (Cal State Northridge), he gets off the bus and looks at the sky, and goes, ‘Weird. I don’t see the sun.’ Stuff like that – dumb, dorky stuff.”

In contrast to their easy, familiar banter, Gross says she and her husband are extremely intense about strategy, planning, preferred NBA teams. A Boston native and San Diego transplant, Jennifer monitored every minute of Larry Bird’s Celtics career. Teramoto, who is from the Bay Area, migrated south to the Showtime Lakers. Their dueling enthusiasm accompanied them on their honeymoon to Mexico, leading to a much-needed cooling down period while they watched the 2010 NBA Finals between the teams.

But Gross, who routinely tosses out her own wisecracks, considers herself extremely fortunate.

“I found somebody who is completely supportive and gets what I do,” she said. “Obviously there are some challenges, but we get to share the highs and the lows. As a woman in coaching, I think we all step back and ask, ‘I see a lot of men having families and coaching, and can we do that? Is it possible?’

“I mean, Joe is amazing. He is an amazing coach. He could be a head coach somewhere, but to set that aside and say, ‘No, we have something special here’ and accept the role of associate head coach?”

The two of them, she adds, love the game, love the life.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin

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