Durham’s Jordan High School has made headlines around the United States for hiring former UNC and NBA player Rasheed Wallace as its boys basketball coach, but people shouldn’t overlook the person Riverside High landed just last fall: former WNBA All-star and collegiate head coach Wendy Palmer.
News outlets have acknowledged Wallace as the third big name hire among triangle high school basketball programs in the past few years, joining Al Ford at Raleigh’s Wakefield High School and Southern Durham’s David Noel. But Palmer’s resume is arguably better than any of them. She was a star at Person High School in Roxboro, then a two-time ACC Player of the Year at The University of Virginia in 1995 and 1996 before being drafted by the Utah Starzz. She played nine seasons in the WNBA, was an All-Star in 2000, the league’s Most Improved Player in 2004 and named to the All-WNBA second team in 2007. She also played for Team USA in the 1994 William Jones Cup in Beijing, China.
On top of her impressive playing career, Palmer has also been a coach at the collegiate level since 2005, when she began coaching during the WNBA off season at VCU. Palmer was also an assistant at Kentucky and Virginia before serving as UNC-Greensboro’s head coach from 2011 to 2015. She led the UNCG program for five years, then spent a few years away from the game before landing at Riverside in 2018.
Despite being in a rebuilding year, Riverside finished 12-12 and advanced to the 4A State Playoffs after the conference tournament. They finished at 7-3 in the Tri-6 Conference, though, and runner-up in the regular season.
On top of her coaching duties, Palmer also works as a full-time social studies teacher at Riverside, something none of the other “big hires” do at their schools. In addition to coaching her 15 basketball players, she’s working with 170 students in her classroom this school year.
Though Palmer has accomplished a lot in her career, news of her hiring went unnoticed both nationally and locally. Perhaps it’s because she didn’t win any championships. Maybe it’s because she didn’t attend Duke or UNC. It could be because she doesn’t hold any records for technical fouls in a season. It surely isn’t because she played and coaches women’s basketball, right?
All of this, however, should not take anything away from Wallace’s accomplishments. He was a four-time NBA All-Star, NBA Champion, and USA Basketball’s High School Player of the Year in 1993. He is a big hire for Jordan High School, and will be exciting to watch over the next few years.
Even more importantly, Durham Public Schools gains another accomplished basketball coach, which will help grow athletic support and help DPS will attract more athletes, competition, and likely students over the next few years.
But next winter, when Jordan basketball is in the news, don’t forget that Riverside has its own professional too, and she might be even better.
Joe Laird is a senior at Riverside High School and an editor of The Pirates’ Hook, Riverside’s student newspaper. He will attend UNC-Chapel Hill next year and plans to major in journalism.