PART 2: Q&A WITH MYSTICS COACH MIKE THIBAULT
BY BEN STANDIG | MARCH 1, 2018
Who’s ready to take that next step up after their offseason work?
“That’s a hard question because I think there’s a lot of candidates. Somebody like Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has been with us, has spent a lot of time working on her shooting all winter. Extending her range and doing things like that. We don’t need her to be a go-to scorer. But, in this day and age, if you can knock down an open outside shot when people are double-teaming Elena [Delle Donne] or helping on someone else, it really changes things. I don’t see all of our players on a daily basis. Some are overseas. But, Tianna Hawkins, has been in the gym with our coaches for a good part of the offseason. She and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, along with Elena, have been there on almost a daily basis working on their game. Tianna has really, really come along in her game. I think maybe she can be one of those breakout players. She helped us last year. She was good. But, I think she’s a lot more comfortable in her game. She’s got a couple-year contract in front of her. She sees that she can be a big help to our team.
“But, I think we have a lot of candidates. Natasha Cloud was coming on last year after her injury, after she got over that part of it. We won’t see Tayler Hill back probably until June. But, she’s been able to spend all winter as part of her rehab process, working on her shooting technique, her form. I would say it’s undergone a really good change this offseason. We’ll see how it translates when she goes full speed, but you see improvements in mechanics that you don’t have time to work on during your season while you’re playing. Now, she’s had several months to do this without pressure of a game, score and all of those things.”
What is your view of the league as it enters its 22nd season?
“I think we have the most depth of talent we’ve ever had, at least since I’ve been in the league. There are people not making rosters who came out of college as All-Americans or first-team all-league players. That’s how deep the teams have become. We’re probably going to cut one or two players in training camp this year that have played in the league or should be playing in the league somewhere. I think that’s a good and a bad thing. It’s bad for those players, but it’s good that we’ve gotten to that level of skill in our league.
“Since I came in the league we’ve made this transition from every team being owned by an NBA team to now about a 50-50 split, just over maybe, of independent owners. There’s some good and some bad to that. I’m sorry to see San Antonio leave. But, the MGM people in Las Vegas are committing a lot of dollars into making that a good franchise. They are putting money into the arena out there. You have a team like Chicago who is moving into a new arena downtown in Chicago. I think there are a lot of upward things. I think you could see in a few years expansion. I don’t know where that is and I’m not going to speak for the league on that, but there’s certainly been a lot of talk about it.
“So, I think, every year I was in — this will be my 16th year in the league — every year people will say, ‘Boy are you guys going to survive?’ I got tired of answering the questions. We’re still here. It’s 22 years. Things are good. I’ve got a long contact. People should stop worrying about that part of it as much as let’s see if we can grow it, get more sponsors, increase TV viewership, those kinds of things. Get more people in the arena. I think we’re growing, but it’s one of those things that takes time. I remember looking at all the statistics on the NBA at 20 years. We’re ahead of that. We’re in a such an instant-gratification mode right now, people expect things to be perfect right away. It just doesn’t work that way. The league has continued to grow, it’s gotten better and I think it will continue to do that.”
How did year one go with Delle Donne?
“Well, I think it went really well. The only downside of the entire year was her injury that cost her almost a third of the season. And, you’re trying to get her back, ready to go again as the playoffs got ready. She has been everything I had hoped for and more, probably. You know somebody, but you don’t know everything.
“She’s as good a worker as I’ve had. She listens. She picks up things quickly. Her offseason workouts have been sensational. She’s working on body mechanics, her core strength. She’s kind of a sponge as far as trying to learn things that are new. For being a superstar, I still think she has an upward trajectory on the things she can get better at, which is a great thing to say about a player who’s now six years into the league. That’s quite a thing to say. She’s been a great teammate. She’s been an improving leader. That’s been a new thing for her to step up and be a leader on a time. And, it took a good portion of the year to learn her new teammates. I couldn’t say enough nice things about what she’s meant to what we’re doing and where we’re going and how hard she works on her game.”