July 6, 2005 -
Prior to heading to (or back to, as the case may be) Connecticut
for the 2005 WNBA All-Star Game, the coaches for each conference answered questions
from media all around the country. Read what they had to say:
Thibault, East All-Stars (Connecticut Sun)
Question: Will there be an extra
energy coaching on your home court?
Thibault: I think there will be, our
fans in general are really great fans. I mean obviously it's a great basketball
state, the game is going to be sold out, and the fans are excited. There is a
lot of buildup around here about it. You have some former UConn players playing
on other teams; you have a couple of our players. I think the fans will be into
it, and our fans - no matter who we play - are pretty knowledgeable about the
other teams. Most of the time in introductions we turn around to see who is getting
the applause on other teams because they know these players from the college rivalries
that have come along and it has transferred over to the WNBA.
Q: Who do
you see giving you fits from the West?
Thibault: Everybody [laughter]. I
mean I was trying to figure it out last night - you take their starting lineup
or their bench, it doesn't really matter, you can kind of mix and match them the
way the season has gone. Anytime you look at a team that is loaded with the starters
they have, and you look at a Holdsclaw or a Leslie, or DeMya Walker. You go down
the list; the whole group coming off the bench is pretty impressive.
Talk about the season the Sun is having, and the 2 All-Stars from your squad?
Obviously our record is terrific, 12-2. It's probably better than any of us imagined
it would be at this point considering the schedule we've had and the road games
we have played. But, I think there has been a great carryover from going to the
Finals last year, our players have come in very focused, they did the work in
the off-season. And I have always maintained that any level of sport you are as
good as your best workers, and if your best players are your best workers you
are going to have a great season. And Taj [McWilliams-Franklin] and Nykesha [Sales]
have been terrific up until this point, and I know you can make a case for a lot
of different players, but considering where we are in the standings, I think you
can make a great case for Taj being an MVP candidate. She has just been a great
leader from day one that this franchise came here and her game keeps expanding,
she's playing great. Nykesha has been a perennial All-Star, but she has expanded
her game, she's not just a scorer anymore, her defense has gotten better, her
rebounding and assists numbers have been up. And along with our other veteran
players they have done a great job of leading us in the right direction.
Q: The West is loaded, but what are your thoughts about getting a win, because
winning is what you are all about.
Thibault: My approach in an All-Star
game is that I obviously wouldn't coach it like I would coach my own team. I think
you are trying to get everybody involved in the game, if the game is close down
the stretch, you probably as a coach would try to play the players that fit together
as a group the best. I don't know, from what I've been told the East has never
won a game, and everybody is telling me we're not very good [laughter]. You know
it's funny, you go out - play the game and have fun, my message to our players
is "Go play as hard as you can, be unselfish, pass the ball, run up and down,
enjoy the experience, you are here because you have been recognized for being
amongst the best players. Go entertain the fans, play hard, don't play for yourself,
play for each other. And then let's see what happens, it's a showcase event, enjoy
Donovan, West All-Stars (Seattle Storm): Good morning, everybody. It is morning
for me out here in Phoenix. After the game tonight here in Phoenix, I'm really
excited to get on to Connecticut and have the opportunity to be a part of another
All-Star Game. When I was with Charlotte, and our staff had the opportunity to
coach the East in that game in D.C., it was just one of the most memorable experiences
for me - just a lot of fun to be involved with all the best players in the league
in a great atmosphere. D.C. had done a great job with that All-Star Game. So I
know that Mohegan Sun is going to do a tremendous job with this All-Star Game,
and to be coaching the best players in the world I think is a coach's dream.
What does having the entire Sacramento front line do for your team?
Yolanda [Griffith] is just in a different league. I have so much respect for her
and what she's done for the game of women's basketball. Her longevity in this
game and the consistency throughout her career… For her to still be an All-Star
at this point in her career, and recognized by the fans as a starter is a tremendous
credit to her and what she's done.
DeMya [Walker] has had a tremendous
career. She's adapted into a different spot this year for Sacramento and all of
her numbers are up this season. It'll be a pleasure to coach her for a change
instead of against her. I've never had the opportunity to work with DeMya before.
You also have two of your own players on the team with Lauren [Jackson] and Sue
[Bird]. Can you talk about how they've fused this year.
Donovan: I think
as a team, we've definitely had our highs and lows this season so far. Certainly,
one of the lows was when Sue broke her face and her nose. Now, here she is dealing
with a bigger mask than last season, and for the bulk of this year's season as
opposed to last year's postseason. So she's struggled a little bit to try and
get accustomed to the mask, and to the idea that she's going to have it with her
for the remainder of the season.
has just been a monster on the boards. She's taken her game to a new level. She
had a great game the other night. She's really starting to put pieces together.
She had offseason ankle surgery, so it's been a little bit slow in coming to get
her full game back, but she's starting to take it up a notch with every game.
I'm hoping that she's going to be peaking at the right time.
Q: With the
West having dominated All-Star Games in the past, how do you envision this game
Donovan: I think I remember our game in D.C. as very competitive.
It came down to the last couple shots. So I don't know if it's always been complete
domination. With every year, everyone is saying how much parity there is in the
league, from the East to the West, every team, top to bottom. Without having a
true All-Star Game last summer, I think this year, you'll see a much closer competition.
The East has certainly raised their level, and I don't think you'll see either
team really run away with it. We can all expect to see tremendous players having
a great time.
Q: What do you think the environment will be like at Connecticut?
I think it'll be a tremendous atmosphere, whether it's a Sun home game or now
the All-Star Game. I think you're going to have fans from all over come, not just
Connecticut fans, but from all over the league. Surely, they'll be rooting for
their own - for Taj [McWilliams-Franklin], Nykesha [Sales] and the East, but I
think they're going to see spectacular players from the West. This All-Star Game
is about the festivity of it all - really getting to see the best players in the
world showcase their skills.
Q: In the past, the West has always had a size
advantage over the East. Do you see any clear advantages that you're going to
have this year?
Donovan: I think it'll be pretty competitive. As I said,
last year we didn't have an All-Star Game, and last year was the most competitive
year in the WNBA until this year. Now, we have even more competition within the
league, so I think in the 'old days,' the West has dominated this league, but
that's obviously not the case any longer.
Q: Do you think your backcourt
might have a little edge on Saturday?
Donovan: Absolutely. I think Sue [Bird]
and Diana [Taurasi], with their history together, of course they're going to play
well together. They had last year's Olympic experience, so it's been pretty recent
that they've played together. Sheryl [Swoopes] is having a tremendous MVP-type
of season, but don't count Dawn Staley out. This is somebody who's been around
the block who's as competitive as they come. She'll have the East backcourt ready
Q: Is there something that you'll do a little differently this time
since coaching your last All-Star team?
Donovan: I think I'm going to relax
and enjoy it more. I think last time I just was not really sure what to expect.
This year, my assistants are asking a ton of questions, because they haven't experienced
it before. For me, it's just going to be a great time to just relax. There's no
agenda. There's no pressure. It's just one game that you can relax and enjoy.
Q: With her injury, will you use Sue any differently than you would if
she was completely healthy?
Donovan: No. She'll play the same number of
minutes. She's at risk whenever she plays. The All-Star Game is something that
she's really been looking forward to. It's a release more than anything for these
players just to get out there and have fun, and no structure, and I know Sue's
one of the players looking forward to that kind of freedom.
Q: Is the fact
that there has been some controversy over who did and didn't get into the All-Star
Game a testament to how the league has balanced out?
Donovan: I definitely
think so. Fans vote in our starters, and everyone can have their opinion on that,
but then you go past that, and it's not easy to vote. There's just that many players
in the league now that have reached All-Star status. It is a true tribute to the
growth of this league.
Q: How do you think Connecticut, with its gambling
background, has worked out for the league?
Donovan: It's true that it was
a real test case to see about outside ownership and how it could do. I think we
all were looking closely at Connecticut to see if it would work in our favor or
not. They have certainly done better than I thought that they would have done.
They have tremendous fans right now, and it's a tribute to the organization that
they've fielded a very competitive team quickly, because that's what it's about.
You've got to win games and be competitive in order for people to stay interested.