A New Challenge for a WNBA Legend

Jonah Ballow with Jennifer Gillom

Jonah Ballow: Welcome to Lynxbasketball.com, I'm Jonah Ballow with the new head coach of the Minnesota Lynx, Jen Gillom. You take over for Don Zierden. Let's talk about the process of first changing over the head coaching position, and now you will take over this team with three days up until the season opener on Saturday, but you've been here for two years, so maybe it will be more of a smooth transition than we may think.

Jennifer Gillom: Exactly, I think it'll be a really smooth transition because what Coach Z has already implemented, we will continue to do. We have our offenses, our defenses; we're pretty much set for Saturday. The only thing they have to make an adjustment to is me, and I think that after the news last night, they welcomed me with open arms, and I think that will be a smooth transition as well.

Ballow: That was one of my first questions, I'm sure you have an idea of how you'd like to see this team play, and I'm sure that it's probably similar to Coach Z's, but I'm sure you have your own playbook and some little wrinkles you'd like to put it. Is it a matter of just kind of keeping the similar playbook as you guys designed in the training camp sessions and then eventually kind of easing your way into the coaching position?

Gillom: Exactly, that's my intentions. We do have a few more things to add onto our offense and our defense, but like I said, we are ready for Saturday, and that is what I was considering earlier. I'm ready to be able to make changes as the season goes along, because sometimes you put things in and then maybe it doesn't quite fit your personnel, and there's always going to be some changes made and I'll be prepared for that. Yes, there are some ideas I have on my own that I would like to see, especially with such a young, talented group.

Ballow: I was thinking about this earlier, that you take over and there's only five returning players from last year's team. This is kind of maybe a chance for you guys to take on this us-against-the-world mentality for this season and bond maybe as a new group instead of eight players returning and a coach that's been there for four years, you can kind of bond and gel together. Do you see it that way as well?

Gillom: Exactly, and I'm glad that I was with those five returning players last year, so they kind of know me and about me, and the new players, we've already developed great relationships. I think that we have gelled very well. I'm really looking forward to this group being one of the dynamic groups, because they come from winning programs. When you have players that have come from winning programs, they have that winning mentality, and all I ask of them is their effort and a good attitude, and I think everything will fall into place.

Ballow: Coach Z talked in the offseason when I was in his office about defense, how that was one of the main things to concentrate on during the training camp sessions. You guys scored a lot of points last year, second in the league in scoring. How do you see this team now as far as a defensive team? Do you feel the mentality is there yet, or do you still feel that there's still some work to do on that end?

Gillom: No, I think we've been putting more emphasis this year on defense, because we realized last year that that was our weakness, and we almost made it to the playoffs. We understand that if we do improve in our defense, there's definitely a chance for us making it this year, especially not just improving our defense but with more added talent.

Ballow: You talked about just making the playoffs, two games away last year. Other than defense, what do you think are the key contributors to get you over that hump this year?

Gillom: I just think that we really have to keep our composure. I think that this is a young group where there may be times when we get rattled a little bit, but I'm really going to emphasize keeping our composure during pressure times. I think our talent is going to take us a long way, but there are going to be times when teams are going to try to rattle us because they think we're young. I think these girls are very mature for their age, and like I said they come from great programs, they know the game, and I think they will overcome that.

Ballow: Let's get to know you a little bit: one of the first players in the WNBA, you have a ton of experience overseas, played for the Mercury, playoff experience... I could keep rattling off your accolades, but that's really important as a head coach, because you will immediately garner the respect of your players. Talk about your experience in the league and where you see yourself as a head coach.

Gillom: You know, I've been in this game a long, long time, like you said. Seventeen years professionally, and I've played at every level, being an Olympian, and now a Hall of Famer--the girls are calling me that now even though I haven't been inducted yet--but I do think that kind of gave me some respect from them. I think I've always been in a leadership role as a player, which helps me transitions to this position, because coaches need players on the court who can help them during the game, and I've always been one of those players. I think those leadership roles will definitely help me for this transition and also the coaching experience that I've had, even back at Xavier High School I really enjoyed learning the game during that period as well. I know there's a different in the professional and high school level, but it's still teaching, so I've been teaching the game for a while, and I think that's definitely going to help my transition right now.

Ballow: What's kind of your philosophy? Are you pretty high-strung during games, or do you have a laid-back approach? What can we expect to see on the sidelines come Saturday?

Gillom: You're going to see a very passionate, motivating coach. I consider myself a motivator. I just love to get the best out of the girls, and whatever I have to do on the sideline to get that done, I will do it whether it has to be jumping up and screaming. I'm not a big yeller, but like I said I like to encourage the girls to do the best that they can do, and that's all I can ask.

Ballow: Let's do a quick little preview for the Chicago Sky on Saturday. It's a team with some young players as well, they struggled a bit last year, you split the series with Chicago last season. What do you see in this game, and provide us a little bit of a preview for Chicago?

Gillom: Of course this year Sylvia Fowles is back, and that's a huge mission in itself in trying to defend her. She has definitely improved her overall game. Last year I think it was a little bit easier because she didn't have a lot of post moves, but I've been hearing she's racking up post moves. Also, Kristi Toliver, with new addition Kristi Toliver I think they're going to be more of an outside scoring threat, which I think last year we didn't have as much to worry about, maybe one, but now they have Jia Perkins, which is also an addition to their scoring threat. Armintie Price is coming back, and she's a player that likes to penetrate to the basket. There's Dominique Canty, and there's Dupree, Candice Dupree, who I think was the one who kind of single-handedly beat us last year, and I think that's still in the back of our minds, especially the players who are returning. I think that they're going to have a pretty good team. I really, really admire that Kristi Toliver because she was one of our picks as well, had she stayed in there for a little bit longer.

Ballow: Looking at this game Saturday, any keys you see? Obviously you don't want to give away too much, but are there any keys you see that will help you get that victory the first game of the season, the season opener right here at Target Center?

Gillom: Come with a lot of energy. I think if this team comes with a lot of energy, and I think that the fans are going to be a key. Being at home and playing in front of our fans, they can help give us that energy. Like I said, defense, defense, defense.

Ballow: We look forward to it, and it's great to meet you, and you'll have a busy three days ahead of you, and we appreciate it. Jen Gillom, the new head coach of the Minnesota Lynx right here on Lynxbasketball.com.
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