Catching Up With Coach Z

Jonah Ballow with head coach Don Zierden

Jonah: Welcome to, I'm Jonah Ballow sitting in the office of Coach Zierden, the coach of the Minnesota Lynx. As we head into the 2009 season, how has your offseason gone so far? I know this is an exciting time for the Lynx and the fan base. Right now you have three draft picks and also some of the talent you've acquired in the last couple years, some young players who are really going to make a difference in the upcoming season.

Coach Zierden: Yeah Jonah, it's probably been as busy an offseason as I can remember, and I think part of it is what you talked about, the trades that happened during the off-season and the acquisitions of Kelly Miller, who we just feel is an excellent point guard. She's going to help us create things from that point guard spot. Adding an athletic defender like LaToya Pringle who we really liked in last year's draft but we weren't able to get her, and then adding Christi Thomas, who we've always liked Christi, felt that she didn't have that niche in L.A. to get the minutes, but we have plenty of minutes for her here. So, you combine the trades along with now having three of the top 15 picks, and it's been a pretty busy off-season.

Jonah: It's kind of similar to what the Wolves are going through at this point. This is going to be a very young team. How do you balance that out with veteran leadership from that squad? You're going to have a lot of young players, how do you balance that out heading into next season?

Coach Zierden: When we made these trades, we really thought about that, because we were trading Vanessa Hayden, who had been here for a while, and Nicole Ohlde, who had been here for a while. Where we balanced it out is I think that it's time for Seimone Augustus in her fourth year to step up a little bit as a leader, and I think last year Candice Wiggins and Nicky Anosike showed us, not just based on their talent but the people that they are, that they can lead. We just felt that it's better right now to do that at this time and let this team grow.

Jonah: You talked about Seimone. Right now she's doing the job on the floor, but would you like to see her grow into more of that leader as far as that locker room experience?

Coach Zierden: Yeah, I would. I'd actually like to see her grow in every area. I think she can be even more efficient scoring-wise, I think she can be a better defender, I think she can be a better rebounder, and I think she can be a better leader, and we're going to challenge her from day one to do those things.

Jonah: Seimone's probably going to be your featured player in the offense. Looking at that starting five, it's going to change from what Lynx fans saw last year with the trades that you made and the new talent you're going to bring in. It's probably difficult at this point, but a bring us a brief glimpse into what your starting five and your bench is going to look like.

Coach Zierden: Well, it is a little bit difficult Jonah, just from the fact that you really tell the players coming in that it's wide open, and this year with the trades we made, it really will be. I think that any time that you look at a talent like Seimone Augustus, you would expect that she would be in the starting lineup somewhere. Kelly Miller has been a veteran in this lead, you would expect that she would be in the starting lineup, and that's one of the reasons we made the trade. Candice Wiggins, a decision has to be made. We wanted to bring her along slowly last year, and it really worked out well. She gave us scoring off the bench, ended up getting Sixth Woman of the Year, but is it time to move Candice into the starting lineup? That's something the training camp is going to show. And then Nicky kind of solidified herself at center last year; does she beat out the draft picks? We may go big in the draft. Then, you don't know about Christi Thomas and LaToya Pringle. Charde (Houston) has had a whale of a season overseas in Israel, getting the co-MVP with LaToya Pringle, so that worked out pretty well. I would say, you think Seimone is going to be there, you think Kelly is going to be there. After that, it's kind of let's show up and prove it.

Jonah: That's pretty exciting, to go into a training camp and an offseason and say hey, let's open up the playbook, let's open up the roster, and whoever wins out that starting five, that's going to be who you dress for that given night.

Coach Zierden: Yeah, I think it's fair to the players. This is the pros and a lot of times you do have players slotted in, but I think with 11-player rosters this year, it's going to be really important to make sure everybody gets a good look in training camp.

Jonah: How do you think the chemistry is right now in the locker room at this point? Like we said, it's a feature that's going to run all throughout this season. Are you having to step in and become the leader at this point and then let your players develop, or do you feel like the chemistry is there, and they're just going to have to grow as the season progresses?

Coach Zierden: You know what, I've been blessed enough to be an assistant coach on teams that went to the Western Conference Finals and the Eastern Conference Finals in the NBA, and I wish that the coaching staff could take all the credit for that, but the bottom line is the players made themselves accountable in that locker room. What we're hoping is that with Seimone being in her fourth year, with Kelly coming in from winning a championship, with Candice and Nikky maturing into their second year, we're hoping that the players will take the accountability and we won't have to do anything, because in my mind, one of the things that did break down for us last year was our chemistry in the locker room.

Jonah: Let's talk about last year. I want to touch on the strong start you had to the season and then down the stretch you faltered a little bit, but still finished with a strong six-game improvement from 2007. How do you duplicate that start from last year and turn the momentum from early into the season and really take that to the rest of the year?

Coach Zierden: Well, many people can look back at the records and see the quotes that I had...I was well aware that we got off to that 5-0 start. Some of that were the schedule-makers, and that does happen. Some of that was the enthusiasm of the youth and the first time through before people really got their scouting reports on our rookies, but once things settled in, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This was year two of our re-building, and I wasn't sure it was going to jump as much as it did, quite frankly, and I think the players made it so. To come within two games of a playoff spot, I was disappointed but encouraged that with the right kind of moves and the maturity of the players that we like, with the core that we like, we think we have a chance. Even though the Western Conference is tough, we think we can be right in the mix for a playoff spot this year.

Jonah: You're one of the pivotal players in this year's draft. Let's talk in a general sense of the type of players, or maybe where you're looking to add some pieces with this specific team in this year's summer draft.

Coach Zierden: Well I think first of all, you can never just overlook talent. Coaches like to take credit for everything, but at the end of the day, if my X's are better than your O's, we're going to have a pretty good chance to win at the pro level. That being said, we were just a porous defensive team last year. That needs to change, so I would say that we need to bring in some defensive-minded players. We need to bring in some people who can rebound the basketball. We were not a very good rebounding team, and I think that cost us in a few key losses. So, people that can defend, people that can rebound, size, and then obviously you can't overlook pure talent.

Jonah: Ok, let's look ahead to the season. A lot of teams in the WNBA have a specific identity: pace to the game, whether they're a three-point shooting team, a defensive-minded squad, or an up-tempo team. What would you like to see out of the Lynx this season? What is the identity that Lynx fans can come out to the Target Center and see on a nightly basis?

Coach Zierden: Well, what I think where we need to improve is defensively. I think what people know about the Minnesota Lynx right now is that we're going to come out and we're going to compete. We've shown that over the last two years. The other thing that we're going to do is we're going to execute offensively. Last year we were second in the league offensively in points per game, and we lead the league in taking care of the basketball, we we've created that identity. The other thing we have to add to that, is that we're going to lock you down. We're going to rebound and defend. If we add that to what people know about us, then we're going to be a pretty good team.

Jonah: That's great stuff. The draft only two weeks away, season just around the corner, the sun is coming out here in Minnesota, the lakes are melting away, so I'm ready for the season.

Coach Zierden: The sun is out, but it's only 20 degrees, and there were snowflakes last night, but yeah, It's an exciting time Jonah. Trying to figure out the draft, what other teams are going to do, what's going to be best for your team, and then to think that actually in a month or so, we're actually going to have these players coming in for training camp is pretty exciting.

Jonah: Coach Z, thanks for your time, and we'll catch up with you throughout the season.

Coach Zierden: Thanks Jonah, I look forward to it.