Catching Up with Coach

By Vince Kozar,
Posted: March 8, 2007

With the 2007 WNBA Draft a little more than three weeks away and training camp set to open soon after, things are hopping these days on the fourth floor of US Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Mercury's braintrust.

Head Coach Paul Westhead took a timeout from his preparations to talk with basketball communications manager Vince Kozar about the draft and the upcoming season, his second at the Mercury's helm. How has this offseason, before your second year as head coach of the Mercury, compared to the first?

Paul Westhead: "I would say that this offseason I am looking at game tapes of our past season, looking for ways to improve things that we have done. Last year I was looking at game tapes (from 2005) to find out who was on my team. So that’s a big step forward that I know the players, their strengths and I know what we did well, and how we can try and improve some things. I’m looking at tapes in a much different way now than I did last season." How is scouting players for the top pick, which may not be as clearly defined as last year, different from scouting for the second pick?

Paul Westhead: "Last year was easier because Seimone (Augustus) and Cappie (Pondexter) were clearly, in our eyes and I think many of the other WNBA people, the two best players coming out of the college draft — especially for our needs. We needed a guard so either would have been perfect. We focused on Cappie very early, so I must have seen her half a dozen times, so it was a very clear focus last season. This year, it is not as clear. So, therefore, we have to look at multiple players. The whole approach is different. We’re still trying to ascertain exactly what our needs will be come draft day. On the surface, we’re looking for a forward/center-type this year, rather than the guard that we looked for last year." How important was re-signing Kelly Miller and coring Penny Taylor?

Westhead: "It was very important that we bring back Kelly Miller, who was a terrific point guard for us last year, who ran our team offense. She brought the ball relentlessly in our fast break and that was key. She’s also a tenacious defender. It was very important to get her to run that key spot in my fastbreak system. Penny Taylor’s value is very obvious to us. She was vital in our second half of the season, our improved play and our run where we won seven in a row to close the season. They were both very important in our plans." Talk about bringing back Jen Derevjanik and Jen Lacy?

Paul Westhead: "In my nicknaming, I call them 'Jen' and 'Jen 2.' Lacy is Jen because she was here first. They were both very productive for us last year. I don’t want to say it was surprising. Maybe Lacy was a little bit because she hadn’t played in the WNBA in the past. I was very pleased with what she brought to us up front. She gave us very good minutes. I think she has, in coaching phrases, great upside. I think Jen Lacy is a player who has room to improve. Whatever she did in 2006, we’ll see a jump forward in the coming season. So I’m very happy to have Jen Lacy back.

"Jen 2 was terrific coming off the bench anytime Kelly Miller needed a break or got into foul trouble. She stepped in and we did not lose a beat. We were able to keep the pace and she kept our team in our offense. She did a terrific job for us." What role do you see Kelly Mazzante, selected in the Charlotte dispersal draft, playing on this year’s team?

Paul Westhead: "That was a terrific acquisition for us. Kelly Mazzante is an outstanding shooter with three-point range. She’ll play alongside Cappie and Diana, so like I said about Jen Derevjanik, Mazzante will allow us to hopefully have her on the court and not miss a beat whenever we’re not playing Cappie or Dee. So, we should be, because of Kelly Mazzante, as solid in the wing position as anyone else in the league." How important is getting off to a good start this season?

Paul Westhead: "I didn’t know that last year (laughs). I was forewarned about it but thought 'oh well' and then all of a sudden we were 0-4 and fighting the 100 mile-an-hour wind the rest of the way. So it is important, but so is a good finish. I wouldn’t overplay the fact that we got off to a slow start because we had injuries, players who weren’t there... Looking back, the start was understandable. I sure would like to turn that around this year and get us off in a winning mode so that we don’t have that tremendous pressure to win 80 percent of our games at the end of the season. We won 100 percent of them and still didn’t make the playoffs. We’re very conscious of getting off to a good start, though, and we just have to hope that we’re not plagued with injuries, and we have to hope that all of our players will be able to be back in time for the start of the season."