One-on-One With Corey Gaines

By Brad G. Faye,
Posted: Aug. 21, 2009

While a loss to the Mystics isn't what the Mercury were looking for in Friday night's contest at home, the team is still poised to finish the WNBA's regular season as the top team in the Western Conference. Still a full three games ahead of Seattle for the conference's number one seed, Phoenix is five games away from matching its greatest win total in franchise history with seven contests to play.

On Friday, had the opportunity to catch up with the Mercury's second-year head coach, Corey Gaines, who discussed the team's season, Diana Taurasi's MVP-type play and the importance of closing the season out strong even after clinching a postseason berth. First off coach, if you could just evaluate the season up until this point. What do you feel your greatest strengths have been? Where do you still see room to improve?

Corey Gaines: We’re just trying to maintain what we’re doing. Winning is a habit and we want to be in the habit of winning. Losing can be a habit too so we’re obviously trying to avoid that. We want to keep those turnovers down and when we get on top of those rebounds and keep those numbers close, things often work out in our favor. Being so close to officially earning a position in the WNBA Playoffs, do you worry about complacency at all from this ballclub? Why or why not?

Gaines: No, not with the players we have. They know there’s a fine line between keeping that edge and losing that edge and I think they understand the importance of staying above that edge the rest of this season. You guys currently sit atop the Western Conference standings just a year after missing the postseason. Last year, things appeared to get off to a rough start right from the beginning. You were without your two key players in training camp and had the long layoff during the Bejing Olympics. What do you feel the biggest difference has been between last year and this year?

Gaines: I think all of things you mentioned were a factor. It wasn't just one thing, it was a bunch of things combined, which led to a disappointing season and we’re doing everything we can to avoid experiencing that ever again. With Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, you obviously knew you were heading into the season with two legit superstars. Who on this team has maybe surprised you the most?

Gaines: It really has been a number of different players, you can go down an entire list. DeWanna Bonner has definitely come on strong, Tangela Smith is helping us out on the boards and shooting well from the 3-point line and Tameka Johnson has been the floor general we expected. I think you look to the bench with Bonner who’s close to averaging a double-double despite getting minimal minutes to get her opportunities. Ketia Swanier too has helped give us a spark off the bench so it really has been a number of contributors who have played with purpose and direction to help us out. It really has been everybody combined. Diana was recently named the league’s Western Conference Player of the Week. Can you talk about what she has meant to this team and where she ranks among this season’s MVP candidates?

Gaines: I may be biased, but Diana is definitely top three. It depends on what they’re looking for but she’s doing it all. She’s guarding the best player on the other team, she’s rebounding the ball, she’s scoring and she’s winning. I really don’t know if you can ask for any more than that. This first-place team recently got another boost with the return of All-Star Penny Taylor. Has the process of incorporating her back onto this ballclub progressed the way you'd have liked thus far?

Gaines: She’s coming back slowly which is the way we wanted to do it. We didn’t want to throw her into the fire too fast and she’s still helping us win games. With the sharpshooting forward having been away for so long, what was one thing about her you had maybe forgotten about in terms of her importance to this team?

Gaines: I don’t think there is anything about Penny we forgot about or took for granted. I saw her play overseas in Russia and knew how much she would be able to still contribute to this team, so there definitely hasn’t been anything I’ve forgotten about when it comes to Penny. How important is it for this team to head into the playoffs on a strong note? With your style of play is it maybe even more important than it would be for most teams?

Gaines: I think it’s important for every team to have some good momentum heading into the postseason. You just need to focus on what you’ve been doing the whole year, maintaining your strengths and building on the rest so you can just try and take your game to another level.