College - St. Martin's
In his tenth season with the Connecticut Sun, Mike Thibault has led the Connecticut Sun back to the playoffs for the seventh time, guiding his team to a 21-13 record. It is the fourth 20-win season in his tenure.
Currently the longest-serving coach in the league, Thibault is a two-time WNBA Coach of the Year, who has compiled a 181-125 regular season record, and a .592 winning percentage. He has more wins than any active coach and is second all-time. On July 22, 2007, Thibault became the third fastest coach in league history to reach 100 wins, reaching the milestone in just 159 games.
In 2010, Thibault led the Sun to a 17-17 record, narrowly missing the seventh trip to the WNBA playoffs in his tenure. Former UConn star Tina Charles earned Rookie of the Year honors while Kelsey Griffin was named to the All Rookie Team, but Connecticut’s momentum was disrupted when starting guard Anete Jekabsone-Zogota missed 15 games with a knee injury. Star forward Asjha Jones also got off to a slow start, missing the first four games of the season while recovering from ankle surgery. Additionally, Sandrine Gruda arrived later than expected because of overseas commitments.
Following the 2009 season, Thibault began planning a roster overhaul. The selection of veteran forward DeMya Walker in the Sacramento Monarchs dispersal draft was followed by the signing of free agent guard Kara Lawson in February. But major re-tooling began with a blockbuster trade that sent veteran point guard Lindsay Whalen and the No. 2 pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft to Minnesota in exchange for second-year guard Renee Montgomery and the No. 1 pick in 2010. The Sun used the No. 1 pick to select Charles, and also executed a draft day swap with Minnesota that netted Griffin with the No. 3 pick in the draft. The selection of Kansas star Danielle McCray with the No. 7 pick in the first round completed a memorable day that instantly transformed the Sun lineup.
The decision to trade Whalen was a typically bold move for Thibault. Twelve of the 14 trades in franchise history have been made during his tenure, including the deal that originally enabled the Sun to draft Whalen with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft. Asjha Jones and Margo Dydek are other notable players brought to Connecticut through trades.
The roster overhaul followed a disappointing 2009 campaign in which Connecticut’s bid for a seventh straight trip to the playoffs unraveled late in the season as the Sun struggled without Jones – the leading scorer on the team – who missed the final 11 games with a strained Achilles tendon. The Sun also lost Tamika Whitmore for 10 games midway through the season because of a knee injury, and Amber Holt for eight games at the start of the season with a broken right hand. The Sun were not eliminated until the second to last game of the year, a loss at Atlanta on Sept. 11th, finishing with a 16-18 record.
Named WNBA Coach of the Year for the second time in his career in 2008, Thibault led the third-youngest team in the league to 21 victories, a sixth straight winning season and a sixth straight berth in the playoffs.
Connecticut’s youth, combined with the offseason departure of veteran All Stars Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales and Margo Dydek led to predictions the Sun would struggle in 2008. Instead, the team jumped out to an 8-1 start, matching its best record over the first nine games of a season in franchise history. Connecticut was the last team in the league to lose on the road, the last to lose two games in a row, and the first to qualify for the playoffs, earning a spot in the postseason with a win at Atlanta on August 29th.
Despite starting two rookies in 28 of 34 games in 2008, the Sun established new records for total points (2,690), scoring average (79.1 ppg.), made threes (221) and three-point shooting percentage (33.0). Eleven different players, including five rookies, started at least one game for the Sun in 2008. A total of 14 players – Connecticut added Erin Phillips and Svetlana Abrosimova to the roster following the Olympic break – logged minutes.
Thibault’s accomplishments were particularly impressive considering he was in the midst of completing a commitment to USA Basketball that began in February of 2006, when he was named an assistant coach on the staff of Anne Donovan. Thibault helped the USA Women’s Basketball team win the bronze medal at the World Championships in Sao Paolo, Brazil in September of 2007, and the gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing in August of 2008.
Named head coach of the Connecticut Sun on March 7, 2003 – following a four-year stint with the Milwaukee Bucks – Thibault inherited a squad that had never finished above .500. He guided his first team to an 18-16 record and the first playoff series win in franchise history, a sweep of the favored Charlotte Sting.
From 2003 through 2008, Connecticut won 127 regular season games, tied with Detroit for the most victories in that six-year span. Connecticut and Sacramento were the only teams to have six straight winning seasons during that time while Connecticut, Sacramento and Detroit were the only teams to reach every postseason.
In 2006, Thibault earned his first Coach of the Year Award after leading Connecticut to its second straight 26-8 season, its third straight Eastern Conference regular season title and its fourth straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. No other Eastern Conference team has ever won 26 games in a season.
During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Connecticut was 52-16 (.764) in the regular season. Only Los Angeles and Houston have ever won more games in consecutive seasons. The Sun won 12 straight games from July 16-August 9 of 2006, the third longest winning streak in league history. Ten of those wins came without Nykesha Sales, who was out with an Achilles tendon injury. The Sun were 11-1 overall without Sales, and also went 2-0 without Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
In 2005, Thibault guided the Sun to the best regular season record ever posted by an Eastern Conference team, a 26-8 mark that included a remarkable 13-1 record against the Western Conference. Connecticut’s 12-2 start over 14 games was one of the quickest in WNBA history, topped only by Houston’s 13-1 start in 1998. The Sun clinched their second straight Eastern Conference regular season title with five games remaining on their schedule. Not since 2001 had a team won as many regular season games as Connecticut did in 2005.
Connecticut went on to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions, sweeping Detroit and Indiana before falling to Sacramento in the WNBA Finals, the first playoff series in league history played under a best-of-five format.
In 2004, Thibault led a Sun team that was a near-unanimous preseason pick to finish last to within one made basket of a WNBA championship. After finishing first in the Eastern Conference during the regular season for the first time in franchise history, the Sun beat Washington and New York for their first Eastern Conference Championship. Connecticut won the first game of the WNBA Championship series with Seattle before eventually falling in three games.
Connecticut’s 2004 run was surprising to some because Thibault had rebuilt the team following a 2003 run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Concluding the Sun needed to get younger and more athletic, Thibault carried five rookies on the 2004 roster, lowering the average age of his team from 28.4 to 24.2. Among those rookies was Whalen, who averaged more than 30 minutes per game as the starting point guard.
The Sun also excelled despite losing starting forward Brooke Wyckoff to a season-ending knee injury on May 3, 2004. Wyckoff and the five other veterans who did not return to the team averaged a combined 30 points, 13.5 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game in 2003.
Thibault entered the NBA ranks in 1978 as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, and was promoted to director of scouting and assistant coach in 1980. The Lakers won two World Championships (1980, 1982) during his tenure. From 1982-1986, he was an assistant coach and director of scouting for the Chicago Bulls during a period when the franchise drafted Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley, while also acquiring John Paxson.
From 1987-88 Thibault was the general manager and head coach of the Calgary 88’s of the World Basketball League (WBL), earning WBL Coach of the Year honors in 1988.
In 1989, Thibault began a remarkable eight-year run as general manager and head coach of CBA’s Omaha Racers. The Racers made the playoffs each season (1989-97) under his watch, bringing home a CBA title in 1993, and a return to the finals in 1994. Thibault was named 1993 Sportsman of the Year by the Omaha sportscasters, and ranks sixth on the CBA all-time coaching victory list (236).
In March of 1995, he coached the silver medal winning USA National Team at the Pan American Games, and in August of 1993, he served as head coach of the gold medal-winning USA National Team at the World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Puerto Rico.
He spent the 1997-98 season as a scout for the Seattle Sonics.
Mike and his wife Nanci are active participants in the community, and have been staunch supporters of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation since Mike’s days with the Omaha Racers. In 2007, the Thibaults were co-chairs of GREAT STRIDES, the primary fundraiser of the CF Foundation’s Connecticut Chapter. Mike and Nanci have two children. Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, and a graduate assistant coach for the St. John’s women’s basketball team. He has also been an assistant to the Sun coaching staff. Carly is attending Monmouth University on a basketball scholarship.