"I wanted to create a team by this point where we could take the player (in the Draft) that we thought was the best available," says San Antonio Silver Stars coach/GM Dan Hughes.
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March 26, 2007 — As both coach and general manager of the San Antonio Silver Stars, Dan Hughes was less than satisfied with his team's 13-21 record in 2006. Having reached the playoffs at his two previous stops in the WNBA — with the Charlotte Sting and Cleveland Rockers — he enters his third season in San Antonio still seeking his first postseason appearance. Though the Silver Stars lost guard Shannon Johnson to free agency this offseason, Hughes has re-signed Marie Ferdinand and brought in Ruth Riley, Helen Darling, Erin Buescher and Sandora Irvin to join up-and-coming second-year player Sophia Young.
Now, with the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming Draft in Cleveland, Hughes has the opportunity to add another impact player to the mix. Hughes spoke recently about his offseason and his team's plans for the Draft with WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield.
Q. How have you and the Silver Stars been preparing for the Draft?
A. "Number one, there's always carryover from previous years. You're always evaluating, you're always watching. We form an initial list almost immediately after the end of our season. We study our team and we study every other team in the WNBA. We do that for two reasons: one, to understand the free agent market; two, to understand how free agency might help us and how the Draft might help us. So we get a list of players that we have evaluated and charted through the years, then we look philosophically at our team and our team in relation to other teams."
Q. When do you actually start preparing for the Draft?
A. "Specifically as GM, I do a tremendous amount of legwork in November and December. I physically try to see all of the players in the top 16 or so. (I try to see) every one of them personally in some form. The assistants help too. But I want a strong evaluation of them prior to Christmas, prior to the free agency period. We do a lot of charting players' progress, we do a tremendous amount through satellite and we are very big on video. I watch at least an hour of tape every day from November on. So by the first of the year, I have been able to evaluate the top 16 players in this Draft. Then we go into free agency, and we use a lot of TV and DVDs and computers… it's amazing how many games are streamed (online) now. We don't do a ton of in-person evaluation, but we do a lot of evaluation total. Now, we've looked where our free agency stands, addressed some of our needs, and are now looking at some of best players in the Draft and re-evaluating philosophically where our needs are and we're weighing the consequences of who the best players are and where our needs are. That's the process we've undertaken."
Q. Are there any specific traits you look for in prospects?
A. "Out of the gate, you look for players that have something that makes their team special. I can't say I look for shooters, I can't say I look for defensive players, I can't say I look for attitude. But there's something about them that makes their team - and I'm not talking about the individual, I'm talking about the team - special. It could be a physical talent. It could be the fact that they can shoot. But there is some characteristic that needs to stand out for us to really identify that player. Athletic ability? Sure, we look at that. Skill set? Sure, we look at it. Attitude? I guarantee we look at that. But there better be something in those packages that stands out. That's what draws us."
Q. Having lost Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson to free agency and with some of the other moves that you have made, does that create specific areas or holes you are looking to address with your Draft picks?
A. "I think there's an awareness of (the offseason changes). I wanted to create a team by this point where we could take the player that we thought was the best available. And we're pretty close. Adding Helen Darling through the Dispersal Draft is a help after losing Pee Wee. But I still think we can go either big or little (in the Draft) with the team we have right now. We could go little (laughs)… but we're not destroying our team if we go big and that was our goal: having the flexibility to go either way with our No. 2 pick."
Q. So with that second pick, are you targeting a specific player, or will you take the best available at that point?
A. "You can bet that if we consider a player to be the best available, we will go that way. If not, we could say, 'Well, we lost Pee Wee, so could go for a point.' It doesn't necessarily mean that, but it could. But if the player we thought was the best is gone and there's a big player there, we'll probably take the big player."
Q. How do you think this year's Draft compares to previous ones?
A. "I don't find it as 'top-impactful' as a year ago. I don't think there are as many players at the top that will impact teams quite the way that we saw a year ago. I do think that this Draft has some quality to it through much of the first round. It's debatably a better Draft than two years ago. It's not as good at the top end as a year ago, where four of the top five made the All-Star Team. That would be a hard feat for this class to replicate, but I do see some quality in the mid-first round that might be greater than a year ago."
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A. "(Jessica) Davenport at Ohio State. (Ivory) Latta at North Carolina. (Lindsey) Harding at Duke. (Alison) Bales at Duke. A player who hasn't been talked about much is Bernice Mosby at Baylor. People are going to really covet her at Draft time. Then there's another group (just below that level) that I think is pretty good… I wish I had a pick in that group. But Mosby ought to be mentioned with that top group."
Q. Does foreign scouting consume a lot of your time in the offseason?
A. "It consumes a little bit. With the evolution of the Web, I've had (assistant coach) Sandy Brondello key our staff's scouting. It's a weekly observation of players either in person, through (online) streaming or DVDs. And it's a big part, but it's played differently. It used to be that those players are simply draft choices. Now you have to (consider) whether this is a player you draft or one that you try to sign, so it's a different dynamic. But evaluation-wise, it's stayed pretty consistent. I watched the All-Star Game in Europe and I'm getting a lot more viewing of those players than I did seven or eight years ago."
Q. How important is the NCAA Tournament in helping you make last-minute decisions on players? How much does Tournament performance impact a player's complete body of work? Which do you pay more attention to?
A. "Tournament play either reinforces a decision you've already made or it challenges it. In that regard, it is a part of the process, but it's often overestimated. I can't honestly remember ever changing a major decision based on a player's performance in the Tournament. Sometimes, you'll watch a player in the postseason and think, 'Well, this makes me feel good, because this is what I already thought about her.' There might be some times when I think, 'Gosh, she didn't look very good…' but I can't honestly tell you a game has changed anything I've felt or done. Still, we're interested because of the proximity of injury. In most cases, it's just reinforced what we already thought. So many people think our final decision is based on that final game, but we've really already settled on our philosophy heading into the Tournament."
Q. With Marie Ferdinand returning as well as the development of younger players, what are your expectations for the Silver Stars this season?
A. "Another notch (of improvement) from a year ago. We doubled our wins and got up to 13. We may not double our wins again and get up to 26, but we want to take another step. Another step that takes us into the playoffs… into greater consistency performance-wise. We had some real peaks and valleys last year. We were a decent road team, and often that doesn't come until your team is a little further along. We still have work to do, but I think we're a better basketball team than a year ago. And aside from not closing out toward the end of last year when we were hit with some injuries, I'd like to think we're deeper and able to handle the ups and downs of the season in a more consistent way. But we want to take another step from where we were a year ago, and I think that could put us in the playoff picture."