New Mystics GM Angela Taylor and Head Coach Julie Plank
Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
Angela Taylor has not had much time to relax since becoming the General Manager of the Washington Mystics back in October. She has moved from Minnesota to Washington, hired a coaching staff, evaluated the returning players on the Mystics roster, added pieces to the roster through the Dispersal Draft, trade, and free agency, and finally has evaluated collegiate players in preparation for Thursday's WNBA Draft.
The Mystics hold the second pick in the draft and are looking to add a player that can come in and make an immediate impact on a team that will feature many new faces. First, there is Taylor at the top, followed by head coach Julie Plank (the Mystics' fourth coach in two years), then Matee Ajavon from Houston, Lindsey Harding from Minnesota and Chasity Melvin from Chicago.
As the draft nears, we caught up with Taylor to discuss her transition from Minnesota to Washington, the offseason moves that she has made thus far, and her preparation for her first draft at the helm of the Mystics.
WNBA.com: Before we talk about the draft, I wanted to see how the transition from Minnesota to Washington is going for you.
Taylor: It will probably take a couple of months to be fully complete, but I do feel settled and we’re able to focus on the task at hand, as opposed to feeling like you’re constantly living out of a suitcase or moving around. It feels like this is home and I have a good idea of our organization and the processes that have been in place, the things that we need to modify and things that we are going to try to implement. For both [head coach] Julie [Plank] and I, we have a pretty good foundation with our players and support staff, which is key.
WNBA.com: How do you like living in D.C.?
Taylor: I’m enjoying it. Minnesota was the happy medium between Idaho, which is where I’m from, and New York; where it still had that metro atmosphere of New York, but 15 minutes outside of downtown Minneapolis it felt like you were in Idaho. D.C. just has that East Coast vibe again that I enjoyed about living in New York. It’s certainly a good time of the year to be here, plus it’s at least 20 degrees warmer here on a regular basis.
WNBA.com: So let’s talk a little bit about the draft; you had a great draft in Minnesota last year, grabbing three impact players in Candice Wiggins, Nicky Anosike and Charde Houston. So are you’re bringing some of that magic with you to DC?
Taylor: I hope so! I need to go back into the annals and figure out what lucky charms we had in that war room with us. I think that Roger [Griffith, Executive Vice President] and Z [head coach Don Zierden] and the staff did a great job of doing their homework last year and things fell in place for us. That was a great example of how important it is to do your homework. So I’m hoping to have some similar magic this year.
WNBA.com: Last year’s draft class extremely deep, how would you compare this class to that one?
Taylor: Well first, right off of the bat, last year was just so top heavy. You had Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins; those three are going to be the best players in the world for a long time and had an instant impact coming in their rookie year. I don’t necessarily think that we have that same caliber of player in this year’s draft, which by no means discounts the talent in this year’s draft. I just think it’s extraordinary and unique the talent that was there last year. But I think the draft this year is turning out to be a little bit deeper than we thought it was going to be. You’re starting to see, especially in the tournament, some of these seniors that have had great careers really put their teams on their back and step up, and I think a lot of us will be happy to see the people that will be able to come in and have an impact, whether its in a back up role or a more significant role this year. I do think that the roster size is going to affect the draft as well and the impact that some of these kids will have.
WNBA.com: So by this point do you have your plan in place: If Atlanta takes Player A, we’ll take Player B, or if they pass on Player A, we’ll take her?
Taylor: We’ve been pretty close to being where we want to be for the past week and I think that through the process we wanted to get there at this time, to kind of know and have all of our homework done and be able to see the player in person, to talk to people in their circle and to make a good assessment. It really depends on what Atlanta and Marynell [Meadors, Dream head coach and GM] decide to do, but we’re pretty confident in the opportunities and options we have at No. 2.
WNBA.com: Has your phone been ringing with trade offers?
Taylor: (laughs) We usually have the pre-draft camp and that’s where the rumors and gossip happen and take place, so I think we have to take advantage of Verizon Wireless this year and hit the phone lines. But there has been interest and again I think that throughout the season there has been a variety of players that have resonated. I think the unique thing about this year’s draft that is different from last year’s draft, is you can probably get a quality player at the position that you need. We’re going into this draft at No. 2 and we want to take the best player available and quite possibly that player is the best player available and a player that we need at a certain position.
WNBA.com: You stole my next question … is there a certain position that you need to address more than others?
Taylor: I think we have the luxury with some of the moves that we’ve been able to make over the offseason; first having Matee Ajavon falling in our laps with the unfortunate demise of Houston, and then trading for Lindsey Harding as a starting point guard and picking up Chasity Melvin in free agency. When we came in we felt our two biggest needs were a point guard and a five and we fell that we kind of filled those in the offseason, so that gave us a lot of a lot of flexibility In the draft to select the best player and not have to directly go for one or the other just because of need.
WNBA.com: Are you tempted to pick another Duke player so you can change your name to the Washington Blue Devils?
Taylor: (Laughs) It is ACC country out here. We were Pac-10 central in Minnesota it feels like. But I think there is something to be said about players who have come from winning programs. So if you look at Lindsey, Alana [Beard] and Monique [Currie] from Duke; or you look at Matee from Rutgers; or you look at Tasha [Humphrey] from Georgia; we have a lot of players that have won and I value that. I think that winning is a mentality and it’s contagious, so we want folks that have that passion and desire to not just be good, but to be great and to win. I think there is no surprise that a lot of kids on our roster come from great programs.
WNBA.com: You gave up two picks to get Harding; what was it about her that told you she was worth giving up those two picks?
Taylor: I value, and coach Plank values, guard play. I think you win in this league with solid guard play. Having spent a couple of season in Minnesota with Lindsey – despite the fact that she probably missed half of each season due to injury – I felt that she did a lot of things on the court that you can’t teach and that she will only continue to get better as she gets more experience in this league. She is a true point guard, and a big guard. She can change the tempo of the game – defensively and offensively – and play the style of basketball that we want to implement here, which is very aggressive on the defensive end and then up-tempo. I think she’ll be able create opportunities for her teammates because of her great handles and her ability to put the ball on the floor and get by her defender. We felt pretty comfortable and confident in what Lindsey could do and again it’s very difficult to find a point guard. If you look at the league, there are few true point guards, there are a handful like Sue Bird, Lindsay Whalen, or Ticha Penicheiro. We felt that it was imperative for us to find someone at the point to run our team for a long time.
WNBA.com: Going back to the draft, when you were watching the tournament, were you still evaluating players? Is there a final impression that a player can make in the tournament to boost or drop her draft stock?
Taylor: Absolutely; to say that a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t help would be lying. I think that we’ve done our homework and feel pretty good about it. I think for a lot of us, our team and other teams, it can validate some of the decisions or things that you have been able to determine over the course of the season. First and foremost is that now it’s on the biggest stage, so you want to see players that are competitive, that want to win, that can will themselves and their teams to win against great competition. Then depending on which conference these kids are in sometimes you don’t see them against great competition or against a variety of teams. It’s always great to scout somebody when they are playing someone that is not as familiar with them. I think that ESPN does a great job of giving us access to 63 games, so not only are we able to see the kids that you have become very familiar with, but you are also able to see other players, whether its some underclassmen that you can put on the radar or other players that may be second or third round picks.
WNBA.com: Talk to me about your process of making a draft selection. How involved are you with Coach Plank and the rest of the organization in making the determination on which direction you want to go?
Taylor: I think the first thing, before you can do anything, is to have a vision of where you want to take the organization. In coming here, part of it was a collaboration with Dr. [Sheila] Johnson and Ted Leonsis, the owners, of just like the direction that they wanted this organization to go. Then it was sitting down with Greg Bibb, our COO, about what it was going to take. Then, once we hired Julie and her staff, we started talking about our styles and really refining what product we want to put on the floor and what our brand was going to be. I think that was the foundation. Really, you need to know where you want to get to before you can get there and we spent a lot of time on that and continue to have those conversations because I think that is critical.
And then it’s trying to identify, first internally, the players that we currently have on our roster that will help us along the way and making sure that they are developing. I think player development is the lost art and it’s important to make sure our players are working hard and that we are utilizing them in the most effective way and then trying to figure out who we can add to the mix to make sure we get the most out of everyone on the court.
WNBA.com: This organization has seen a lot of turnover and a lot of instability in recent years. How important is it going to be to finally get a program in place that can be there for a few years and offer some stability and a constant vision?
Taylor: For me, I feel some of the pressure, or the desire, to make this a special place for probably three different groups. First, it’s our owners; the commitment that our owners have made to the WNBA, women’s basketball and Mystics is unbelievable. They are giving these young women and me an opportunity to continue to follow a passion that we have and so you want them to experience some success. Secondly, these fans; I was at the league office when they first came on board, and they have been simply incredible, some of the most loyal fans that you will see in the league, so I want for them to be able to have a great product on the floor that they can be proud of and that they enjoy coming to see in the Verizon Center. And third would be for these players like a Coco Miller or an Alana Beard that have been with the organization for a long time and who have put a lot in, who worked hard. For us to be able to do our due diligence to put them in a position to be successful and experience what the Connecticuts, the Seattles or the Detroits have experienced would be pretty rewarding.
WNBA.com: What are your expectations for the 2009 season? Have you thought that far in advance yet or is it still just a matter of getting things going and then setting goals closer to the start of season?
Taylor: I haven’t looked at it in a macro level where we’re saying this is what we want to do. We want to be the best we can possibly be every day in and every day out and that includes practice, workouts, that includes taking care of the players and their bodies and their health because I think if you do the little things – the devil is in fact in the details – then you can witness great success. First and foremost, we think that we are a playoff caliber team. The cupboard wasn’t bare when we got here. There is a lot of talent on our team and we’ve added a lot of talent to the mix and we feel with a little hard work, with some great chemistry and with belief in ourselves and the fact that we can win, then we can accomplish anything. On the court we want to have that confidence that we are in it to win it every night in and every night out. If you put yourself in position to win, you never know what could happen on the court. Those are kind of the baby steps. I think success for us would be to be one of the four representatives in the Eastern Conference playoffs and I think once you get into the playoffs we would be a very dangerous team.
WNBA.com: Last thing before I let you go, are you willing to tip your hand at all and give your fans any hints at what may happen on draft day?
Taylor: What I can say is that with the No. 2 pick, the Mystics organization will add a very vital piece to the puzzle for bringing that WNBA championship to the D.C. area and we’ll find somebody that will fit in well with our business and our organization.
WNBA.com: Very politically correct answer; nice job.
Taylor: (laughs) Thank you.