A Winter(s) Conversation
Fever Head Coach Brian Winters recently took time to discuss some of his offseason activities, and take a look back at his first season in the WNBA. The former NBA All-Star and coach talked about his family, an offseason move to Denver, the basketball aspirations of his son Brendan, and of course, an assessment of the Indiana Fever as the franchise looks forward to the 2005 season.
Fever Website: Have you seen the new photo display in Pepsi Square, on the balcony level of Conseco Fieldhouse? Have you seen any of your old NBA playing photos?
Brian Winters: “I’ve seen that wall with basketball cards and team pictures. I wasn’t really surprised by seeing myself there, but it might have surprised some other people because my hair was black and I had a beard! I just saw a team picture, I don’t know if there is an individual card or not. I honestly haven’t looked.
“There are several large displays up there with cards and team pictures throughout the NBA’s history. It’s really quite a history. It’s pretty neat how they’ve done it, it’s well done. Over time you forget about some of the people you played against, but all of a sudden when you see their card you say, ‘oh yeah, that’s right, we played there; or we played with each other here or there.’ It’s a nice display. It brought back some memories.”
FW: Can you talk about your learning curve during your first WNBA season?
BW: “It wasn’t quite as successful as we all had hoped. It was a learning experience and I learned a whole new pool of players last year. I had to get to know the players on our team – we had several new players from the year before, Kelly Miller, Deanna Jackson and Ebony Hoffman in particular. I had to get to know their games, and what they’re like as people. Now, I have a better idea going into a second year – how to use them, what to do with them, how they react to things. That will be very helpful.
“I also had to find out about our league and all of the rest of the players in the WNBA. We saw how competitive the Eastern Conference was with all six teams separated by two or three games. The margin for error in this league was really tight. I can think of three or four games that could have gone either way where, all of a sudden we became a playoff team and then the next day, we weren’t.
“It’s been a learning experience, and a good one. I’ve learned a lot about the players and the league. I’ve seen the teams and the coaches – what styles of play they use, what kind of defenses they like, how they react to situational things. All of those things will be helpful as we move forward in the future.”
FW: Are you more comfortable sitting here now, than you were at this time a year ago?
BW: “Oh yeah, most definitely. While I watched a lot of film last year, until you get the players in the gym, it’s very different. You can never get a full feel for the their abilities and skills, or a team’s tendencies without seeing them up close. Speed and size are things that are much easily seen and realized live, rather than on tape.”
FW: Assess some of the Fever needs for 2005.
BW: “You can always use more shooting. I think we need help at point guard, and I think the experience that Kelly [Miller], Deanna [Jackson] and Ebony [Hoffman] got last year will help them. It will help them more with their teammates and how they play together with one another. You look at your team after the season and try to evaluate what can make you a better team.
“We could use somebody to help lead our team and give direction and play the point. We’re certainly going to look that direction either in free agency or in the draft. You can always use perimeter shooting, or a great athlete, particularly at the ‘2’ or the ‘3.’ I think our front line is pretty good, but we have the second pick in the draft and you can never be too big. We could add another big player because most of the top players in the front of the draft are pretty big. Later in the draft we have the 16th pick. We have some good picks and some good options. I think our team is pretty good, but certainly we want to look to upgrade anywhere that we can.”
FW: This is your first full offseason to evaluate college talent. Can you talk a little about who you’ve seen so far?
BW: “It’s early in the college season, but I’ve already seen Tennessee, Connecticut, Duke, Notre Dame, Texas, Baylor, Penn State, Oregon, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Louisiana Tech. I also plan to see Rutgers, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Purdue and Minnesota very soon. We have a bunch of teams covered. And certainly we have Lin Dunn, Julie Plank and Kelly Krauskopf all out watching games. We’re all out there and now that we know where we pick in the draft, we can maybe concentrate on some specific teams.”
FW: Is it too early to ask about some of your favorite players among this year’s college seniors?
BW: “I can identify some of the top players, certainly there are no secrets about them. Sandora Irvin is having a heckuva year at TCU and Janel McCarville is a very good player from Minnesota. Tan White is a very good guard at Mississippi State. Tennessee has [Shyra] Ely and there is [Jacqueline] Batteast at Notre Dame. There are quite a few pretty good players out there and we just have to figure out who we like and who we will have a chance to select.
“That’s what we’ll be doing for our next three months until the draft. We’ll be looking at specific people, watching a lot of college games, and evaluating our draft selection. We want to find out who will be available, what these players look like, and if they can fit our team and our needs.”
FW: Speaking of possible pro prospects, your son Brendan was an all-league player as a sophomore at Davidson College and is his team’s leading scorer again. Can you compare his game with yours in college and as a pro?
BW: “Well, I stay away from comparing him to me. I’ve always told him, ‘just be who you are. Don’t be me. Don’t try to be like me. Just be the best player you can be.’ But I’m sure there will be comparisons and that’s the way it goes. One thing is that he shoots somewhat like I used to shoot – he holds the ball up high and he has a good touch. He was shooting extremely well early in the season, shooting about 54 percent overall, nearly 59 percent on 3-pointers. He was averaging 17 or 18 points per game and he takes only about 5-10 shots a game. That’s pretty productive. His team is about .500 – their early season schedule is very challenging. They played Missouri, Duke, Charlotte, Georgetown, St. Joseph’s, UMass, Seton Hall and Princeton early in their season. They’ll be one of the best, if not the top team, in the Southern Conference.”
[Through 12 games, Brendan was leading Davidson with 14.9 points, and his 5.7 rebounds per game were second on the team. For the season, he has shot 46 percent overall and 42 percent from 3-point range. He averages over 32 minutes per game and also leads the Wildcats in steals. His season high was 24 points against Duke, and he has scored in double figures in 11 of those games.]
FW: Can Brendan play in the NBA someday?
BW: “First, he still has two college seasons ahead of him. I know he would like to. It is hard for me to gauge those possibilities, from the standpoint that I’m also his father and not entirely objective. But he has some good skills and I have seen him improve a great deal recently. He really has become a good shooter. I think he can have a chance at playing professionally so long as he continues to improve his game.”
FW: Beside Brendan, you’ve got five other kids. Can you remember what they’re all doing right now?
BW: “My three youngest children are still in Denver, still at home. My daughter Keelin is at Regis High School. She is a sophomore. She is a very good soccer player and actually is playing basketball also. In California, soccer and basketball were at the same time and she chose to play soccer, but she is playing both sports now. My daughter Megan is an eighth-grader who plays basketball, and she’ll go to Regis next year. And my son Ryan, my youngest, is a sixth-grader. He is a good basketball player, he likes to play, and he goes to the same grammar school as Megan.
“The next oldest is Kevin, who is a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He likes the school and he is doing well – so far, so good. Brendan is a junior at Davidson and he is doing very well there. My oldest daughter is Cara, who recently took her first job after college in Ixtapa, Mexico. She is teaching English and French to Mexican children there. She is there for a year and then could go back to Colorado or anyplace else to further her career.”
FW: Just as the Fever season ended last September, you’ve led a pretty busy offseason with your family. What prompted your family’s move from California’s Bay Area [where he coached the Golden State Warriors] to Denver, Colo.?
BW: “Actually, we moved to Denver during the first 10 days of August when the WNBA had its August break last season. Basically, we wanted to get back to Denver as a more affordable place to live. California was a very long way from Indiana, and we had lived in Denver previously. My wife and I thought it was a good place for our kids to finish school. After the season ended in September, I went back to Denver and have spent most of my time there with family for the past few months. I’ve also been in and out of Indianapolis, organizing some of our scouting, and spending some time with Ebony [Hoffman] and Tamika [Catchings] in the gym.”
FW: Obvious answer to this question - how has it been to get to spend time with your family again?
BW: “That was a good thing. I got to see them a little bit in the summer time because they came and visited. But with the move and everything else that was going on, it was a hectic summer. It was good to go home and have some family life – drive the kids to school, watch them play, practice basketball or soccer – that was kind of nice.”