Sun coach Mike Thibault hopes stars like Katie Douglas, left, return to Connecticut in 2008.
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All in all, Thibault has compiled a 106-64 regular season in his five years at the Connecticut helm and was named the 2006 WNBA Coach of the Year. But to this point, a WNBA championship has eluded this well respected leader. Can he and the Sun change that fact next year? Thibault spoke recently with WNBA.com's Adam Hirshfield about his offseason vacation plans, how the USA gig has benefited his scouting and why the Sun will be contenders again in 2008.
Q. How did you feel about this past season in Connecticut? Was it gratifying to come back from a disappointing start to make the playoffs again?
A. "Our season was bad, then good, then bad again. I kind of wish it was good, bad, good. But we did get back to being the kind of team we're supposed to be for a good part of the second half of the season and going into the playoffs. Then, looking at what happened to us against Indiana… well, I'd like to think it couldn't happen again, but I've seen enough crazy things happen in sports to know that it does happen.
"We showed in that Indiana series, though, that we are one of the best teams, but that our margin for error might not be as big as it once was. When we fell apart, we fell apart. It tells us that we have to get better in the offseason, if we want to be a championship contender."
Q. How do you feel like your team needs to get better in the offseason? On what do you really need to improve?
A. "Well, we have a lot of question marks coming into next season. Some of them will be impacted by the collective bargaining agreement, which every coach is still waiting on. We have three unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents -- and some pretty big names at that -- so we'll have to see what the core situation is and try to deal with it as best we can. Knowing we may not be able to keep everyone, we'll obviously be figuring out which free agents from other teams are available.
"Margo (Dydek) is pregnant, so she probably won't play next year. So we'll need some post help from somewhere, whether it's the draft or free agency. It kind of depends on what's out there."
Q. You probably have a solid sense of the other teams and players around the WNBA, but how much offseason emphasis do you put on scouting players over in Europe or at colleges here in the States?
A. "We put a ton into scouting. My entire staff is out seeing college games. We spent the last month listing the top 30 or so players that we're going to focus in on. Then, there will be a list of other players who have impressed us or who we think are getting better. We'll probably watch film of them first, decide if we're interested, then maybe go see them play in person.
"Since we're pretty deep at point guard, that might be a spot that we don't spend a lot of time on. On the other hand, we'll probably spend more time on front line players. The draft is going to be really deep. I think there are going to be really good players available in the second round.
"As far as free agents in the league are concerned, once we see who's available, we'll make a list of our top choices and go back and re-watch film on them -- both against us and other teams. We'll evaluate everything from age to experience, then we'll see what we can do."
Q. Do you feel like your work as an assistant coach with USA Basketball is affecting your preparation for the Sun season in 2008?
A. "Part of it is that the USA thing is one of those wonderful opportunities that comes along only so often, and I felt like I couldn't pass it up. The second part of it is that in Connecticut, I have a staff that's really good and I trust them to do a lot of the scouting. Also, when I was scouting the colleges last winter, I knew I would be joining USA Basketball this winter, so I paid just as much attention to the college juniors as I did to the seniors… just to be prepared this time around.
"One benefit of being with the USA Team is that I actually get a chance to see some of the lesser known European players up close through the various tournaments we've played in. Also, with this college tour, though any WNBA coach can come watch those games, I'll see up close how some of the top NCAA talent fares against WNBA players!
"So what I might lose in time away from home and from my own office, I gain in the access I'm getting to some other players. The only thing I don't get is a break! That's the one thing I have to really figure out: how I'm going to take some time off away from the game."
Q. Is there a player currently on your roster who you feel needs to step up and take on a bigger role with the Sun next season?
A. "Hmmm, that's a good question… The one player who jumps out at me the most is Erika Desouza, partly because of Margo's situation and partly because it's the time in her development to get better. I think that we need her to make an improvement. Now she's going to be set back a little bit because she's going to be out three months after having ankle surgery. But I think she's one.
"Then, a couple of bench players come to mind. Whether it's Kristen Rasmussen or Cori Chambers or Kamesha Hairston coming back into next season, we need them to be more aggressive about how they impact our team.
"We'll also get Erin Phillips back, and she'll have an impact. Sandrine Gruda from France could have a huge impact, as well. I've been told she'll be joining us next year now that France didn't qualify for the Olympics."
Q. It's obviously very early, but how do you see the Sun faring in 2008? Is it championship or bust with this group at this point?
A. "Well, that's kind of the way we approach every year. If you don't have a title as your goal, I think you tend to fall shorter than you should. Maybe we got what we deserved this year… I don't know. But our talent level and our experience say that we should be a contender again, especially bringing a healthy Phillips back and adding Gruda. We should be in the mix. Now we just have to prove it."