Checking In With Coach Thibault

Recently we sat down with Coach Thibault to discuss how the offseason is going and looking forward to 2012.

How has your offseason been?
“Well, the offseason for us is an eternity because you don’t have your players around to work with as a general rule. Kara Lawson has been the only player who has been around consistently. Renee was here for a brief time. So unlike the NBA season, where coaches can work with their players in the offseason, we basically have to wait. Our offseason consists of scouting college players, tracking our players as they play overseas, doing public appearances, clinics, and things like that. So it’s an eternity waiting for the next season to start.”

That said, it does give you time to plan. The Sun recently signed Misty Mims, and there are some other free agents still out there, not to mention college seniors who will be entering the league this April in the WNBA Draft.
“The Mistie Mims thing was really important for us. We looked at several free agents, and we kind of narrowed it to a couple. She became the one we were most likely to get for the role we had available on our team. When you have two starters in Tina Charles and Asjha Jones who play a lot of minutes, your next best starter has to understand that it’s a role player’s job. You have to be able to play with both Asjha and Tina, and we felt Mistie was one of those players who could do that. That has been her role in the past. She has a great reputation as an unbelievably hard practice player. She can play both four (power forward) and five (center), defend both four and five, and given the way our team has been constructed, she fit our team. Last year, we went out and got Jessica Moore to fill that role, but she wasn’t 100 percent healthy at the start of the season due to a previous knee surgery. She suffered another knee injury this year that, although it is not as serious, there is no guarantee on when she would be able to play. We could not afford to be caught short-handed going into our season so this seemed to be the best of all worlds for us.”

Are there other free agents out there who intrigue you?
“There is one other possibility we are exploring, but right now, it’s a little bit up in the air. We probably would not have explored it at all had Alba Torrens not gotten hurt. Our roster probably would have been pretty solid. Now, there is a question mark whether she can play at all this summer. There is a possibility late in the summer, but we feel like we need to at least explore one other possibility. We’re pretty happy with the roster the way it is, but if we have the opportunity to sign a really prime-time player, then we will have to consider it and that’s what we are exploring now.”

Obviously, you were looking forward to having Alba here.
“She was recently named the FIBA European Player of the Year for leading her team to the EuroLeague championship last year and her Spanish team to the Spanish league championship. You are talking about a 22-year-old player who has a chance to be a high-impact player. As with most foreign players, you’re a little bit at the whim of some national team issues, but this would have been a summer when we could have had her for the majority of the season. The injury was a torn ACL. She is having surgery now and is going to rehab. Usually, ACLs take between five and seven months. Six months would put us right at the end of the Olympic break so I don’t really know until she is a ways into her rehab what that means. We’re all disappointed as is she. Here was a player that we’ve been kind of looking forward to having join us, and it’s not going to happen right away.”

There will be fans out there who might be wondering why Connecticut drafts foreign players. Can you address that question?
“People need to understand that when you draft somebody like that (a young, international player), you have to be patient. We didn’t use a first-round pick on (Alba Torrens). I’ve heard fans say, ‘Geez, how come they keep wasting picks on foreign players?’ These are not wasted picks. These are not picks we were taking and using for a player we were expecting to be here right away. These are third-round picks where, if you get them, it’s a huge bonus. If you don’t, you’ve lost nothing. The history of our league shows that the majority of players who stick in our league come from the top six or seven spots in the draft. Beyond that, the percentages drop drastically. So we wasted nothing by taking a flyer on a player like this in the later rounds. I remember the San Antonio Spurs waiting three or four years for Manu Ginobili and that worked out pretty well. It is a frustrating thing when players have those other commitments, but you’re taking a great chance on talent that, if that player comes, you’ve improved your team a lot, and if they don’t, you haven’t ventured anything that becomes a waste for your team.”

Given the statistics you just cited about how tough it is for someone outside the top five to seven picks in the draft to make a team in the WNBA, what are your expectations picking ninth?
“That is a good question. It’s not a deep draft for impact players. There are players in this draft who can make the league and help their teams. But considering at the end of the last season, we were the youngest team in the league, I am not sure a young player in this draft taken in the later part of the first round can necessarily come in and make our team. They can make a team in the league, but not necessarily make ours given that we have a Danielle McCray and a Renee Montgomery, and an Allison Hightower and a Kalana Greene and a Tina Charles who are all young players…Jessica Breland, who made our team at the end of last year. If we could trade the pick, we would consider that. If we don’t, we’ll have to debate on how we use the pick, whether that player can really make our team.”

I know you closely monitor Sun players competing overseas. Do you feel like the younger players are making the progress necessary to help Connecticut build upon last year?
“I think so. We made a big step last year, getting back to the playoffs and getting a tie for the second best record in the league. But we played a little more experienced team in the playoffs. They were good and we still had a few flaws. I think the prime thing for our team is to grow up, and we are doing that. I look at Tina Charles, and she is having a terrific overseas offseason. Danielle McCray has been a leading scorer for a team that has made huge strides in the Euroleague. Asjha Jones has kind of continued on with what she got to at the later part of last season for us – a lot of double-doubles – and she is continuing to rebound in Spain. And you’ve had some other players who have gone over as the season has gone on. Jess Breland and Kelsey Griffin are having really good years in Israel. Renee just got to Turkey and is playing now. Allison just headed overseas. I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen in our players and how they’ve performed over there that we’re going in the right direction.”