December 15, 2019

Mystics’ Head Coach Mike Thibault Speaks at Team Media Day

At the Washington Mystics’ team media day on April 28th, head coach Mike Thibault took some time to chat with the media about the upcoming season. As he heads into his second year with the team, he answered questions on their youth, schedule, as well as his take on Donald Sterling.

A lot of offseason moves. What does that add up to for the season?

“Well, if it was an 82-game season, I wouldn’t be as nervous because we’re really young. We’re going to one of the two or three youngest teams in the league. In a 34-game season, you don’t have a lot of room for error. Probably the good part — there’s a couple other good teams in our conference kind of going through the same thing. But, we’re going to have to rely on our veterans to kind of get us going with all these young faces. Probably by opening day roster, we’re going to have seven or eight, six or seven players on our team that are one or two year players in the league. That’s a little scary sometimes as a coach, but we knew what we were getting in for when we made the changes. It’s a long term plan as much as a short term plan.”

With the youth and the new faces, is chemistry and working on that in the preseason as important as the X’s and O’s?

“I actually think that’ll be the easiest part. I think the chemistry because you have high energy people like Ivory [Latta] and Kia Vaughn and [Monique Currie] already here and personalities, I think the did a good job with our rookies that came in last year and I think that’ll carry over. The rookies that are coming in this year, particularly [Stefanie] Dolson and [Bria] Hartley, they are high energy players to start with. They are great personalities. We’re going to have more media darlings in our locker room this year than most any team in the league just because they’re all gregarious and they’re willing to talk. I think the chemistry will actually be the easiest part of it.”

Are you going to lean on those veterans to help propel that chemistry?

“Very much so. I’ve talked to them. When you talk about Kara Lawson and Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn and Monique Curry, they need to step up and be accountable right away for everybody else. I’m sure that’s what they’ll do. They’ve embraced the changes and I think the hardest person this’ll be a change for his [Monique Curry] because number one, [Crystal] Langhorne was a long-time teammate and friend, and number two, she’s the only one remaining from when I came here over a year ago. It’s kind of one those you look around the locker room and she’s going ‘Oh my goodness. Where’d everybody go?’ But, at the same time I think she’ll be revitalized too by the new teammates that she has.”

If you’re going to get to players from any college this year, Connecticut’s a good way to go.

“Yeah they’re used to winning. They haven’t lost too many games in their lifetime so that’ll be a great thing. You know the funny part about it is there is a little bit of a converse that though is that they’ve never played in very many close games. It seems like in every game in our league you’re down to the wire most nights. So that’s going to be an actual big adjustment. I remember when I coached Tina Charles at Connecticut. Her biggest adjustment was being in a two or three point game night after night after night because those guys are blowing everybody out every night. That’ll take a little bit of getting used to. You know, the rules at the end of games. How much every timeout and possession means at the end of the game. That’ll be an adjustment.”

The center position has been a bit of a revolving door over the years. How much does [Stefanie] Dolson bring for you?

“Well, she brings versatility for one thing. You compare her up with Kia Vaughn and Emma [Meesseman] and others and Tianna [Hawkins] and let them play both positions. She’s able to post on the block. She’s able to play at the high-post. She’s a terrific passer. She can shoot a three and she can post up. Her shooting percentage has always been above 50 percent. You’re looking a versatile center who’s played in a couple different styles. When she was first at Uconn, she played mostly in the low post. He last two years, she played more in the high post. She’s been able to do it both ways and I think she’ll adjust to the things we’re trying to do.”

You look at rebounding as a strength, particularly after adding Stefanie [Dolson] and Tianna Hawkins.

“I think it is now; it wasn’t last year. I think we were a middle of the pack rebounding team. We became a pretty defensive rebounding team by the end year. We need to be a better offensive rebounding team and I think that’ll help. I think that, surprisingly, Kara Lawson is a good rebounding guard. Monique Currie, last year, had one of her best years as a rebounder. I think, overall, our team rebounding will get better this year because of the additions.”

Do have a sense yet of what the personality of this team on the floor will be?

“Fun. I think we’ll be an up-tempo team offensively. We’re going to push the ball. You have, potentially if you start Ivory [Lattan], Kara [Lawson] and [Monique Currie], three of the best three-point shooters in the league all on one team, and then you have mix and match post-up combinations. You can start Kia [Vaughn] and [Stefanie] Dolson, or Emma [Meesseman], Tianna [Hawkins], all of them are in the mix. You can have a very versatile offense. Last year, one of our biggest strengths was our bench. We had the highest scoring bench in the league for most of the year with Emma Meesseman, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and [Nadirah] McKenith and people like that. We don’t have a star. The fact of the matter is, until we made the trade for Kara [Lawson], until we drafted [Stefanie] Dolson, we had no player in the USA Basketball pool for potential player for the national team. Those two are on it, but we don’t have that kind of a team. We’re going to have to be the sum of our parts. If we have five people in double-figures and get 14 a night, that’s fine with me. It makes it tough for teams to lock in on one player, too.”

Does what’s happening with the Wizards help with you guys at all in terms of atmosphere, seeing what it is to see a team in the post season and to have that type of success?

“I think it helps. It was nice to bring them all to playoff game and to see what that’s like. A lot of these players have experience in major NCAA games, but only a couple have playoff experience in our league. So to be around that and to see the excitement I think can only help us.”

Is this young team poised to make a run to the playoffs this year?

“I think so. What I told them in our first meeting is that it’s going to be harder this time around. We’re going to have a little bit more of a target on our back. You’re not going to sneak up on anybody. But, everybody else in our conference has gotten better, too, in different ways. New York added Tina Charles. Connecticut is younger, but they have great athletes. What we did last year is become average. It was fun and it was excited, everything we did, but the reality is that at the end of the year we were 17-17. The next step to becoming an elite team is a lot harder. The only way you can do that is by being at attention to detail. By minimizing mistakes and those kinds of things. Yet still kind of have that same fun loving, up tempo feel to our team that we did last year. You just have to be better. You have to execute better. You have to be better at the end games than you were. That’s just going to be the test of how fast we mature.”

What will Kara [Lawson] bring to the table for you guys this season?

“Well, the first thing she’ll bring is experience of being on a winning team for most of her career. She’s won a championship. She’s been in the playoffs in Connecticut. She’s been on the Olympic team. She knows how to go about being a pro everyday. She’s a terrific shooter, it’ll stretch the floor for us. The fact that she can play both guard spots puts a lot of pressure on the other teams. We give up a little size defensively. Matee [Ajavon] was a good defensive player. But, we weren’t a great outside shooting team other than Ivory [Latta] and [Monique Currie] for the most part. It’s going to be a situation now where we can put the fear of God in people in terms what we can do scoring the ball.”

With the schedule this year. Anything that helps you or hurts you?

“I don’t know how the schedule is going to work out. The only good part about our schedule is that we don’t play a lot of games early. We’re probably going to be in a mode of having a second training camp after our home opener because Emma Meesseman is going to be here late, some of our post players are coming in next week. We could probably use that extra week to catch up a little bit. As far as opponents, it seems to be every time I look at the schedule it all looks hard to me because everybody in this league is pretty close. The worst team and the best team are not separated by that much.”

Has Stefanie Dolson challenged you to a dance off yet?

“No. But, I’ll work on my game a little bit on that. She might get surprised about that.”

[Regarding Donald Sterling] Anything you want to say about all that?

“I think most everything has been said. My position is that doesn’t belong anywhere in society and it doesn’t anywhere in our sport. It’s an NBA and societal thing. As a WNBA coach, I don’t know if it’s my place to comment on beyond that the league is obviously going to do what they know is right. That’s just not a part of who we are or what we should be and I’m saddened that it’s happened. Beyond that, it’s something that’s going to have to take it’s time to play out in the proper channels. As much as we may think or we may not think that something should happen right away, in our country we have a little bit of due process so I guess we’ll let it play out.”

About Brian Skinnell

Brian Skinnell is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins, Nationals and college football. He is a born-and-raised follower of Washington, D.C. sports, “The” Ohio State Buckeyes and auto racing. A graduate of Shepherd University in December of 2014, he has a degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies with a Concentration in Sports Communications. Prior to joining District Sports Page (for his second stint), he spent time with Rant Sports, Yahoo Sports and the Washington Redskins. For his day job, he is an Editor for Team Velocity Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @Brian_Skinnell.

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