Kristi Toliver Gearing Up For Breakthrough Season
The Sky guard shines overseas in Israel.
by Ben York
You heard it here first — watch out for Kristi Toliver in 2010.
Although her rookie year in the WNBA wasn’t quite what she thought it would be, the experience has provided Kristi with a profound drive and motivation to get better at all facets of her game.
Drafted by the Chicago Sky with the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft, the organization had extremely high expectations for the Maryland star, and rightfully so; Toliver averaged 18 points and 5 assists a game for Maryland in her senior season. She was even compared to the phenomenally talented Stephen Curry in college. However, due to the Sky making a fervent run at the playoffs in 2009, Toliver didn’t see as much court time as she typically is used to.
It’s somewhat of a conundrum though, since Toliver is exactly the type of player the Sky need – a combo guard that can score the ball, create her own shot, but also facilitate the offense. Toliver didn’t have much time to showcase her skills in 2009 or get fully adjusted to the professional game. Therefore, Chicago never was truly able to integrate her into the offense and give her the freedom with the ball.
That’s all going to change this season.
She’s made a conscious effort to get stronger, become more confident with the basketball, and increase her playmaking ability. These tools will open up a plethora of scoring opportunities for Sylvia Fowles and Candice Dupree since teams will now have to focus on both Toliver’s scoring prowess as well as her enhanced playmaking ability. Toliver has also focused on her defense and is determined to be a leader for the Sky in 2010.
Toliver has been playing out of her mind in Israel. She currently is 6th in scoring (20.8 ppg), 2nd in assists (5.7 apg), and 4th in assist/turnover ratio (1.8 ATO). Typically quiet and reserved off the court, Toliver has a transformational attitude on the court becoming more assertive and controlling the tempo of the game.
I recently caught up with Kristi to get her thoughts on her rookie year in the WNBA, her experiences overseas in Israel, and her exceptional taste in books and movies (I admit, I’m a bit biased — we share the same favorite book).
SLAM: Talk about your rookie year in the WNBA. Was it what you expected?
Kristi Toliver: My rookie year was not what I expected it to be, but it was an experience that I will hold onto for the rest of my life. My rookie year has made me persevere and be more resilient when I have no control over a situation. However, I did learn a lot from my teammates, opponents, former professionals and most of all I learned a lot about myself in my first year, which I will take with me into this upcoming summer.
SLAM: How has your experience been playing overseas for the first time?
KT: Playing overseas is more different than any basketball experience I have ever had. The language barrier, the way practices are held, basketball philosophy, etc. I’ve enjoyed playing in Israel because most people do speak English even though everyone here thinks that I am Israeli so they speak to me in Hebrew any way (laughs). There are a lot of things to see out here, so it has been fun going out and exploring the beautiful country. I’ve gone to the Dead Sea, Nazareth, and the Sea of Galilee and am planning on going to Jerusalem and Egypt soon. The basketball part is really the strangest thing to me out here. You would think that it would be the most familiar thing, but practices and games are very different compared to how they are in America.
SLAM: How difficult has it been for you to adjust to life overseas?
KT: The most difficult thing about being overseas is being away from the people that you love. Luckily, technology has come to the rescue with Skype and BBM, but to not physically be with your friends and family is pretty tough.
SLAM: You’ve been playing fantastic in Israel so far. What aspects of your game have you made an effort to work on?
KT: Playing in the Israeli league has been fun because I get to be on the floor all the time and play. I think development and growth really happens when you’re physically out there competing and are in game situations. With that alone I have elevated my game and have been enjoying it very much. I have been working on becoming a more unpredictable player by using my shooting ability as well as my penetration. Valuing the ball and reducing turnovers while still being opportunistic is something I’ve been working on as well. Creating for my teammates to get easy points with the draw and kick and pushing the ball in transition has also been a focal point. Lastly, I have put emphasis on defending 1 on 1 while I’ve been out here too. It has been fun matching up against players I will see in the league again this summer. You could definitely say I’ve been busy trying to improve!
SLAM: What do you see your role as on the Sky in 2010?
KT: I know I have much to offer the Sky and can help make the team better. I know they can use my scoring ability and ability to help the team play a more up-tempo, fast paced game. I think after last year I’ll now have a better feel for people’s personalities and expectations, so I am more prepared to bring what I need to. My role on the team is to be a difference maker and that’s what I plan on being.
SLAM: Any personal goals for 2010?
KT: Setting goals is so important not only in basketball, but in life and I think that it is a useful tool to help you continue to raise the bar and get better as a player and a person. It keeps you focused and determined which is huge especially as a competitor who wants to succeed. I know where I want to go as a basketball player not only this upcoming season, but in the seasons ahead.
SLAM: How different is the WNBA from the college game?
KT: There are so many components that make the WNBA game different than the college game, but I love them both. What’s so great about the WNBA is that you are playing against the best in the world night in and night out. I think the most obvious difference is the schedule and the amount of games you play in a short amount of time compared to the lengthier college schedule. Both take a toll on your body, but the back-to-back games in the WNBA definitely catch up to you. The WNBA is also much more physical, so your strength, quickness and mental toughness are important. There is much more teaching on the college level as well as closer relationships with who you are working with. I love the relationships and family environment college teams have and that is why I hope to coach on the college level one day.
SLAM: You’re a pretty mellow and chill person off the court, but on the court you’re more intense and competitive. What do you attribute that to?
KT: I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I kind of have split personalities I guess, one being very intense and the other being laid back. I have always been a laid back person, but I think I’m too competitive to keep that nonchalant attitude during the game. I hate to lose, so my intensity and focus really comes out when I’m playing.
SLAM: Okay, I read somewhere that your favorite book was The Last Lecture by former Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch. It’s my favorite as well. What do you like about it?
KT: Coach Park, my old assistant coach at Maryland, first told me about Randy Pausch because he was a huge Steelers fan. We had an on going joke about how when I played I needed to smile things off like Hines Ward. Then, for Christmas, my mom gave me the book — she’s notorious for giving me good books. After I read it, I loved this guy and how he persevered. I really loved how it was about the importance of overcoming obstacles and of seizing every moment. It was about life and how you want to leave your legacy and that really made me think about my life and how I’m living it. My favorite quote was “we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” I referred back to that saying a lot my rookie year when things were rough and that got me through frustrating times. I recommend the book to anyone and everyone.
SLAM: I also hear you are quite the movie buff. What kinds of movies, actors etc. do you enjoy?
KT: Love movies! Asking what my favorite movie is would be like asking a mother who her favorite child is. I love all movies, but my tops are Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Fried Green Tomatoes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Superbad, Dumb and Dumber and an occasional chick flick every once in a while like When Harry Met Sally or Pretty Woman. My favorite actor is Tom Hanks because he can play any part imaginable and favorite actress would be Julia Roberts. I want to see The Lovely Bones because I enjoyed the book and wanted to know how the movie would be, but I guess I’m going to need to find it on the computer somehow.