Long Road Ahead

by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup

Last season, the Mystics were rock bottom in the W in scoring, led the league in turnovers and finished with the worst record. The lone bright spot was a chance at getting a top-three pick in a draft with three potential superstars. Washington, of course, drew the fourth pick.

Despite all that went wrong for the Mystics, they started this season off right with the signing of coach Mike Thibault. The former Connecticut Sun coach is known as an offensive guru and great decision maker with personnel. Sitting down with SLAMonline, Thibault discussed the reasons why Washington was a great move for him, drafting Tayler Hill, off-season signings of Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn and more.

SLAM: What made the Washington Mystics position right for you?

Mike Thibault: A couple reasons. I saw a opportunity to turn around a franchise that had been struggling. Also when I met with ownership, they made a commitment to me and a long-term plan to turn this team around. They made a commitment to doing this the right way.

SLAM: How important was it for you to not only be the coach, but the GM for this team?

MT: The GM part wasn’t really the most important thing to me. When I was in Connecticut, I didn’t have that title, but I did 95 percent of the player decisions. The title is nice, but it can be misleading depending on the organization. A lot of people think the GM has the final say on everything that goes on within the organization, which is not true. I stay away from the business end and PR end of things, that’s not my job. The important thing is I have the final say on contracts and all basketball decisions.

SLAM: On draft day you selected guard Tayler Hill from Ohio State. For a team that had offensive woes last year, how important was the selection of a dynamic offensive player like Hill?

MT: It was really important. It is very hard to find a big-time scoring wing in this league. You can count the dominant ones on one hand that have come out in the last five or six years. You have Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore, maybe a little deeper with Seimone Augustus. It is hard to fill that spot. Also our needs weren’t as pressing in the post when we added Kia Vaughn.

SLAM: Does Tayler Hill have a chance to crack the starting lineup this year?

MT: I expect her to at least be in the rotation. We couldn’t use the fourth pick on someone we had to wait for. It’s up to her how big of an impact she wants to have this year.

SLAM: You guys added a couple pieces this offseason in Kia Vaughn and Ivory Latta. Ivory had a really nice year last season in Tulsa and can really sure up the PG spot for you guys. How do you plan on utilizing her?

MT: I think with us going to a NBA three-second rule, it will open up a little more space for her to penetrate. We plan on running a ton of pick and roll with her this year to get her in the lane attacking and putting pressure on teams. She can also play off the ball because she is a terrific three-point shooter. I think she will be comparable to a lot of the NBA guards to can get in the lane in the pick and roll.

SLAM: What do you expect from Kia Vaughn?

MT: Kia is a leader. I think we will have a nucleus of players who are between the ages of 26 and 29 and near the primes of their career. Two years ago she was the Most Improved Player in the WNBA. She does a lot of things very well that don’t show up on the stat sheets, like taking a charge, or a great block out and stopping another team’s good offensive rebounder from getting it. We need players like her in the locker room, who are about winning.

SLAM: This team was last in the WNBA in scoring last year. You maximized the Suns’ offensive potential last year. What is the scheme you would like to implement this year?

MT: I want them to play at a faster pace. They played at the slowest pace last year in the league which led to the lowest number of points. They were also a mediocre perimeter shooting team. That’s why you get Latta and Hill to sure that up some. I believe that pushing the ball and having your guards in an attack mentality make it hard for a team to lock in on one or two things. The thing about last year’s team was people would lock in on Currie and Langhorne and that was it. This year we have changed that because we have added more weapons to worry about.

SLAM: What are your thoughts on Crystal Langhorne? She is a force in the post. Do you think she can expand on her numbers from last year?

MT: This year we have helped her some by having better teammates around her. In many games last year she was subject to double- and triple-teams, and by bringing in these players, we will eliminate some of that. We also have seen her develop her game some away from the rim, which will also eliminate some of the double-teams there as well. We are getting her to hit the foul line jump shot and attack more off the dribble from there as well.

SLAM: The team really hurt themselves last year by committing too many unforced turnovers. How much of an emphasis will you put on protecting the ball?

MT: I always tell people in order to be a playoff team, you have to win two of the three categories each night: turnovers, rebounding and the free-throw battle. In most nights they had lost all three last year, which is not good. I expect this team to improve on that this year.

SLAM: You have had your son coaching alongside you since a young age, learning the ropes. How much growth you have seen from him over the years?

MT: He has grown up around the game his whole life. He was already a graduate assistant at Missouri by his junior year, and he has had a chance to really grow the past five years at Connecticut. Since then he has also worked at VCU and St. John’s, so he has a different perspective working with college and pro games. I think our players in Connecticut really appreciated his efforts with players individually.

SLAM: How will you gauge success with this team?

MT: I think in the short term, it will be how hard they work in where we want to take this team. We want the players to be all in and work each day on becoming better players and gelling as team, which takes time due to so many new players. As far as record, I don’t know. It all depends on how the rest of the league shakes out, but my mindset is to compete for a playoff spot and take it from there.