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WOMEN'S NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 7, 2010
RON HOWARD: Welcome, everybody, to our call. I know a number of you have joined us for a predraft call as well. Thanks for coming onboard with us at this time.
With us this afternoon we have five head coaches. From the Connecticut Sun, Mike Thibault, from the Indiana Fever, Lin Dunn, from the Minnesota Lynx, Cheryl Reeve, from the Phoenix Mercury, Corey Gaines, and from the Tulsa Shock, Nolan Richardson.
We would ask you to begin to cue up with questions. We will not have opening statements, we'll go right into question-and-answer mode.
Q. Nolan, what struck you most about the WNBA and the world of women's basketball?
COACH RICHARDSON: I guess curiosity of watching them play, watching the females play over the years when they were in the south when I was at Arkansas, watching Southeastern Conference basketball, noticing how athletic the women were. It was amazing. I guess from that point I started following women's basketball quite a bit.
Q. Since you've been involved in it on a more direct basis, what have you noticed about the WNBA? Have there been surprises, things maybe you thought would be better that weren't? Now that you're in it a little bit more, what are your feelings?
COACH RICHARDSON: The part that really is amazing to me is how hard they work, how the players pay close attention to details, what you're trying to get to them, make them understand.
I find that it's amazing how they go out and come back the next day and try to do those things that you've talked about and worked on, as compared to the male's game, they go and they come back and you've got to work the same thing you talked to them the day before. That was an amazing part.
I think also they compete so hard against one another. That's an amazing part also.
Q. Coach Gaines, obviously with Cappie gone it's a different dynamic on your team. Can you give us a sense of how the Mercury are going to look without Cappie and just talk a little bit about defending your championship this season.
COACH GAINES: Cappie is a player that comes around every 10 years. I will definitely miss her because I cannot replace her.
But the offense I learned from Coach (indiscernible) is built around a four. The real offense is built around a strong four that demands a double-team. Candice Dupree is that player. We never experienced that before here in Phoenix. I think people will be a little shocked when the offense is not set for the guards, but set for four man who can score.
Q. Can you expand a little bit on Candice Dupree, change of scenery for her, but how well you feel she is going to fit in because of what you just said?
COACH GAINES: I think over the years she's been getting double-teamed in Chicago and people trying to get the ball out of her hand. The difference with us is I will have Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi on the wing. You can double her if you want, but I think she's going to get a lot of single coverage.
Q. Coach Dunn, as close as you came to winning the championship last year, what did you feel the main things you needed to tweak or change to try to get over that hump for 2010?
COACH DUNN: At the end of the game they had more points than we did. I thought we missed some open looks that we needed to knock down.
One of the things we tried to do in the off-season is figure out who our sixth man is going to be off the bench on the perimeter. It needs to be somebody that can knock down those open shots. That's going to be a focus for us.
You know, if we can get close again, knock down those shots, maybe we'll be able to get us a championship.
Q. Coach Reeve, I was wanting to get your thoughts on coaching against your own team, old team, to start the season. Probably didn't anticipate that happening when you took the job.
COACH REEVE: I think the league has a sense of humor with stuff like that.
You know, it's going to be interesting. It will be interesting for the players, of course. My familiarity with the players, their familiarity with me, they'll recognize some of the things that we're doing.
Will look a little bit different as well. Clearly a new system, some personnel changes that they've gone through. So it will be interesting. I know we're all looking forward to seeing one another. But I know come game time, we're going to each want to beat each other.
Q. I wanted to get everybody's thoughts on the roster that Coach Richardson assembled so far and how based on what you've seen of the moves he's made so far, the system he runs, how his team is taking shape, what you guys kind of expect?
COACH REEVE: You know, I think clearly Coach Richardson has a strong idea of the attributes that he needs in his players based on the system. I think he would probably tell you he probably likes maybe if half were a little more of what he sees. He probably needs a little more depth. I think overall he made a couple good trades to get him some length. I think Amber Holt is going to be helpful, possibly Chante Black. There were some aims as being successful in his system. It's going to be successful.
COACH THIBAULT: Since we made one of those trades, you know, I'm a big Amber Holt fan. We made a decision based on kind of competing for minutes here. But I think he's assembled a team with a lot of athletic kids who can run, who all have an upside. I mean, the kids he inherited, whether it be Zellous, Pierson, Hornbuckle, they're all good athletes. Obviously Marion Jones and Holt and Black and all those players are good athletes. And he got some in the draft.
I think he'll be able to try to play the way he wants to play.
COACH GAINES: I have a lot of respect for Coach Richardson. Him being another system type of coach, I'm a system coach, I think the most important thing which he's gone out and done is he's gotten players that fit his system, what he needs. I remember our first couple years here in Phoenix, the first year we didn't have the right player to fit our style. If you run a certain kind of system, you need those players.
COACH DUNN: It seems like he has a lot of athleticism. I'm curious if he feels that he's got enough depth, what is it, the 40 minutes of hell night after night, back to back, traveling all over America. If he does, we better watch out.
Q. Except Nolan, are you familiar with his 40 minutes of hell? Do you believe it will work with women? Do you believe it will work in the WNBA? Will it change how you all defend in the league?
COACH REEVE: Absolutely believe that the system can work, whether it's male or female. I think Coach Richardson's ability to teach the system is what is critical. As he already mentioned, I think he's found that the women, they have a great attention to detail and they have a great desire to please and are very coachable.
I have no doubt once he gets the number of players he needs, I think he's off to a good start in the acquisitions, no question it's going to be successful.
I don't think necessarily it will change the way people play. I think we all kind of have had -- each team has probably had a fair amount of success in each of the systems. I think coaches have to be themselves.
Q. Mike, with all the changes you've made, you've gotten younger, how comfortable are you with how your team is shaping up? Is everyone on the same page yet?
COACH THIBAULT: Well, I mean, I'm comfortable with what we did. It's going to be a while before we'll be the team we need to be. Some of the coaches were talking before the call started. We're all waiting for players to get here, come off injuries, whatever.
We have three of our probable starters not in camp yet. So I think it's going to take us some time. Asjha Jones has been hurt and probably will be ready to play in the next couple of weeks. Get Anete Jekabsone next week and Sandrine Gruda early June. I'm very pleased. I think we won't be the team I envision maybe it will partway into the season. That doesn't mean you can't win games. I just think it's going to take a while for everybody to get used to it.
The first part of training camp has been terrific. The young players have blended in well. We've gotten good leadership from Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery, DeMya Walker, Asjha Jones, who has been there to kind of coach on the sidelines. I'm happy with everything I've seen.
I know some people think we're looking down the road. I'm not. I'm looking to try to win this year. So we'll be ready to play.
Q. You added a bunch of players from UConn. Do you think the fact they came from the same system will help them playing together?
COACH THIBAULT: I definitely think it helps, I mean, because they play fairly similar style to how we play. The posts have been somewhat interchangeable positions. I think the fact that Renee and Tina played a lot together helps them have some chemistry on the court. Asjha never played with that group, so I don't know that it makes that much difference. Having DeMya and Kara who played together in Sacramento will help.
That part of it is going to take some time. I think it's because we're kind of an up-tempo team that has historically been a pretty good passing team, I think coming from the system that they've come from will help them blend in pretty quickly.
Q. Coach Richardson, how is Marion Jones faring in camp?
COACH RICHARDSON: Marion is doing very, very well. She's working extremely hard. She's a tremendous athlete. Tremendous upsides. Even though she hasn't been in the game for a long period, a long time, it reminds me of a knife that's not sharp, but you got a chance to sharpen it up. That's what she's been doing since she's been in camp.
Q. The work she did, the conditioning work, do you see results of all of that in camp?
COACH RICHARDSON: Absolutely. She must have really spent a lot of time during the off-season in pickup games. Her conditioning, training coach that she's had has really got her prepared to come into camp. You can really see the difference of her conditioning.
It's very important in my system that you come to camp with some conditioning.
Q. Coach Reeve, can you talk about Seimone's situation, when you expect to have her back, and Candice Wiggins as well?
COACH REEVE: Seimone is doing really well. She had a situation about a week and a half ago that was a difficult one physically. The hard part for her was she was pretty ready to go to kind of get back at it on the court and be in practice with us. So a little bit of a setback.
She's been mentally strong. Probably more importantly, her body is healing pretty quickly. We have a timetable we're looking at. As of a couple days ago, we were looking at maybe five more weeks. That's a soft five weeks. It could go quicker, it could go longer. It all depends on the healing process, her ability to handle the pounding on the court.
I know she's chomping at the bit, ready to go. She's continuing to work on her knee strengthening so when it is time to get back out there that she didn't lose anything with that.
Candice, with the meniscus tear, she had to get that thing cleaned up. From the point of surgery, she was looking at a four-week timetable. I think meniscus tears, they can have such a range of the player's ability to return. Unfortunately, Brandon Roy did this thing to us. People think they can return from something like that in eight days. There's varying degrees to meniscus tears and what they do when they go in there. Candice is something I put in the time frame of four to five weeks, not anything shorter than that.
Q. Coach Dunn, I wanted to know from afar, looking at the development of Sue and Lauren together, have they grown the way you thought when you drafted both of them?
COACH DUNN: Yeah. I mean, I thought we made the right picks when we picked Jackson. I thought she was going to be a world-class player. No doubt about it, one of the best combo 4-5s in the world. I always felt like Sue was going to be the premiere point guard one day in this league. We were just lucky we won that lottery. Maybe I had on my lucky underwear that day, I'm not sure.
But, yes, they've developed just like I thought they would.
Q. They always talk about the on-court chemistry developed before the off-court. What are some of your early memories of them trying to click together and did you have any help developing an off-court chemistry together, too?
COACH DUNN: When you bring in two players that are good like that in the pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, they're going to immediately connect. I think Jackson loved how Sue could get her the ball. Sue loved how Lauren could pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, catch the ball. I think their on-court chemistry has carried to the off-court chemistry, they play so well together.
Q. What is the status of Erin Phillips?
COACH THIBAULT: She had kind of requested a trade. She was looking for an opportunity to maybe play more minutes in a different kind of system. We were willing to accommodate her providing we could do something that was mutually beneficial. But she also wanted to have some time with the Australian team at this point right now.
So what came of it is we had discussions with four different teams. We had come to an agreement with one team. She had to okay the trade because of her reserve status. She did not. We did not come to any resolve with the other teams. So I think right now she's going to spend the summer in Australia and practice with the national team. She will not be here unless something changes and another team wants to make a trade, she won't play in the league this summer.
Q. For all of y'all, it seems like a little bit more and more, players are making requests for trades for different reasons, trying to accommodate these. Is this a part of basketball? How are you approaching the player requests lately?
COACH THIBAULT: Wow, a couple of us have been through this in the last two years. I think it varies from team to team, the situation, how long somebody has been there. Lin and I can talk about the situation with Katie Douglas. She had a situation where she was going to become a free agent. She agreed to stay one more year and sign the contract for one more year but wanted an option from me to go home. As people know, her family situation's a little bit different, with both of her parents passing away at a young age for her.
We worked to try to accommodate her because of a loyalty factor she had been with us. Under normal circumstances, I'm not big on just having a player walk in your office and say, I want to be traded, and we're going to do that. I think on a case-by-case basis, there's some merit provided, something can help happen.
In Erin's case, at that time, before our trade and everything else, she was behind Lindsay Whalen and Anete and Tan White in another, and she wanted to know if there was an opportunity to go somewhere and play somewhere else. I said, Sure, provided we get something in return. Obviously, we didn't get anything in return that met our needs, so now the player is going to sit at home. It's a case-by-case example.
Q. Coach Reeve, obviously we hear all the time about Connecticut's point of view about the trade you made for Tina Charles, the No. 1 draft pick. Could you talk about what led you to that point and how significant Lindsay Whalen is going to be for you.
COACH REEVE: The first part of it with regard -- I assume you mean the draft day trade?
Q. The decision to switch the draft picks that allowed Connecticut to take Tina where you could have had Tina.
COACH REEVE: Yeah, that was a tough one, especially here in Minnesota when you have a post player who will be as dominant at Tina Charles will be. This has been void of players in quality post play, so that was not an easy decision knowing how good Tina Charles is and will be going forward.
If it's not Lindsay Whalen, I don't think there's any way we do it. In fact, I know there's no way to do it. It was a unique situation. I was not here in the prior six years where the Connecticut franchise and Minnesota franchise spoke about possible ways to work out a deal.
I think Mike Thibault was pretty happy with Lindsay Whalen running his team, competing in two WNBA finals. I don't think there was any eagerness for us to let go of the No. 1 pick and for Mike to let going of a point guard of Lindsay's quality. It made a lot of sense in the overall mentality of our franchise. One, to have a veteran like Lindsay running our team was critical to the overall success, and two, the business side. I think most franchises are in situations where we have to marry the two the best way we can.
Q. Coach Richardson, I cover University of Connecticut women's team. We often ask Gino Auriemma how successful he thinks he would be coaching a men's college basketball team. I'm wondering from your perspective if an enterprising athletic director decided to hire Gino, Van Chancellor, someone of that nature, how do you think they would be accepted into that world and how well do you think they would do?
COACH RICHARDSON: First of all, basketball is basketball. I think all the guys you just mentioned, they could coach anywhere as far as I'm concerned whether it be women, men, pro. Again, I have a tremendous respect for the coaches that you mentioned.
I think any coach on the men's side would certainly be fighting to a point because those guys are such tremendous basketball coaches, and that's how I see them.
Q. Do you think the athletes would embrace them or do you think they would be somewhat skeptical because of their backgrounds?
COACH RICHARDSON: Let me give you an example. I played for Coach Don Haskins. Coach Haskins was the women's girls high school coach when he came to UTEP. He coached the boys and the girls. He came in and won a national championship in three years.
Again, I'm old school. So I believe that if a person understands the game and is willing to exercise the energy to coach that game, then the chances of being good at what you do, and that's coach basketball, your chances are great.
Q. Coach Dunn, four of your five starters are still over in Europe playing for the Turkish championship. I'm wondering when do you expect them to come home and what are your contingency plans if they are not back by the time the season starts and the first couple games are played?
COACH DUNN: Well, wow. They just finished the first game of the last series, the finals. Fenerbahce won. If they were to win again, we would become optimistic they might be back in time for the season opener. If they were to lose the next game or the third game, it won't look good. Time-wise, flights back, getting all the way back. So if there's a sweep, we're in good shape. If it goes to four or five games, not so good.
So the contingency is to use the players that we played with today. If you don't know some of their names, I can understand that. But I have to give them credit. They're working hard. There is a possibility that we can open the season without four starters.
Q. A year ago, you lost Houston, but the league was the most competitive it's been since it's been in existence except maybe during the regular season, Indiana's dominance of the east. Now Sacramento is going. How much more competitive could the league be this year?
COACH REEVE: I think there's no question contractions made all the teams together, the overall depth of teams. We're in a situation where we probably have three players on our bench that could start for other teams. I think all of us probably, you know, have that situation, you know, when you gain another player, you know, from a quality franchise from Sacramento was, there's no question that things are heightened from a competitive standpoint.
COACH THIBAULT: Obviously we benefited with two players from Sacramento. I think it's not great what their franchise went through. Having said all that, I'm thrilled to have DeMya Walker and Kara Lawson. You know, combined with everything else that happened in the off-season, this became kind of a once-in-a-decade scenario for us to change our team.
I look around the league, and I see teams with anywhere from eight to ten players who worry you every night. There are no 'gimme' games in this league, not that there were a lot ever before, but there are none now. I think every night you better play your best basketball to have a chance to win.
Q. Cheryl, Gabriela didn't play much the other day, but how has she been doing to this point?
COACH REEVE: She's holding her own. Her minutes are not a reflection of where she is with our team, but a reflection of what we were trying to do with some returning players getting back into camp, running through reps, I needed to learn more about them. Gabriela, the improvement from week one to week two was pretty substantial, you know, of the player that was impressive in our first-season game. I told her I thought she held out on us in some areas that we didn't see during practice and she displayed them during the game. She's playing loose and we'll have to see what happens.
Q. Coach Thibault, if you can talk to me about Judie Lomax, I was wondering how she has met your expectations and what expectations you might have had of her, what it is about her that has allowed her to remain on the roster to this point?
COACH THIBAULT: Yes. I mean, she obviously knows the situation. It willing very difficult for her to spend the entire season with us, but there is a potential to start the season with us if she continues to play as well as she has so far.
She's obviously an undersized post player. But we always say that when a player comes to camp, what pro skill do they bring to your team? Is there something that they do that they do exceptionally well? For two consecutive years, she's led the country in rebounding. She's a handful. I mean, she's undersized, but I think if you took her to the NFL combine, she would grade out really highly.
She is almost impossible to block out and keep off the boards. She's done that exceptionally well in camp. We think we have a couple post players that are pretty good rebounders, and she has from day one been the best rebounder in camp.
I'm happy with her. But like the numbers things at some point way catch up to her. We'll see over the next couple weeks.
Q. Was that what you expected from her?
COACH THIBAULT: That's what we were looking for. We were looking for somebody. She's a bright kid. She picks up things quickly. She's a student. We needed somebody to come in and be a great rebounder to make our camp better, to push our veterans, and she's done exactly that.
Q. Coach Richardson, if you could address the status of Cheryl Ford?
COACH RICHARDSON: At this point Cheryl is completely out of the game. She was injured pretty much overseas or hurt during the year. It doesn't look like she will be part of our basketball team at this point.
Q. I want to get a sense of how good the Sparks are anticipated to be this season. They were projected to win the title last season. They've have a new coach. With all of those new elements, how competitive do you think they'll be this year?
COACH THIBAULT: I'm in the Eastern Conference. To be honest with you, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I mean, they have a lot of great veterans coming back. When you have Candace Parker and DeLisha Milton, Tina Thompson to start out with, three Olympians, you know, you've got a great nucleus to start with. I know they've been trying to shore up their guard situation, come to a decision who is going to play the most minutes. Having had a year to play a lot of those people together, I'm sure they're going to be as competitive as always.
But I'm looking at it from three thousand miles away. I just see the talent they have on paper looks good to me.
Q. For all the coaches, can you talk about the start of the season? Could it possibly be a little bit ragged because of veterans not in camp now, just the rush to get training camp going because of the season, the World Championships this year? Do you think the start of the season, the play will be a little bit ragged? If so, how do you think it will shape out in the long run?
COACH THIBAULT: There's some ugly practices right now. I think it depends. Obviously each team's situation is different. We're missing three in Connecticut, Lin is missing four of her best players. I think it's going to vary from team to team. There will be those who will be maybe at full strength maybe by this weekend.
I think those that have everybody there are going to have a huge edge on the rest of 'em. In such a short 34-game season as opposed to an NBA 84-game season, you don't have a lot of room for error, so you're trying to play catch-up in a hurry. I don't know if you'd describe the games at ragged or not. I think that remains to be seen. But certainly having a later camp last year and an earlier one this year has made a big difference in how everybody is preparing. You don't have some luxuries of waiting for things to happen.
Q. Coach Thibault, I want to get your thoughts on adding Renee Montgomery to the team.
COACH THIBAULT: That's the easiest question I've had. It's a bonus for us. I mean, losing Lindsay Whalen was huge, the leadership, the point guard skills. As Cheryl talked about the trade earlier, it was kind of one of those right things at the right time.
I don't know that we would have done the trade. She and I have talked about this, without getting Renee back. It was a win-win. But it was crucial for us to find another point guard to come in and play at the kind of tempo and style that I want to play.
You know, she has different skill sets than Lindsay. She's smaller, a little bit quicker. Lindsay, a better rebounder. Renee is great in an attack mode, good passer. Complemented with Kara Lawson next to her, I'm very happy with the two of them playing together. It's been very good.
Q. Coach Richardson, can you talk about the role Alexis Hornbuckle will have this season.
COACH RICHARDSON: Well, she's going to have to play a major role in our system. She's been, of course, in the league a couple years. I've always had admiration for a young lady who came out of Pat Summitt's basketball regime. Having the opportunity to already win two rings in the same year as a college player coming into the WNBA, then winning one ring with them. So she's one of the people that we have to count on because of the experience that we have.
When you look at our basketball team, you're looking at Detroit coming to Tulsa, most of the starters are no longer on that basketball team. I look at the team as a semi-expansion ballclub. When you have that kind of a program, you certainly better count on the ones that have been there and have answered the bell many time, and Hornbuckle is one of those young ladies.
Q. Coach Gaines, going into this year, how would you say the mindset is of your teams compared to two years ago, the last time you were coming off a title?
COACH GAINES: The good part of about that is I have some veteran players. Penny Taylor is still over in Turkey. Diana came off the championship. La'Tangela. We are picking up Dupree. I have veteran players who know that what you did last year means nothing. It's a new year. That's over.
So the players we have, with Tameka also, we want to come out again, come out hungry. I don't really have to rah-rah them up any bit because they're veteran players and they know what needs to be done.
Q. You won a title and then didn't make the playoffs. Do you get them to forget that or learn from that?
COACH GAINES: That was a little situation. Winning the title, what happens is you win a title, a lot of people want your players. We lost seven players off that team. It was kind of hard to keep the core together that year. This year we have the core.
Q. Coach Gaines, last year Diana had an MVP season. I wonder, do you think she can be just as effective this season? What are the things you see from her? She's still on the ascent as a player?
COACH GAINES: Every year she's gotten better. The good thing about D is she adds something to her game. I remember last year when we were playing, everyone was saying she doesn't play any defense, how she comes in with all these blocked shots. She's going to add something to her game this year also, especially with Dupree coming in. I'm hoping the kick-out shots become very important for her.
Q. Coach Dunn, having played Phoenix in the finals last year, then obviously having gone against Candice Dupree in the Eastern Conference, how different do you feel this Phoenix team will be without Cappie? How do you see Dupree fitting in with that team?
COACH DUNN: First of all, I think Dupree is a great addition to that team because she is a very, very good player. She was a key player for Chicago. However, I do think Cappie comes along once in every 10 years. After playing them in the finals, she's a once-in-a-lifetime player. I think that's going to be the real challenge for Phoenix, is adjusting to not having Cappie Pondexter because she is that good. I'm real curious how she fits in in New York, with their system, how they're going to play.
I don't know whether I'd rather have her in New York or Phoenix. I guess if I had my choice, I'd like for her to retire.
RON HOWARD: Mike, Lin, Cheryl, Corey and Nolan, thank you very much for your time. We went over. I thank you very much for that.
End of FastScripts