Kristi Toliver’s career as a basketball player and coach returns to its starting point

Kristi Toliver's career as a basketball player and coach returns to its starting point

The Los Angeles Sparks veteran point guard talks about his team’s effort to reach the playoffs and his future training for the Dallas Mavericks

As a private school star at Harrisonburg High, Kristi Toliver wore No. 5 on her jersey in honor of Jason Kidd.

So it was like closing a cycle for Toliver, whose basketball journey had taken her from being Virginia Ms. Basketball to NCAA champion to two-time WNBA champion to sitting across from Kidd via Zoom, alongside the former player and now Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley to interview for a position on Kidd’s coaching staff.

“That was full circle for me to be on a Zoom call with two of these men who I respect so much and now to be in a position where I have the opportunity to work with them,” said Toliver, who will join the Mavericks as an assistant when the current WNBA season is over.

This will be Toliver’s second cycle on an NBA bench. She was previously an assistant to the Washington Wizards.

But before Toliver joins the Mavericks, he will be a linchpin of a Los Angeles Sparks team seeking to reach the playoffs.

The Sparks haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2011 season, but to ensure the postseason streak continues, Los Angeles has work to do. Four teams will be competing for the last two league playoff spots. The Sparks, who currently rank 10th. Place in the table at 10-18, they are just half a game behind ninth, New York Liberty. Three of the Sparks’ last six games will be against three of the current top four teams in the WNBA.

The 2021 campaign has been marked by a series of ups and downs for Toliver. He returned to the WNBA in 2021 after opting out last season, and Toliver joined a new roster. He had to learn a new system and he would become a necessary veteran presence in a Sparks lineup that has been plagued by injuries. Toliver herself missed six games before the Olympic break due to an eye injury.

Just when Toliver has become more comfortable on the court in the second half of the season, scoring in double digits in three straight games for the first time this season during the Sparks’ recent four-game winning streak, she was sidelined with an injury to hand after a game against Connecticut on Aug. 26.

Despite the setbacks, Toliver accepts the challenges that have come with the season.

“I have enjoyed this process because it has not been easy,” said Toliver. “Usually when you are faced with something uncomfortable and new, it brings out the best in you.”

She recently spoke with The Undefeated about the Sparks’ momentum heading into the playoffs, her new position as an assistant with the Mavericks, and the joy of being a resource for other players in the league interested in coaching.

You came back after being absent for a year, you have had to acclimate to a new team, be the veteran voice after injuries and have suffered setbacks of your own due to injury. How difficult has this season been for you personally?

He has been demanding this season personally, not being able to play the entire season. In the offseason, I was unable to tackle specific things I wanted due to my health and had to do physical therapy five times a week for four or five months trying to get healthy so I could play. It has been difficult. I wanted to be in the same shape as in 2019, but that wasn’t a reality yet. So I had to be patient with myself, hooking up with new teammates, a new coach, a new system, different offensive and defensive philosophies.

Whether I was playing or not, having that leadership for the young players was a great motivation to be here and help serve, continue to improve myself, obviously, and also make my teammates better. Every season is different. I have enjoyed this journey because it has allowed me to expand on a personal level in certain areas, and that is what you want. You want to be flexible and grow and I have managed to do that here.

As the Sparks enter the second half of the season fighting for a playoff spot, what was the message for the team coming off the Olympic break?

We understand that we control our own destiny and I think it is very exciting for us to know that we can decide and dictate our future by looking to reach the playoffs and push ourselves. For us, it’s about taking one game at a time every day, but having that focus and resilience and competitiveness night after night, and controlling what we can control and understanding that if we do that, we’re going to give ourselves a very good chance.

This team has had to overcome a lot of adversity in the form of player injuries. How difficult was that to handle for much of the season, and now that the players are back, how is the team dynamic changing?

Health is extremely important, obviously, not only for us, but for each team when looking to compete, enter the playoffs and win games. I thought just our ability to handle that adversity and play despite it – I thought it was an opportunity for some of our younger players, and players who may not have been on teams before where they have never really had a legitimate chance to reach the top. playoffs and gain momentum, taking advantage of a new opportunity and situation and playing until the end, giving his effort, getting that experience on the court.

There is nothing like it. That’s where growth happens, when you’re on the floor and can perform during those tough times. I think everyone did a great job weathering the storm. Although we weren’t always necessarily going to end up in the win column, we continued to learn through that difficult time. Obviously now with everyone back, getting into playoff form, it takes everyone – even those who were absent – to find that rhythm, find that familiarity. We’re still going through that process, but you can certainly see the change when a team is completely healthy or not.

How important was it to you to return to an NBA bench as a coach?

It is extremely important to me. He wanted to return to the NBA after being out for a year. I enjoy it so much. I had a wonderful experience with the Wizards, just being around those guys and I learned so much from the coach’s point of view compared to the player’s.

I wanted to go back, so obviously I’m extremely grateful that the Dallas Mavericks called me and we were able to talk and get it to work. Extremely happy and grateful and looking forward to the opportunity.

Can you share any other details about the signing process with the Mavericks and how that process came about?

With the Mavs my first call was with [el gerente general de los Mavericks] Nico Harrison, Michael Finley and with Jason Kidd. We had a good, solid conversation that allowed them to get to know me and get to know them, understand what we were trying to do, what they wanted, what my strengths are as a coach and my space to improve, and what I can offer. As you would have for any other job. It was very good; I felt very comfortable with them from the beginning.

For me, being a basketball fan, seeing Michael, seeing Jason Kidd – I wore No. 5 in high school in honor of Jason Kidd. It was a great closed circle to just be on a Zoom call with two of these guys that I respect and now be in a position where I have the opportunity to work with them. So, I had follow-up conversations after that initial one, but it was a pretty seamless process. I think the level of comfort and camaraderie was present from the beginning, and I think that’s why it will be a very good situation.

Is there a person or group of people you go to for advice, specifically when it comes to making decisions about your future as a coach?

Just because I’ve already had two years of experience training with the Wizards, they are my types. Whether as players – John Wall, Bradley Beal – and of course as a coaching staff, I am lucky to have already had a bit of that experience, but they are without a doubt the ones I will always depend on for advice, for exercises, for things. circumstantial. It’s fun to be in that community of basketball coaches, because once you get in, you have it forever and I will continue to depend on them and continue to learn and develop as a coach.

As someone who has been able to become a coach as an active player, have other active players approached you asking how they can get involved and be coaches?

Yes. I think that’s what’s been great, the fact that I can be a source for other women, players and others who want to break through. Obviously I can give them my advice and opinions, but I have my resources, so I’m giving out numbers to this guy, that guy, so they can talk to them. That’s the fun of frat, ladies’ club, whatever you want to call it – when you walk through the door, you are now a source for others.

I am certainly an open book and will help others as much as I can. It is also part of my job. It is not only part of training and being with my team, but also other people and other players who want to know more. A player who came to talk to me is now training. He trains in the WNBA now, but I know he had some great conversations with some of the people I referred to. So I am extremely pleased to see her now on the bench. It is something truly great to see and participate in.

Has the NBA always been the destination for you or have you considered training at other levels, or leagues, within the sport?

During the Olympic break, I did a lot of interviews, I had a lot of conversations, and one of the positions was to coach a G League team. I know he’s still affiliated with the NBA, but it’s a very different job. I am open to everything. Obviously, I am happy to be in the NBA; definitely there I think I will continue to grow more and learn more as I continue to expand and explore that, but I am not a person who is going to close the door on someone, whether it is training a high school team and training in the WNBA, or whatever.

I just want to keep finding my rhythm and what works for me. Based on my experience in Washington DC, I know that the NBA is where I want to be right now. If I continue to grow in this and still love it, I will stay here until another opportunity arises and maybe I want to explore that. Right now, I’ll still be in the NBA. Soak up everything and have fun!

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