Kristi Toliver’s basketball career as a player and coach comes full circle – The Undefeated

As the Harrisonburg High School prep star, Kristi Toliver wore number 5 on her jersey because of Jason Kidd.

So that was quite the full circle moment for Toliver, whose basketball journey had since taken her from Virginia Ms. Basketball to NCAA champion to two-time WNBA champion to sit across from Kidd via Zoom. , with former player and now Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley to be interviewed for a place on Kidd’s new coaching staff.

“It was a really cool full circle for me to just be on a Zoom with two of these guys that I have a lot of respect for 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 coach after the end of the WNBA season.

This will be Toliver’s second stint on an NBA sideline. She previously served as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards.

But before Toliver joins the Mavericks, she’ll be key for a Los Angeles Sparks team in the midst of a playoff chase.

The Sparks haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2011 season, but to make sure the playoff streak continues, Los Angeles has work to do. Four teams will compete for the last two places in the league playoffs. The Sparks, who currently sit 10th in the standings with a 10-16 record, are only half a game behind eighth-placed New York Liberty. Three of the Sparks’ last six games will pit three of the current top four teams in the WNBA against each other.

The 2021 season was marked by a series of ups and downs for Toliver. Returning to the WNBA in 2021 after retiring last season, Toliver joined a new team, had to learn a new system, and would become a much-needed veteran presence on a Sparks roster that has been hampered by injury. Toliver herself missed six games before the Olympic break due to an eye injury.

Much like Toliver felt more comfortable on the pitch in the second half of the season, scoring in double digits in three straight games for the first time this season in the recent four-game winning streak. Sparks, she was sidelined with a hand injury. after a game against Connecticut on August 26.

Despite the setbacks, Toliver has taken on the challenges of the season.

“I enjoyed this process because it wasn’t easy,” Toliver said. “Usually when you face discomfort and novelty it brings out the best in you. “

She recently spoke to The Undefeated about the Sparks’ playoff push, her new assistant coach job with the Mavericks, and the joy of being a resource for other players in the league interested in coaching.


You came back after a year of absence, had to acclimatize to a new team, be the voice of veterans following injury, and suffered injury setbacks yourself. How difficult has this season been for you personally?

It was difficult. This season personally for me, I’m not playing a whole season. During the offseason, not working on specific things that I wanted because of my health and doing physiotherapy five times a week for four or five months trying to be healthy so that I can play. It was difficult. I wanted to be in shape in 2019 when it was not yet a reality. So I had to be patient with myself to get used to new teammates, a new coach, a new system, different philosophies offensively and defensively.

Whether I went in or out, just having that leadership for the young players, it was an important goal for me to be here to help serve and continue, of course, to improve, but also to make my teammates better. Every season is different. I just enjoyed this trip because it allowed me to expand personally in some areas, and that’s what you want. You want to be able to stretch and grow and I was able to do that here.

As the Sparks entered the second half of the season battling for a playoff berth, what was the message for the team coming out of the Olympic break?

We understand that we are in control of our own destiny and I think it’s really exciting for us to know that we can decide and dictate our future by making the playoffs and making the push. For us, it’s about taking each day one game at a time, but having that focus, that resilience, and that competitiveness night after night, and controlling the controllable elements and understanding if we’re doing that, we’re going to be. give a very good opportunity.

This team has had to overcome a lot of adversity in the form of player injuries. Has that been difficult to deal with for much of the season, and now that the players are back, how does that change the dynamics of the squad?

Health is obviously extremely important, not only to us but to every team as you try to compete, make the playoffs and win games. I was just thinking of our ability to deal with this adversity and overcome it – I thought it was an opportunity for some of our young players, and players who maybe had never been in teams before where they weren’t. really hadn’t had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs and push through, take advantage of a new opportunity and situation and just play through it, go through it, gain that experience on the pitch.

There is nothing like it. This is where growth really happens is when you are in the field and are able to perform during these tough times. I thought everyone did a really good job just weathering the storm. While it wasn’t always necessarily that we were going to end up in the win column, we continued to learn throughout this difficult period. Obviously, now that everyone’s back, that he’s in playoff shape, it’s taking time for everyone, even the guys who were away – finding that rhythm, finding that rhythm, getting familiar with it. the ones with the others. We’re still doing it, but you can certainly see the change when a team is healthy and not.

How important was it for you to get back to an NBA sideline as a coach?

For me, this is extremely important. I wanted to come back to the NBA after being away for a year. I love the hell out of it. I had such a great experience with the Wizards, just being around these guys and learning so much from a coach’s perspective and a player’s perspective.

I wanted to come back, so I’m obviously extremely grateful that the Dallas Mavericks called me up and we got to talk and that happened. Extremely happy, extremely grateful and really looking forward to the opportunity.

Could you share more details about the hiring process with the Mavericks and how that process went?

With the Mavs it was [Mavericks general manager] Nico Harrison, Michael Finley, Jason Kidd, it was my first call, it was all three. We had a good, solid conversation which allowed them to get to know me and me to know them and to understand what we were trying to do, what they wanted, what my strengths are and what my margin is. improvement as a coach, and what I can offer and contribute. Like any other job you would have. It was really good, I felt very comfortable with them from the start.

For me, just being a basketball junkie and everything, watching Michael, watching Jason Kidd – I wore number 5 in high school because of Jason Kidd. It was a really cool full circle for me to just be on a Zoom in with two of these guys that I have a lot of respect for and now to be in a position where I have the opportunity to work with them. And then I obviously had follow-up conversations after that premiere, but it was a pretty transparent process. I think the comfort level and the camaraderie was there from the jump, and I think that’s why it’s going to be a great situation.

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

Just because I already had two years of coaching experience with the Wizards, these are my guys. Whether on the player level – John Wall, Bradley Beal – and certainly on the coaching side, I’m fortunate to have had a bit of that experience before, but these are definitely the guys that I’m always going to go to. press for advice, for exercises, for situational things. It’s fun to be in this basketball coaching community because once you are there you have it forever and I will continue to rely on these guys and keep learning and developing. as a coach.

As someone who was able to become a coach as an active player, have other active players approached you asking how they can get involved in training as well?

Yeah, there was. I think that’s what’s great, that I can be a resource for other women, players or others who want to step in the door. I can obviously give them my advice and my thoughts, but I have my resources, so I give this guy, this guy numbers, so they can have conversations. I think that’s the fun part of this coaching fraternity, fraternity, whatever you want to call it – once you’re at the door, it’s like I’m now a resource for others.

I am definitely an open book and will help others as much as I can. It is also part of my job. Not only part of the game coaching and being with my team, but also other people and other players who just want to know more. A player who came to me is now a coach. She’s a coach at the WNBA now, but I know she’s had some great conversations with some of the people I’ve talked to her about and had to reach out to. So I am extremely happy to see her now on the sidelines. It’s just a really cool thing to see and be a part of.

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

During the Olympic break I had a lot of talks, a lot of conversations, and one of the positions was that of the head coach of a G League team. I know it’s still affiliated with the NBA, but a little different, different job. I am open to everything. Obviously I’m happy to be in the NBA, this is definitely where I think I’ll continue to grow and learn the most as I continue to develop and explore this, but I’m never a person who will close a door to anyone. whether it’s coaching a high school team or coaching in the WNBA or whatever.

I just want to keep finding my rhythm and finding what works for me. Based on my experience in DC, I know the NBA is where I want to be right now. If I continue to grow in this area and love it, then I will stay here until another opportunity presents itself and maybe I want to explore this. For now, I’m just going to keep being in the NBA, soaking up everything and having fun.

Sean Hurd is associate editor of The Undefeated. He believes that the “Flying V” is the most important formation in the history of the sport.

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