April 18, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. –
CARLA WILLIAMS: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being here with us today. Before I get started, I’d like to thank a few people, Jane Miller — where are you, Jane? Right there. Jane has been extremely helpful throughout this process. Her knowledge of UVA and the history of our women’s basketball program has very, very helpful during the process, so thank you, Jane, for that. Thank you to President Sullivan for your support in general of our athletics program, but specifically our women’s basketball program. I think our players appreciate your presence at home games and often on the road, too, so thank you for that support.
I’m not sure if Debbie Ryan is here, but I do want to acknowledge — where’s Debbie? Hey, there you are. I want to acknowledge Debbie because we were able to be very selective in this search because Debbie Ryan built a championship program here, and the reputation of this program stood the test of time, and that was very helpful for us in attracting Tina to this program, so thank you, Debbie, and thank you for your counsel, too, throughout the process.
Lastly, I want to thank Joanne Boyle. She’s back there in the back. Thank you, Joanne, for your service to the University, to our women’s basketball program. You represented UVA with great professionalism and class and humility, and we wish you the best as you approach the next chapter in your journey, so thank you for that.
For this process, I knew that it would be important for me to identify what we needed in order to increase our chances for success. A person of high character that embodies the values of the University of Virginia; a person who values higher education and the lifelong benefits of learning; someone who could connect with our players and create an environment where the players wanted to exceed expectations in the classroom, on the court, and in life. Someone with great talent and the ability to attract great talent; a coach who knows firsthand what it takes to win championships. A coach that cares about the players as people, above all else. A teacher who is willing to learn, willing to share, and eager to impart wisdom on young people.
I spoke to a small number of people in the industry that I trust, and Tina Thompson’s name kept coming up. We started this process with a very short list, and Tina’s name was always on that list. Her life lessons, her experiences at USC, in the WNBA, in the professional leagues all over the world, two Olympic teams, as well as her experiences at the University of Texas prepared her for this opportunity. At this moment, we need a winner. We need an inspiring leader and a fierce competitor, someone our players and recruits will be inspired to follow, someone who loves to teach young people how to be winners in life. We found that in our next women’s basketball coach, Tina Thompson.
Tina Thompson: Thank you so much. This is a wonderful opportunity, and the going theme has been that this is my first experience, and my thoughts is what a great first. I am excited. It’s not often that someone with my experience gets to be a part of a program so prestigious, so committed to excellence and young people, not just academically but also athletically. That is absolutely who I am and what I embody.
I graduated from the University of Southern California, and I think that UVA as well as Southern Cal are committed to the same things. It’s why I chose Southern Cal.
I then went on to have my coaching experience at the University of Texas, again, a university that embodies the same things. So, I’m here not only because I think I’m ready to be here, but because this university possesses the things that are very much like me. I’m excited for this experience, and I’m looking forward to getting to know my girls so much more. We spent some time yesterday, and they were great. Once I got them to talking, they were very vocal and very adamant about the things that they want and where they see themselves and where they want this program to be.
I’m excited about the fact that the things that they want are also the very things that I want.
Q. You got into coaching in May 2015. Have you had any time over the past few days to reflect on how far you’ve come, and if so, do you marvel at how quickly it’s happened?
Tina Thompson: It’s happened fast. Really, really fast. I mean, seeing myself in 2015, did I know I would be in this moment today? No. But approaching my first season at Texas, it was my goal. I mean, it’s my intentions in everything that I’ve done, I think I’ve been able to have the success that I’ve had in my basketball career as well as coaching because of my intentions. In everything that I do, I want to be the absolute best, and I want to lead from the front. It’s where I enjoy being, in the front and leading and teaching.
In this moment today, no. But my goal and intent to be, yes.
Q. Speaking with Coach [Karen] Aston, she mentioned kind of the way you came into coaching. I guess you were working with an athlete in Houston who she had recruited. Can you talk about where did the idea come from that you got into this line of work?
Tina Thompson: Well, it for sure wasn’t my idea. It was solely Coach Aston’s. I was one of her players. I was actually mentoring because a friend of mine who was actually training my son Dyllan were also training some girls in the area, and we had been friends before professionally because he was an NBA player previously, and he had some kids that were in the gym, and he called me one day and asked me if I was willing to come to the gym, if I had some extra time, and just kind of help out.
Two of the kids, one of them was Brianna Turner, who’s at Notre Dame, and the other kid is Jordan Hosey, who’s presently at the University of Texas. I mean, I quickly developed a relationship with them, and we spent a lot of time in the gym. I believe that it was the conversation of Jordan Hosey and her parents with Coach Aston that led her to give me a call. She did call me the first time. I will admit I declined very quickly. But Coach Aston was very adamant, and she was persistent, and she continued to call several, several, several times.
You know, I thought that maybe I should just give it a try. I should go and look and visit the school and see what they have to offer. And immediately on campus, there was a familiarity. I kind of felt like I felt the first time I went to campus at USC, and her message, what she needed, she needed someone to kind of bridge the gap between the kids and the staff. It was something that they were lacking. She wanted to grow them, not just as — from a skill set perspective but from an understanding, that our players needed to be a little bit more students, so they needed to learn the game in a different way.
And she thought that I could bring that to the program.
We talked some more, and eventually it happened. I agreed. First year, really tough. It’s definitely different on the outside looking in from the coach’s perspective, but I fell in love with the kids, being able to pour my experience into them and the growth that they were having because of it is what said, maybe let me try this again. So that’s how year two happened.
And from then on, it was just kind of a marriage. I enjoyed it. I loved, loved, loved the kids, and here I am.
Q. You mentioned that there was some apprehension at first getting into that line of work. What were your hesitations there?
Tina Thompson: The hours. I mean, I just recall my own coaches spending a lot of time. And also my own level of patience. I mean, it’s a very different perspective being a player and being a coach, and playing for as long as I had and at the level that I had, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to meet the girls where they were at that moment because my own competitive level and my own expectations.
And at that age, you can’t expect a young lady to have the same competitive spirit that I had with 17 years professionally. So that was something, a conversation I kind of had to have with myself. I also had friends that were coaches. I had conversations with them. And the message that they gave me was to kind of remove yourself, give, give, give as much as you can of yourself, but remove your mentality. Meet them where they are, and kind of slowly pour into them the things that you want, and it worked.
Q. In your three years at Texas, you and Karen and the rest of the staff, I believe, signed seven McDonald’s All-Americans. What did you learn about recruiting at Texas, and how did you find that your experience, your unique playing experience, was received by prospective athletes?
Tina Thompson: Well, first, I just kind of tapped into young Tina Thompson and what I looked for in the recruiting process. I looked for honesty. I mean, the recruiting process is such a short process, and you don’t get a lot of time. It’s not as intimate as you would want it to be. So the things that kind of triggered me or just stuck with me in the recruiting process was just the honesty, just being honest with me. Sometimes coaches try to sell their program and all the best things about it.
I fell in love with the coaches that told me the things that were not so much fun and how hard it was going to be and how the process was not easy at all. That honesty and that truth to me is what — is the foundation of great relationships. So that’s the approach that I took.
And that was the conversation — one of the initial conversations I had with Coach Aston, that never am I going to be in a position or agree to telling kids or parents anything that I don’t know or believe to be true. And I found that more kids than not appreciated the honesty, and they wanted your true perspective, and from that, they knew that you were willing to help because you were not only telling them the things that they did well but also the things that they weren’t so good at.
Q. Along with the many firsts that you’re sort of taking on here this week, I know you just sort of got the job, but you’re tasked with putting together a staff at this point. Do you know if you’re bringing anybody from Texas, or is there someone you’re consulting with on the experience of trying to put together a staff, and if so, who are you kind of talking to to sort of guide you through that a little bit?
Tina Thompson: I haven’t made any decision yet, but one thing that I know to be true about myself is that I know basketball, and I know people. So, the way I’ve approached the process is that I’m going to get to know the staff that’s here. I’ve heard so many great things about them. I was extremely impressed about how the assistants approached the process and Coach Boyle leaving. They have no idea what their future is like, but they were extremely dedicated to our girls and their process. They showed up every single day, continuing to coach them and be here for them in every way that they possibly could. That is awesome. To me that shows me the people that they are and what they’re willing to do for the program. So, I think the best thing for me to do in this situation is to get to know them, to get to know them better.
What I want to do is create the most stable environment for the kids and try to not make very many changes. They love Coach Boyle, and her leaving was not easy for them. So, me being here is a transition enough. So, I’m going to try as much as I possibly can to create a stable place, and who knows, they might not want to be here with me, so it’s a mutual decision between our staff and myself.
Q. Do you know if you’ll be retaining anybody from this staff at this point? I know you said you’ve spoken to them all.
Tina Thompson: Yeah, no, that’s who I’m talking about. I’m talking about this present staff. I asked them, all three of them, what their intentions were and what do they see their future being like, and were they willing to kind of go through this process of becoming more familiar with one another. And they all agreed, and that made me very happy. We’re doing that. We’re getting to know each other.
Q. What was your reaction when you heard this job was opening?
Tina Thompson: I think my first reaction was that of probably everybody in the country, that that is a good job. It’s a good job. It’s a good job. And that was the sentiments to everyone that I had spoken to.
And then a little apprehension in the sense that I kind of played devil’s advocate with myself in that I was probably wondering what everybody else was thinking about that job and seeing me in that position. The choice of putting me in this chair to lead this team and this program is probably not the easy choice. It’s a choice of courage to take a chance on someone like me that is not as experienced as maybe a sitting head coach who has a lot of experience.
I am very out-of-the-box. I think that Ms. Carla and I get along very well because she’s very out-of-the-box, too, and she’s not afraid of making the decision that she thinks is best and not going with the comfortable one that everyone else might think is best.
Q. Carla, I’m curious what it was kind of like making your first head coaching hire at this school, and what exactly was the interview process that led to this decision? You said some people had kind of — you’d heard Tina’s name come up. Who in the basketball community had spoken highly of her?
CARLA WILLIAMS: So, there are a lot of people, obviously, in the basketball community, and my personality is to really have a small circle in the first place. I didn’t go far out of that circle, just some very long-standing friendships that I’ve had in the industry that, you know, just kept mentioning Tina’s name, because she has been a household name in women’s basketball for so many years anyway, and then when she got into coaching at Texas, you know, I think people started to kind of pay attention because it’s a great program at Texas, and then Texas really turned it around and started to do really well on the court and in recruiting, and I know Tina played a big role in that.
And that’s something that I pay attention to. I’m a basketball fan, so I love to watch and pay attention to what’s going on around the country.
The process was fun for me. Some people may think it took a long time, but I think it took the appropriate time to get the right person. And I’m convinced that we have the right person.
Q. Were there multiple interviews, or what was the process?
CARLA WILLIAMS: Phone conversations, and the very first phone conversation we had, Jane and I were together and we were just looking at each other, we were just blown away, just super impressive, very knowledgeable, mature beyond her years as a coach. You wouldn’t know that she only had three years of coaching experience, and I don’t really see it as her having only three years of coaching experience. When you’ve played professionally at the highest levels all around the world, with the Olympics, the WNBA and won championships, you’re a player/coach. You’re a coach. She’s been coaching for many, many years, and so this is just another opportunity to do it in a different way.
Q. You mentioned that Texas kind of had to beg you to come. When Carla offered you the job, how many times did she have to ask you to come, and what does it mean to you to have an athletic director who’s got such a background in women’s basketball?
Tina Thompson: Well, I wouldn’t use the word beg. I just think that Coach Aston was very persistent. I think that she saw something that I didn’t see at that moment, and I was recently retired, and the reason why I had retired is because my son was getting older, and he had been committed to the process of allowing me to be able to play, and he was at an age where he kind of had his own ambitions, and it just felt like the right time. And I was old. Well, old to be playing basketball.
So it didn’t quite take as many times as it did with the process at the university of Texas. It was — everything — well, it didn’t take much time at all. We had a conversation on Friday evening. We talked about me coming to visit. I was looking at my schedule for next week. Ms. Carla was like, no, I mean tomorrow, like as in Saturday morning. I came on Saturday?
CARLA WILLIAMS: My days are running together, so I don’t know.
Tina Thompson: By Sunday there was an offer, and seconds after that, I said yes.
Q. Carla, your first big hire as an athletic director where people are going to look at you and say this is your choice. How much trepidation did you have maybe about giving your first hire like that to someone with obviously tons of basketball experience but limited coaching experience?
CARLA WILLIAMS: You know, fortunately, I’ve been in this situation before at my previous stop, so I’ve been able to select coaches and go through the entire process. It was very familiar with me, which is why it was a lot of fun.
Like I said before, there are inherent risks in everything. When you go from the No. 2 to the No. 1, there’s transition, and I know a lot about that. If you’re willing to work hard, if you’re sharp, and if you’re competitive and you care about people and can build relationships, you can be successful. And Tina has all of those things.
And so while there will be a transition period, I’m very excited about the possibilities in the future.
Tina Thompson: I would like to just kind of put the first time into perspective, and I’m quoting Coach Ryan in this. I saw an interview yesterday, and she revealed that not only she but also Coach Auriemma as well as Coach Summitt were all first-time head coaches when they took the jobs at the university they were at. I would say that I’m amongst great company in just the history that the three of them had and the success that they’ve had.
I would personally go with those odds.
Q. Tina, you worked with the forwards in Texas. There’s a pretty special forward here in Felicia Aiyeotan. Did you know about her before getting the job, and what have you seen out of her?
Tina Thompson: I did. I actually saw Fe at — I had a classic in Washington, D.C., called the She Got Game Classic, so her team, Neumann Goretti, were playing in the tournament, and I was kind of walking through the gym, and out of my peripheral vision I saw her, and I stopped immediately, just like, wow. I mean, genetics, something that you definitely can’t teach, and she has the willingness and the openness to learn, so I’m really excited about getting my hands on her.
From the embrace that we had yesterday, I think that she’s pretty excited, too.
Q. Carla, it was referenced earlier the recruiting success that they had at Texas. How important was that in what you were looking for, maybe even over somebody with X’s and O’s experience?
CARLA WILLIAMS: I think it’s critical. You know, there are great coaches out there that may not have players they need to be successful, and if you can start with great players and someone that can connect with not just recruits but also with the players to get the most out of the players, I just think you place a high premium on that because once the — you have great players, and if those players will play hard for you and believe in what you believe in, you’ve got a great chance at success.
Q. Carla, this is your first hire here at UVA, and I know you probably hope that you don’t have to hire that many coaches as you go through your career here, but is this the blueprint where you’re going to consult with a small circle of people, and your selection might be someone that people don’t expect, someone, so to speak, outside of the box?
CARLA WILLIAMS: It depends. I think it depends on the sport. This worked right now because of the circumstances. I know a lot of people in women’s basketball. I may not know a lot of people in other sports. And so, for this particular job, the process that we used worked well.
Q. Coach, just a question about the college game. It’s been very top-heavy recently. Since as a player you reached the heights of the WNBA, does that give you a specific advantage of maybe narrowing that gap?
Tina Thompson: Well, I mean, it’s — at the end of the day, it’s about the kids and the ability to get the top kids. But also, the ability to grow the skill set and the knowledge of the kids that you have. I was dedicated to just growing my game and just be a forever student, so not only are we going to go after the top players, but we’re okay where we are right now. I mean, our kids are willing to learn, and I’m willing and our staff is willing to give them all the information that they need. We are going to talk about the things that we don’t do so well. I don’t like necessarily calling them weaknesses, but things that we can get better at and committing to doing that.
When you are a complete player or a whole player and people can’t force you to not do things that you don’t do so well, it makes us really hard to guard. So that’s what we’re going to focus on. We’re going to focus on being better students, and it doesn’t necessarily take the best players in the country all the time. It’s a matter of being good enough, playing hard enough, and approaching the game in a certain way.
I just remember a season ago, not very many people were talking about Mississippi State, and they weren’t very familiar with the players that were on their team. But their dedication to each other, to the game, to getting better is what put them in that position that they were at in the last couple years.
It’s a commitment to just getting better, and they did that, and that’s the same approach that I plan to take.
Q. Kind of a fun question. I want to take you back because I love Debbie, but we’ll tell you about that later. In 1993, did you consider this university as an elite player in women’s basketball, and also, have you talked to any of Debbie’s former players about what Charlottesville is like, what the environment around UVA is like as you now come to make your home here?
Tina Thompson: Well, yes, I definitely considered this program to be elite. I think everybody is familiar with Dawn Staley and Tammi Reiss. I am good friends with Wendy Palmer. So there’s definitely some familiarity here.
You know, it’s kind of one of those things that when you’re a player, you know who else is a player. You know, when you compete at a high level, you also know who else is competing at a high level because it’s a race, and you want to run the race and be in the front. So yes, the familiarity is totally there.
I do actually know people that are from Charlottesville. I just had a conversation today. Our second in command with the WNBA, her executive assistant is Megan Hughes Perry, and she grew up here. She played at St. Anne’s-Belfield, she was actually a basketball player there. She was one of the people who reached out to me immediately, if there’s anything you need or you want to know, call me, and I have people there.
Q. It seems like it was an unusual circumstance that led to Joanne’s retirement. Can you talk about that process and how unusual it was for you to begin a search that way?
CARLA WILLIAMS: Well, Joanne is here, so I don’t know if she would want to talk about this. I won’t go into very many details because it’s her story to tell, but I knew during the season that it was something that she was thinking about because there was just a difficulty there, and that’s very — your heart goes out to a parent in that situation.
I had an inkling, and then when the season ended, we met, and she told me her final decision, and then we just went from there.
The first thought was how do we help Joanne in her situation and get her connected to some people that could give her some guidance. And so, she served the university so well for so long and is such a great person, just a great human being, that you want to help someone like that.
And so I think she is a person that has represented the university very well. This opportunity was unexpected, but like I said, it’s an opportunity, and it’s a challenge, and it’s a chance to get better. And so that’s what we worked toward doing.
Q. Coach, I’m curious, Coach Aston also mentioned the idea that your son was around a whole bunch when you were at Texas. How did you balance the mom/coach thing, and was that one of the reasons that maybe you had some reservations about this line of work?
Tina Thompson: It for sure was. Again, I retired — well, not only because I felt like it was time, but also because of the age of my son. I wasn’t sure when I first took the position like how demanding it was. My son Dyllan is home schooled, so that was very helpful in the process, that he was able to travel or come and hang out in my office and do his schoolwork and things of that nature, so that definitely made it a lot easier. I mean, Coach Aston was also — I mean, I was up front about my situation and my relationship with my kid. We have a great one. He’s been a part of my career, my process. He’s traveled with me all around the world.
If that was something that wasn’t the norm or just kind of okay in that environment, then it probably wouldn’t work for me. But she was totally open, and it worked. Dyllan had a great relationship with my players as well as our staff. He just kind of has that socialite like personality, so he fits in even sometimes better than I do just because he’s a social butterfly, but it worked because of that. Just because of the invitation and the support of just my situation and allowing him to just kind of be. I mean, he’s a pro. He knows when he needs to kind of be quiet. He knows when he can enter the room and light it up. So, it just works.
Q. Would you like to introduce your two special guests over there?
Tina Thompson: I would. My son Dyllan is here. Say hi, Dilly. And my mom, Lady.
Q. Carla, when you were hired, we talked about sort of the historical nature, being an African-American woman in the ACC. When you went into this hire, was it important for you to at least view minority candidates, view a woman in a women’s coaching job? Were those things you thought about?
CARLA WILLIAMS: No, I don’t think I really even think about that. I think I just look for the best fit. All the qualities that I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of great coaches out there, head coaches and assistant coaches. But for us, we needed to find the right fit for the right time. You know, and that’s Tina. I think she’s going to do a great job. It doesn’t matter — just like me, it really doesn’t matter if you’re a black female or something else. If you are talented, then you’ll get opportunities, if you’re diligent and you work hard and all those things.
Tina has done that, and she has earned this opportunity.
Q. You’ve been asked about staffing, you’ve been asked about recruiting, you’ve been asked about your new players. Just what have the last few days been like in terms of having to hit the ground running when it comes to all of that stuff?
Tina Thompson: I guess a little overwhelming in the sense that I had no idea how everyone else was going to, I guess, be involved or excited about the process. The amount of text messages I got or mentions in re-Tweets or comments on social media was like, wow. I mean, everybody is pretty much like paying attention. So that was incredible.
I think the thing that — for me that stood out the most, two of the people that reached out to me immediately were Coach Ryan and Coach Boyle. I thought that that was first class, like, all the way. I think neither one of them had to do that. I knew that in that moment that I was coming to a special place, and immediately after that, Coach Bennett sent me a message, a couple messages, and then the rest of the staff here, like the entire athletic department, each coach, in season, right now, they’re busy and they took the time to send me a message of congratulations, and we’re here if you need us, any kind of support. Even offering their staff. I was like, whoa. I absolutely, totally made the best decision ever, because not often do you get that type of support.
It just mirrored the thoughts that I had already, that this is a very special place, and the decision that I made was the right one.
Q. How much work have you been putting in since then?
Tina Thompson: Well, I mean, I offered some kids as soon as I got the nod from Ms. Carla, and our staff has just been great. We’ve been just working on building the program. We were here until about 10:30 last night, everyone with just kind of droopy eyes but willing to work, and even after a few times of like wrapping up, someone had one more suggestion on how we should approach something, and I think that that’s great because it just shows that everybody is willing to work at the same level that I’m willing to, and that puts me in a place of comfort.
Yes, the work hasn’t stopped.
Q. You talked about this being an elite program and a great job. Where do you foresee you being able to take this program on a national stage?
Tina Thompson: Well, I’ll first say that we’re going to work hard, and I would be remiss to say that this is not going to be a process. It is. And building something great and worth having is absolutely a process. But we’re in a good place. Coach Boyle left this program in a good place. Winning is always good, and when you start from a place of winning, it does make the process a little easier, but even the easy is hard. To be consistent, to continue to win, especially in the ACC, it’s one of the most storied programs in women’s basketball, and games are competitive nightly.
It is, it’s going to be tough, but I like tough. I wouldn’t be sitting in this position if I shied away from the hard or tough parts of this profession.
Q. You mentioned Coach Bennett sent you a text message, and I can imagine at Texas Coach Aston had to work with Shaka Smart, you had to work with the men’s program. Can you talk about your impressions of Coach Bennett from afar and if you had any familiarity with his staff members and what you anticipate that working relationship to be like?
Tina Thompson: Well, I mean, I’m a basketball fan, so I watch basketball. My family watches basketball. My son has already given me a rundown on our team because he’s been busy on YouTube, so he has reassured me that we’re in a good place.
I mean, I will say that probably the program — I mean, I love the fact that his program is cheered for the toughest parts of basketball, that in watching them play, the crowd gets excited about the possibilities of a shot-clock violation. That is just not normal. It’s not. You know, we’re at a time where we cheer the game with, you know, amazing slam dunks or three-point shots or kind of like fancy plays and passes. That is an old-school mentality, and I’m old-school, and I love that about his program.
The thing that resonated with me the most was the loss. I mean, everyone was shocked. I mean, I was a little bummed because my bracket was busted. They were a Final Four team for me. But his poise and how he approached the loss in regards to his kids, he was very protective of them and where they were and their mental space. It was like, wow. And I think I watched his reaction or his speech or statement a few times because, again, not normal. But in a really cool way, in a way that not everybody approaches the game. And I loved it.
Q. In general, when a new coach comes in, the team is in rebuild mode. Here you have a team that’s coming off its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009. How does that change your expectations and preparations going forward?
Tina Thompson: It doesn’t. I mean, last year is last year. You know, I mean, you have to kind of keep moving forward. It’s something that we can reflect on and build at, but I’m an everyday student, so we can always get better. We can always learn more. We can always, always be more competitive.
And in talking to the girls, they feel the same way. I mean, some of the questions were statements, in that there are certain things that they want and that they’re looking for from me, not just once but also things that they feel they need individually. That’s a good place to start, because that means that everybody is open to work, and in order to be successful, you have to sit on a very stable foundation of work.
Q. Under Coach Boyle, this program has been known for defense. Philosophy-wise, where do you see yourself as a coach?
Tina Thompson: Oh, we’re going to definitely continue the tradition of defense, for sure. I think that defense is one thing that you can absolutely control, because so much of it is based on effort. Of course, everybody wants to score a lot of points, but you give yourself a chance, even if you’re struggling offensively, if you’re stopping the other team from scoring. So, we will definitely be rooted in defense and try to score a little more.
Q. Of all the coaches for whom you played, the most renowned is Van Chancellor, clearly a big influence on you, just from your reaction. Could you describe the influence he had on you, not only as a player but now as you have started your coaching career?
Tina Thompson: Well, Coach Chancellor has reached out to me several times, just in my first year of coaching and just at the right time throughout. I think one of the things that I would take from Coach Chancellor is that he came to the WNBA fresh out of college, had not coached professional players at all. He had a process and a way because that’s usually how it is in college basketball.
And he came into a situation with big personalities. I mean, Sheryl Swoopes had just come off an amazing ride with the ’96 Olympic team, Cynthia Cooper was making all kind of waves overseas, and both of them are big personalities, and I was kind of like, this is my first time, but I was thrown into the fire.
Coach Chancellor did a very good job of recognizing who he was coaching, and he did not allow his ego or his personality to lead our team. He allowed the personalities to create the environment. And great for us, we had incredible work ethic, and Coach Chancellor with a big personality himself, he found out where his personality could soar, and that was with the media. That was in the arena with our fans. He was notorious for having a bag of candy and throwing it out in the stands.
I mean, it was something that they absolutely loved. It was his thing. He knew that he had a team that didn’t need to have a rah-rah kind of coach, even though that was his personality. He knew in situations where he needed to motivate us, he knew that in situations where he needed to kind of coach us up.
So that adjustment or that approach was great for me. Your team is going to change. Your players are going to change. Everyone has their own personality. You have to meet people where they are, and that’s going to be my approach.
Q. Is Dyllan in consideration for an assistant’s position?
Tina Thompson: No. (Laughter). He is allowed to give me his opinions in private, but private only.
Q. How important do you see the momentum, Virginia getting back to the tournament this year for the first time in nine years? You have seven or eight girls that are going to be back that have that experience, and they’re the first in a long time around here. How important is that to just expectations and kind of a mindset?
Tina Thompson: Oh, it’s a start. I mean, because you really don’t know what it feels like to make the tournament and be in the tournament until you do it. And then when you do it, you don’t just want to win a game in the tournament, you want to win games.
It changes your mentality. It’s like winning a championship; once you win one, you want all the championships you can because it’s not a feeling that you know until you do it. And once you do it, it changes your perspective. It lights a fire in you in a way that is an ever-kind of mentality of more and wanting more. And that’s how you build a program.
Like once you get a taste of winning and what it feels like, that’s all you want. And then that fuels your work ethic. That fuels how you come to practice every single day.
So we are for sure in a good place.
Q. We talked about Fe, but in the backcourt you have Toussaint and Willoughby, both former Gatorade Players of the Year. Tinsley started almost every game last year. Amandine Toi looks pretty athletic. What are your thoughts on that group of girls, and you also mentioned you offered a couple girls already. Were there spots on this roster, holes you felt like you needed to fill?
Tina Thompson: Yes, we did. The staff, we talked about kind of needs that we kind of need like right away. I guess my first impression or my first thoughts or my mentality as a coach is to present an environment of comfort for our players. So, our offense is going to be molded and predicated on the skill set of our players. We’re going to encourage them to continue to get in the gym and get better and grow their versatility, but I think that players shine most when she do things that they’re confident with and they do well.
So we’re going to put our girls in a situation where they are, in this moment, doing the things that they do well. And we’ll grow from there. The things that we don’t do well, we’ll work on every single day so that we — that’s not a conversation, that our approach — getting to know why we do the things that we’re doing will then be a point of focus. But right now, we’re just worried about getting better.
Q. In terms of the girls you offered, was there a specific position that you targeted?
Tina Thompson: Yes. I mean, we have players that can do multiple things, but we don’t want our shooting guards and our scorers to have to play the point guard because we don’t have a point guard. So, we are looking to get a point guard. We want people to play the positions that they play well, so that is definitely a need for us right away.