During his decade coaching the Connecticut Sun, Mike Thibault learned to appreciate how profesionally ready many UConn players seemed to be on draft.
And so, he entered the 2014 WNBA draft hoping to get UConn’s Stefanie Dolson or Bria Hartley for the Washington Mystics.
He ended with both.
“They know how to win. They expect to win. They practice every day to win,” Thibault said. “That is the mentality that has been instilled with them at UConn. And I would think the styles Geno and I use are somewhat close. They [UConn players] may learn some plays differently [in the WNBA}, but in terms of our expectations, our practices, the things we do, it’s very similar.
“In terms of myself, I know what I am getting [with UConn players]. They win. They are well-coached, well-prepared for this level.”
The Mystics held the sixth pick in the first round and needed to hope Dolson would fall to them. They needed to sweat out the fourth and fifth picks; New York took Alyssa Thomas for the Sun to complete the Tina Charles deal. And then the Indiana Fever stepped to the plate.
“We wanted to trade up with Indy to get both the fifth and sixth picks,” Thibault said. “That didn’t work out…If it had, we would have taken both Natasha Howard [of Florida State} and Dolson.”
The Fever chose Howard over Dolson, opening the door for the Mystics.
“But to be honest, I was much happier getting Stefanie, because she is a much better fit for what we need right now,” Thibault said.
Then the attention turned to Hartley. About an hour before the draft, according to Thibault, Washington came to an agreement to trade veteran Crystal Langhorne to the Storm for Hartley, who Seattle would take with the seventh pick. The only contingency was the Mystics getting Dolson at six.
Thibault said Hartley and Dolson aren’t expected to report until April 25 or 26. But he already has big plans for them, as he does for Kara Lawson, who he acquired from the Sun in a three-player deal that sent Alex Bentley to Connecticut and Matee Ajavon to Atlanta.
“Their personalities fit with what we are trying to rebuild here in Washington,” Thibault said of Hartley and Dolson. “They are high energy, upbeat people. Stefanie’s personality may be more out-going than Bria’s, but they understand the big picture and bring energy into a locker room.
“We have made that a huge part of what we are trying to do with the Mystics; acquiring Kia Vaughn and Ivory Latta [last season], for instance. … That is a large part of what you are trying to do when you decide to blow up a team.
“The only player left from the day I took the job is Monique Currie. We didn’t necessarily set out to get rid of players, but Crystal Langhorne was a chip for us because she has value in the league. You have to give it up to get it [value].”
Dolson will likely split the majority of the combined 80 minutes at the two post spots with Vaughn and 6-4 Emma Meeseman, a second-year player.
Hartley will share the guard spot with Latta and Lawson, Nadirah McKenith and Adia Mathis (acquired from LA) until Taylor Hill gets back from pregnancy in July. Her due date is June 3.
“It’s a great opportunity for Bria to make her mark while Taylor is out,” Thibault said.