Evaluating how Curt Miller changes the WNBA landscape — Kara Lawson talks Duke basketball — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Oct. 26, 2022

Happy Basketball Wednesday! When I first heard Curt Miller had interviewed with the Los Angeles Sparks, I cannot say I was surprised.

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There was an air of uncertainty hanging over Miller and the Connecticut Sun all season, one we catalogued a bit in our four-person reporting on the move Miller made official last Friday, leaving Connecticut to become the head coach of the Sparks.

Coaches in settled places don’t typically joke about getting fired on live mics, or respond to questions about their futures by saying “Ask my boss,” but it’s more than that. Miller wasn’t hired by the current president of the Sun, Jen Rizzotti. He’s been in that locker room for a while, and players start to tune out any voice. Even the rallying the Sun did came with a players-only meeting.

This is no fault of Miller’s. Indeed, it speaks volumes that he was comfortable enough to let that players-only meeting happen, that he has understood, year after year, what buttons to push and which to avoid to lift his team to the successes they’ve had. I don’t think there’s a serious argument for a better team over the past half-decade in the WNBA, and Miller’s the one who built them and coached them.

But as we’ve discussed in previous reckonings of the Sparks, hiring Miller is just the beginning. Los Angeles needs to find a general manager — at least, to announce a general manager — whose philosophy dovetails with Miller’s. Then, critically, ownership needs to fund the operation properly, give the front office ample support staff, and be sure to stay out of the way on critical basketball decisions.

As for Connecticut, I continue to believe their best answers lie within, coach-wise, and seeing how Jen Rizzotti puts her stamp on this team with her head coach and GM hires will be fascinating. It’s probably as important to get Jonquel Jones‘ buy-in on whoever they hire as anything else, frankly.

WNBA, you have our attention. Even in the offseason. Recently? Especially in the offseason!

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Five at The IX: Kara Lawson at Duke media day

Opening statement:

“We have a lot of new faces this year. It’s been good to have competitive practices. People obviously, at this time of year – you’re trying to learn the system and you’re also trying to compete for spots, compete for playing time and so overall, I think our group has done a good job of that. We do also have some returners this year as well and you can see their level of comfort [smiles] – contrast that with their first year in our system and I think they’re doing a great job of building off what they did last year. Excited, excited about the year and ready to get going. For us, we have a closed scrimmage on Saturday, so that’s kind of the start of our games, even though that’s something that you all won’t see. But everything gets started the following Saturday so a pretty important next couple weekends for us.”

On how the new additions will impact the style of play defensively:

“We’ll be much more aggressive defensively because we have more depth on the roster, more size on the roster and more athleticism on the roster. So you take those three qualities and that lends itself to being able to be more aggressive on the defensive end.”

On growing as a coach after her first full season coaching college basketball:

“What I tried to work is just improving as a coach in every area. I was fortunate I had a busy summer, so I got a lot of live action as a coach, which is reps as another way to get better. We talk about reps as a player, reps as a coach are critically important as well. I got to coach in two different World Cups – the 3×3 World Cup at the beginning of the summer and then the 5-on-5 World Cup. So, being around other really good coaches is the same as being around other really good players. You’re around other really good coached, you learn. We’re in strategy sessions daily, sometimes twice daily, at USA Basketball with Cheryl Reeve in the room, Mike Thibault in the room, Joni Taylor in the room, Curt Miller in the room, Katie Smith in the room, and we’re talking about how you guard this, how you guard that, what would you do here, what would you do there. Situations, time, score – all those things. So, when you’re a part of that daily for a month, you definitely grow as a coach, and you definitely get better.

“Then to work with those players that were a part of those teams, you improve as a coach because you’re coaching, you’re getting reps. You’re doing scouting, you’re implementing plays, strategically switching things in the middle of a game. All of those things are everything you’re doing – exactly everything that you’re doing. The only difference is obviously that I was in an assistant coach capacity, not a head coach capacity. So, there are obviously some differences but that doesn’t mean my brain isn’t still working. Like, I might make this adjustment here, make that adjustment there – because as you’re watching the games, I got a lot of experience there. Then you’re also watching other teams – what they run, how they execute, the other teams in the World Cup. I had a lot of scouts down there – five of the eight games were my scout in the World Cup. So I got a lot of good reps in and got to watch a lot of film and got a great opportunity to be around those teams.”

On the addition of Karen Lange to the coaching staff:

“She’s a great coach. As you said, well respected. It was a great fit for what we needed. We lost an experienced coach; it was good to add an experienced coach to replace that. Obviously, there’s a little familiarity with coach Tia [Jackson] and coach Karen – they were teammates in college, and so coach Tia can speak to her character – who she is as a person, her integrity – which is important when hiring someone, that you have an idea about what type of person you’re bringing into the program. That’s the most important thing for us, before the coach part, is somebody that fits our values, somebody that fits Duke, and Karen has been a great addition. She’s very organized, very professional, very detailed and she’s a great teacher. Really, really good at teaching – our whole team benefits from that, she’s an active presence in practice for sure.”

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.