As a head coach, this is a new experience for Mike Thibault.
The Connecticut Sun, eliminated from playoff contention with Sunday's 79-66 loss to the Indiana Fever, begin the first of three games tonight that many would consider meaningless. In Thibault's eight-year tenure, Connecticut's only been in this position once before -- last year -- but it only had to endure one game that didn't have any relevance toward a playoff spot.
But three games? Never before, including during his years as Omaha's head coach in the CBA, has Thibault found himself in this position.
But he has been through it in the past, as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls in the early 1980s.
"Our first two years in Chicago, when we rebuilt the team" we were in this situation, Thibault said Monday night. "We went thorugh this process. The first year was just OK and the second year was better. We had a long way to go and we got better and we just worked through it. We knew both of those years we weren’t goign to be in the playoffs a little while before the playoffs, especially the first year.
"The third year we added (Michael) Jordan and got better and made the playoffs late in the season. In my fourth year, Jordan missed 60 perent of the season or more with an injury (broken bone in his foot) and we still got in. We lost to Boston in the playoffs when Jordan had a big game (a playoff-record 63 points in Game 2 of the series).
"We knew it was going to be a process to get better. I’ve watched other teams go through it on our league and you hope it’s not ever you. But the reality is if you want to build an organization up the right way, patience is the hardest virtue. For everybody."
Thibault said the preparation didn't change for tonight's game with Tulsa (7:30 p.m., CSN). The team still had practice, still did the regular amount of opponent prep.
"That’s their job," Thibault said of the players. "Most of them are going to be here next year. ... We’re going to use this week to keep getting better. There’s going to be carry over from this year to next, hopefully in a positive way."
And there were encouraging signs, too, he said.
"Two players remarked that even though we lost (Sunday), there was kind of a turning point in figuring a few things out," Thibault said. "It was just a sense that they had about the team. It was just an unsolicited opinion. They felt we got beat down the stretch on experience by a great player (Indiana's Tamika Catchings, who scored 26 points). We have a ways to go to reach that level but we’re heading in the right direction."