Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thibault: 'I’m having the time of my life'

As much as Mike Thibault is in the spotlight, the Connecticut Sun coach doesn't like it if his staff or team isn't with him. He couldn't really avoid it Saturday while accepting the 2008 WNBA COach of the Year award at a pre-game press conference, but he did his best.

"Let’s talk a little about you," WNBA president Donna Orender said after a few minutes of speaking of the team in general. "Can we do that?"

"Briefly," Thibault said, smiling.

After Orender called the Sun "a flagship franchise for the WNBA," Thibault pointed out the impact his assistants Bernadette Mattox and Scott Hawk and the rest of his staff have had on the team, as well as the organization's ownership for allowing him to guide the franchise as he sees fit. With his wife, Nanci, seated a few rows in front of him, he also thanked her and their children, Eric and Carly, for understanding how all-engrossing his career can be and allowing "me to do my life’s passion and (allowing) me to be who I am."

He also suggested an amendment to the award's presentation.

"It should say coaches of the year and it should say staff of the year and it should say franchise of the year for allowing us to do what we do," Thibault said from the podium, Orender to his left. "I’m not big on individual awards, from MVPs to comebacks to all of those things. I believe in team first and foremost and what we’ve been able to do here more than anything else is embody what a team should be."

Thibault, rarely the one for hyperbole, also did little to hide his appreciation for the position he's in.

"In the previous couple years before I came here, I got involved in watching my daughter’s AAU program and helping coach that and following the women’s college game more and seeing that there was a great future ahead in the WNBA," he said. "I had friends in the league that encouraged me to do it. They said I would have a great time, and it would be rewarding. And they were all right. This has been a great opportunity that I treasure, and I’m having the time of my life doing it."

Thibault, no doubt, is under a bit more pressure than usual considering on the day he's being honored as the league's best, his team sits one game from elimination. His press conference touched upon several different areas, including his expectations since the first day he came here (think: championship) and on how this group reinvigorated the franchise.

But past that, he was asked if he could separate appreciating this team's success and what he still wants to accomplish.

"In an ideal world, that would be nice to do because no matter what happens, we have had a great year," he said. "But I am pretty competitive and I get up every day thinking of ways to win a championship. And we talk in terms to our team about the things you have to do throughout a season to be a championship-caliber team.

"It’s hard to separate that because ultimately your fans and a lot of people judge you on whether you’ve won a championship. And I have a lot of respect for teams that have never won a championship but had great teams. But ultimately, you would like to be the last one standing at the end of the year, and that’s the goal every day when I get up."

I know this is turning into a transcription of the press conference, but Thibault had a lot of good things to say.

An interesting topic of discussion was how most players who know Thibault, whether they've played under him or not, rave about him and the work he does. Asked of what it is about him and this team that draws such high regard from those around the league, Thibault deflected the praise, but added his straight-forward approach is probably the biggest reason.

"What you see is what you get every day (with me)," he said. "I am who I am, I tell them what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. And I have a coaching staff and a group around us that those players know me every day and they come to work and know somebody has their best interests at heart.

"That’s a nice compliment that those players said that," he later added, "but I think that’s a compliment to our whole staff and organization that that’s how we’re perceived."

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