Cavalier Corner

June 2018

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JUNE 2018 13 BY GREG WATERS W HEN TINA THOMPSON retired from the Women's National Basketball Asso- ciation (WNBA) in 2013, Sports Illustrated's Kelli Anderson wrote a fabulous postscript titled "The Case for Tina Thompson," chronicling the Los Angeles native's 17-year career. Anderson penned, "Thompson's legacy extends far beyond what's listed in the re- cord book, though there is plenty there." Anderson described Thompson's game as "tenacious post defense, range out to 30 feet and a jeweler's touch around the rim. Thompson plays with a versatility that was unknown among power forwards in the women's game 16 years ago and is still rare today. Even as bigger and faster young ath- letes flood the league, Thompson continues to be a difficult matchup — her experience and savvy, and her career-long commitment to staying in shape and expanding her game, make up for any lost explosiveness." It is that tenacity, versatility and savvy as a player that drew Virginia director of athlet- ics Carla Williams to ask Thompson to lead the school's women's basketball program. Thompson accepted the offer April 16 and be- came the fifth head coach in program history. In her introduction of Thompson, Wil- liams said: "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 professional leagues all over the world, on two Olympic teams, as well as her experiences at the University of Texas prepared her for this opportunity." Thompson certainly has the résumé. In addition to a record-setting, Hall-of- Fame WNBA career during which she was the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft, won four championships with the Houston Comets (1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000), and was an eight-time All-WNBA player and nine-time All-Star, Thompson won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA, was a three-time All-Pac-10 selection at Southern Cal, and played or coached in four NCAA Sweet 16's and two Elite Eights. Two years after retiring, Thompson began the coaching chapter of her career, joining Karen Aston's staff at Texas in May 2015 as an assistant coach. She was promoted to associate head coach in September 2017. When asked how she would describe Thompson's coaching approach, Aston called Virginia's new head coach "hands on." "Her coaching style is very much a pa- tient, teaching style," Aston explained. "I will say as a head coach, she will be very detailed oriented with high expectations." In trying to give fans and the media a sense of her coaching style from her own perspective, Thompson began by stating her team will "definitely be rooted in defense." "I think that defense is one thing that you can absolutely control, because so much of it is based on effort," she explained. "Ev- erybody 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." Be it good defense or good offense, college basketball starts with recruiting talent. As an assistant coach, Thompson said she began by tapping into "young Tina Thompson for what she looked for in the recruiting process." That proved an excellent resource for Thompson, who ended her first year at USC in 1994 as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. "I looked for honesty," Thompson stated. "The recruiting process is such a short pro- cess, and you don't get a lot of time. It's not as intimate as you would want it to be. Sometimes coaches try to sell all the best things about their program. "I fell in love with the coaches that told me the things that were not so much fun … and how the process was not easy at all. That honesty and that truth to me are the foundation of great relationships." That approach certainly won over Wil- liams, who understands the major factor recruiting plays in building champions. "There are great coaches out there that may not have the players they need to be successful," Williams said. "If you can start with great players and someone that can con- nect 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 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." According to Aston, Williams made the right selection if she was looking for a coach that could build relationships. "Tina is able to connect very well with young people, and because her connection is good, she is able to give constructive criticism and the players receive it," Aston noted. "I think that's definitely important as an assistant coach as well as a head coach. "It's a natural gift of hers to connect." In addition to Aston, Thompson regards Hall of Famer Van Chancellor as one of the significant influences on her basketball ca- reer. In 19 seasons at Ole Miss, Chancellor led the Lady Rebels to one SEC champion- ship and 14 NCAA appearances, including four Elite Eights. When the WNBA came into being in 1996, Chancellor seized the opportunity to become the first coach of the Houston Com- ets, one of the league's founding franchises. He led his team to the four consecutive league championships from 1997-2000. No Ameri- can professional basketball team has claimed four consecutive titles since then. Thompson was not only the first player Chancellor drafted after becoming a WNBA head coach in 1996, she was the first pick ever in the inaugural WNBA Draft. With his success in Houston, Chancel- lor was chosen to lead the U.S. women's Thompson will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at this year's enshrine- ment festivities Sept. 6-8 in Springfield, Mass. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA LEADING FROM THE FRONT Tina Thompson Is Ready To Add Successful Head Coach To Her Impressive List Of Accomplishments

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