Mike Thibault

Mystics leave Sky loss frustrated, looking for answers and hoping Emma Meesseman starts shooting

Mystics leave Sky loss frustrated, looking for answers and hoping Emma Meesseman starts shooting

One possession perfectly summed up how the Mystics day went in their first loss of the season. It just so happened to be the final possession with the opportunity to tie or win it all against the Chicago Sky. 

An inbounds play in the frontcourt had little separation from the players on the floor. Just before a five-second call, Ariel Atkins forced the ball to Emma Meesseman at the mid-wing. Failing to get space on a turnaround drive to the rim - and no one moving to an open lane - Meesseman attempted to toss the ball to Leilani Mitchell in the corner. Chicago was there to deflect the pass and hold on for the 88-86 win.

No separation, Meesseman not able to get a shot, and not much movement on the offensive end are all how not to describe the Mystics offense. 

"Tonight, honestly, we beat ourselves. I don't think Chicago beat us," Aerial Powers told reporters postgame as the Sky could be heard celebrating in the background. "We didn't start off with the energy we usually do and we weren't there for 40 minutes and that's on us."

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The game started out slow in a contest that was billed to be a high-scoring affair between two of the most potent offenses. Washington only mustered 37 points in the first half, Chicago not any better with 35.

Tiredness was a factor (the team's fourth game in eight days), size on the opposing end definitely had an impact, but ultimately it wasn't what Mike Thibault and his staff has come to expect from this group. There were several broken plays, bad, unforced turnovers and not enough offense to bail them out of some shortcomings. 

"We just didn't play Mystics basketball today for the whole game," Myisha Hines-Allen said postgame. "I think that's what it boils down to."

There was little support from the bench (eight total points) and with their worst shooting performance on the season (41.9% from the floor and 36.4% from deep), Chicago matched them nearly the whole contest. 

But a big problem that was amplified during this game was the lack of offensive scoring from Meesseman. She had the ball in her hand on the final possession and was unable to create a shot on a one-on-one matchup. Thibault wanted her to become more a facilitator this season, but she has yet to have the impact that became the standard in last year's WNBA Finals. 

Her nine points were a season-low. 

"We're wishing she would shoot a little bit more," Thibault said simply in his postgame availability.

On Saturday she missed some shots early which seemed to alter her confidence. There also didn't seem to be the same burst and separation ability to help her get open.

Through the first three games, Washington was okay letting her be a backseat driver. The games weren't close and several of her teammates had the hot hand. It was different against Chicago and her lack of scoring was evident. 

At the same time, it's not all on Meesseman. The team had 14 combined turnovers and ran into five blocked shots.

Even the great 2019 Washington Mystics got tripped up once in a while. It only too four games into the 2020 season, after boasting their dominant offensive prowess in every game prior, to get tripped up this time. 

Now, they get a rare three-day break and Thibault is going to make sure he hits some golf balls.

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Mystics have found one unexpected benefit of life in the WNBA bubble

Mystics have found one unexpected benefit of life in the WNBA bubble

Having the entirety of a sports season within the confines of a 'bubble' is an unprecedented situation. 

There's nobody coming in, nobody going out (unless you want to enter another week-plus quarantine) and there are a lot of limitations on what the athletes can do inside. For the most part, the constraints of the bubble were the focal points of the conversation across the three leagues that have entered them (MLS, WNBA and NBA). But for the Washington Mystics, they've found one unexpected benefit of life within the bubble. 

Team bonding for the newcomers is better than ever. 

This season the Mystics are welcoming several new faces to the roster. With some turnover and several opt-outs from key players, general manager and head coach Mike Thibault had to sign players with no ties to the organization just to fill out the team.

A condensed training camp and essentially no offseason preparation, one would think that getting the new players gelling with the old guard would be a tall task. In the bubble, team bonding takes care of itself.

"We do a lot of things together," newcomer Essence Carson told reporters in a Zoom meeting. "Almost everything together... We're always bonding playing games, sharing stories, learning more about each other individually as people outside of basketball. You know, lending helping hands or giving advice. Just anything you can think of. It's such a close-knit group, and it's happening so quickly that you know I've never seen it happen that quickly off the floor."

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Coming off of a WNBA championship, Washington already had a pretty tight group of players. A large contingent of them are back, but missing so many important leaders could be detrimental to the identity and culture of the team. 

In the bubble, however, the players are essentially forced to interact with each other 24 hours, seven days a week. The players have to practice together, walk around campus together, eat together, and even are rooming together in the same living space.

Under normal conditions players just have to show up to the team facility for a couple of hours for practice. No shared meals. Not much hanging out as a group. Afterward, it's pretty normal to go about your own life. In the bubble though, even downtime is with teammates. Whether it's Myisha Hines-Allen creating a new Tik Tok, team Mario Kart races, or an outing at the golf course - everything is done as a team or with a pretty large chunk of it. 

"You know it's funny, in a weird way I think just coming down here to Florida has sped that process up because they're all basically living together one way or the other in either in the hotel or the villas," Thibault said on the Mystics building camaraderie.  "There's not a lot of other things to do, as far as you know you're not going anywhere. So, you get to know your teammates better. They've done meals together, they had a pizza night together. I think just the fact that we're here helps them get involved with their teammates more than they would have maybe in any other circumstance."

The new players noticed right away. They have been ingrained into the fabric of the team from day one. On top of Carson, a 12-year veteran, being added to the roster, Leilani Mitchell joins the team in her 11th season, former 2017 second overall pick Alaina Coates was also signed and 31-year-old Shey Peddy, who had a brief stint on the playing roster last year, was also added. 

The first two, Carson and Mitchell have been around the block. Even Coates is playing on her fourth team as she enters her third year. All have glowing endorsements on how they've been welcomed. 

"They made this transition here seem seamless," Carson said last week. "It's almost like we're not in a bubble, you know, with this group of young women. And that speaks a lot especially in such a short amount of time."

"I think off the court, you know, the team's been really welcoming for myself and the other new girl," Mitchell said. "You know we talked about it and how it's just like a breath of fresh air, especially Essence and I coming from the same team last year and then, you know, implementing ourselves here it's just- everyone has a positive attitude."

"Well yeah, our off the court chemistry as y'all can tell from all the Tik Toks and all those videoes and stuff, this is a great group of girls," Coates said. "I love them so much. I didn't, I didn't expect everybody to be this goofy but I'm just glad I get to be a part of it."

Bonding is great on multiple fronts for Washington. With such a weird situation playing the entire season in a bubble, the team's camaraderie is going to be imperative to help get the new players, and even the old players to an extent, up to speed. 

Several teams across the league don't have the roster holes that the Mystics do. Many will be ready and be able to rely on past schemes and plays when the ball is tipped. 

Bonding together is one thing, whether that translates to winning games is another. There are countless examples of teams not having a great connection in the locker room but being able to put it all together on the court. 

"We do a lot of team bonding and for me, I think the best way to gain chemistry on the court is to have it off the court. You build friendships and bonds and you learn what people love to do," Peddy said. "So I think we can bring that chemistry off the court onto the court, the league better watch out for us because we're coming."

At least for the Mystics, this new, almost forced team-bonding is what they need as they navigate through a unique season. Extra bonding is only going to get this team closer to where they want to be when the season starts. 

"You know, sometimes it takes a little while for people to warm up to you. But this is an amazing bunch of women, and I can't wait to see that transfer and carry over onto the court," Carson said. 

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Coaches' Roundtable: Zoom calls, book clubs and happy hours part of coaching during a pandemic

Coaches' Roundtable: Zoom calls, book clubs and happy hours part of coaching during a pandemic

NBC Sports Washington brought together local coaches Ron Rivera (Washington football), Todd Reirden (Capitals), Scott Brooks (Wizards) and Mike Thibault (Mystics) to discuss the intricacies of their craft in a free-wheeling discussion hosted by Julie Donaldson. We present six days highlighting different themes of their conversation - experiences, stories and lessons shared from careers in coaching.  To watch the full roundtable, click here.  

Leading a team when you can’t be with your team has impacted coaches across all sports. 

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic changed the way the world goes about their business and left head coaches searching for ways to motivate their players in the months before pro sports in the United States made their long-awaited return. 
 
Enter Zoom, a virtual meeting place most of us had never heard of before. In the days of quarantine and lock downs, it became a norm in our daily work routines. It has also been the main resource for coaches to communicate with their players.
 
NBC Sports Washington held a head coaches roundtable discussion with Washington football’s Ron Rivera, the Wizards’ Scott Brooks, the Capitals’ Todd Reirden and the Mystics’ Mike Thibault. It offered the perfect opportunity to share different strategies in this new virtual world.
 
Reirden is the newest to the head coach role, waiting to finish his second season as leader of his team, and he took advantage of the chat by asking his peers for advice.

“Any strategies you guys have used during this pandemic that you've found have really worked out well for you? Whether it's Zoom calls or sending something out?” Reirden asked.
 
Rivera answered first. He was only in town a few months before the lockdown was put in place and had yet to meet the majority of his players in person. But the way he approached learning about his team kept them on their toes.
 
“As the head coach I just pop into the different meetings and then what I do is I'll text each guy individually later that day,” Rivera said. “And say, ‘Hey, I thought that was a great question you had.’ or ‘Hey, I really appreciate your answer.’”
 
Rivera said it’s funny to see the reaction when he catches his guys by surprise. While he’s letting them know to always stay on point, he says the feedback from players has been positive. They appreciate that he’s listening to them and paying attention. 

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Rivera says it’s also changed an open door policy to an open phone policy: “It's funny because now I get texts constantly from our guys, but you know I've got 90 guys.”
 
Brooks and Thibault both agreed saying they do many similar things. They’re making sure players get their workouts in with the strength coach while assistant coaches go over ball handling drills.
 
Thibault said there are also quizzes and trivia, and is stressing how players should approach film sessions. 

“We're trying to get our players to be better film watchers and how to learn,” Thibault said. “Not just watch film as a fan, but learn what other people do on the court.”
 
Brooks is also looking for ways to mix things up.

“We have a few other things we do including a weekly yoga session and the guys love it,” Brooks said. 
 
The Mystics are still waiting to hold the franchise’s first WNBA championship parade - a day where players can put the classroom aside and celebrate. Hard work is what earned them the title, but Thibault believes it’s important to have a little fun as well. 

“We've also changed it to some social things too,” Thibault said. “You know, one of our film sessions was just a discussion of ‘The Last Dance’ and what each of the players took from different parts of it and talked about what themes came across.”
 
The Wizards took a different route with reading to go along with their popular yoga sessions.

“We started a book club and so some of the guys are participating in that,” Brooks said.  

 All approaches are a way to bond and maintain some form of socialization. For the Mystics, that includes a five o’clock happy hour. 

“Everybody could do whatever,” Thibault said. “They could drink at home or if they didn't drink, (get) something else and just let it be a social thing, rather than a basketball thing and let them blow off steam.“
 
That idea received praise from Brooks.

“We haven't done the happy hour yet, Mike,” Brooks said. “Maybe you can invite me on that one. I wouldn't mind going to that one. Can we keep it going during the season as well?”
 
Fortunately, there will be sports again. A plan to resume play is in place or the Capitals and Wizards, Training camp, for now, is scheduled to go off on time for the Redskins and with the return to action there are hopes that virtual coaching becomes a thing of the past.

To watch the full Coaches' Roundtable with Coach Brooks, Coach Reirden, Coach Rivera and Coach Thibault, click here.

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