After months of serving a variety of roles for the organization, Kristi Toliver now has an official title with the Washington Wizards. The Mystics star has joined Scott Brooks' staff as an assistant coach and assistant for player development.
Toliver, 31, will remain a member of the Mystics, who play their season during the summer. The lack of overlap will allow her to focus much of her time on the Wizards and what she hopes becomes a long and successful coaching career.
She chose joining the Wizards over continuing to play professionally this year overseas, an option many WNBA players use in the offseason. But she has a coaching dream and happens to have caught on with the hometown team.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime. When it came about, I wanted to be involved in any capacity that I could," Toliver said.
Toliver is the first active WNBA player to serve on an NBA bench and just the second woman after Becky Hammon, who is an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs. Toliver plans to reach out to Hammon after getting her phone number from Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird.
Toliver is honored to be in the same category with Hammon, whom she looked up to first as a player and now as a coach who has become a trailblazer in the profession.
"I know she's going to be somebody that I can ask questions to," Toliver said. "I will pick her brain about how she played and I will pick her brain about how she is coaching."
Hammon joined the Spurs' coaching staff in 2014 after years of helping the team out in other ways. Now that there are two female NBA assistants, the logical question is when one will become a head coach.
Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal can already attest to Toliver's impact and said there could be a female head coach "very soon."
"I wouldn't be surprised if it happened sooner rather than later," Beal said. "If you know the game, you know the game. Plain and simple."
Toliver has served as a coach in the Wizards' 5-on-5 scrimmages at practice. She has also been particularly helpful with ball-handling, which makes sense given she's the starting point guard for the Mystics. Toliver has helped a variety of Wizards players in dribbling drills including the big men like Jeff Green and Dwight Howard.
Coaching has required an adjustment for Toliver, who is used to having the ball in her hands running the offense. But just as being a player can help her as a coach, she expects to become a better player now seeing the game from a new perspective.
"I'd much rather be playing, I know that. But it's good to think the game in a different way and from a different point of view," she said.
Brooks has been effusive in his praise of Toliver ever since she began helping out in the Las Vegas Summer League in July. He invited her to join the staff over the phone shortly before the Summer League began and will admit he did not know at the time the relationship would get this far.
But over the summer, Brooks lost two assistants to other teams in Chad Iske and Sidney Lowe, paving the way for some movement on his staff. He promoted several positions from within and an opening was created for Toliver to come on board.
"She's a special talent. She's going to be moving through the ranks pretty quick," Brooks said.
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