- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

The Washington Mystics yesterday hired Australian national women's team coach Tom Maher to be the team's fifth head coach in less than four seasons.

While posting losing records during their first three seasons, the Mystics have tried coaches from local college ranks, coaches with WNBA experience and even a former NBA coach. Maher, deeply experienced in international women's basketball, represents yet another approach.

Known as a strict adherent to the game's fundamentals, Maher pledged a back-to-basics, pressure-filled style of play. If he can fulfill the promise, it should be a tonic for the Mystics. Washington's 2001 roster again will have talent, but the team has yet to shake a reputation around the WNBA for sloppy execution and listless play.

"I'm a very strong proponent of the teaching side of the game," said Maher, who led the Australian team to a bronze medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and a silver this summer in Sydney. "There's nothing more

important than the correct execution of fundamentals. I really think I was hired because my teams can adhere to that, a formalized method, and I think the talent on this team will fit my style."

Maher, who has a 149-43 record as Australia's national team coach, replaces interim coach Darrell Walker. The Mystics tapped Walker, now the Washington Wizards' director of player personnel, to finish last season after coach Nancy Darsch resigned unexpectedly after 20 games.

Maher, 48, also has 20 years of coaching experience in the Women's National Basketball League, Australia's more successful version of the WNBA. Maher is the league's winningest coach ever, with six WNBL titles and two Coach of the Year awards.

"I don't think Tom's hiring reflects poorly on the U.S. pool of women's coaches," Mystics general manager Melissa McFerrin said. "Rather, I think Tom simply distinguished himself with what he did with the Australian teams. "We've gone through some difficult times, and we now hope to see some results from our young talent and become a perennial playoff team."

After two seasons as WNBA doormats, the Mystics made the 2000 playoffs despite a 14-18 record but were swept by New York in the first round.

Maher's contract is a multi-year agreement, but McFerrin and other team officials declined to provide further details.

Maher said he is very familiar with most of America's top individual women players, both through international competition and WNBA news stories reaching Australia. But he acknowledged a lack of full working knowledge with the WNBA's teams and players, or the American college game.

McFerrin is expected to continue handling the annual draft, a role she has performed for the Mystics and the New York Liberty, with whom she worked in 1997 and 1998.

Maher has yet to hire any assistants. He will arrive here next month with his wife, Robyn, a player on the Australian National Team, and two children.

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