- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

In his formal introduction yesterday as coach of the Washington Mystics, former Australian national team coach Tom Maher promised to install the same pressing, fullcourt system that earned his squad a silver medal at the last Olympics.

Everything will be the same, that is, save for the Aussies' signature one-piece uniforms.

"Why not?" Maher said with a laugh, referring to Australia's skintight duds. "Seriously, I don't think you'll be seeing those."

Hired in late December, Maher made his first official appearance at a Mystics news conference and basketball clinic at Eaton Elementary School in Northwest D.C. A 30-year coaching veteran, he is the first foreign head coach in the WNBA.

"It's an honor, no question," Maher said. "There are U.S. coaches all over the world. There are two or three U.S. players on every professional team in the world. Now maybe the shoe is on the other foot a little.

"I never envisioned being here. It wasn't a goal of mine I guess it was a little bit out of my hemisphere. But this is where the game is truly great, where it was invented."

Maher succeeds interim coach Darrell Walker and will be Washington's fifth coach in four seasons. Named coach of Australia's national team in 1993, Maher led Australia to a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics and bronze medals at the 1996 Olympics and 1998 World Championships while amassing a 149-43 record.

In 11 seasons as a coach in Australia's Women's National Basketball League, Maher led his teams to six titles and was named coach of the year in 1987 and 1992. He is the winningest coach in the WNBL's 21-year history.

"He was the coach I wanted to hire from Day One," said Mystics general manager Melissa McFerrin. "I've watched his teams play in international competition for seven or eight years. What I saw was superior conditioning, unrivaled defensive intensity and superior fitness level. Most importantly, I saw nothing but success around Tom."

Maher said he has yet to make any decisions concerning his staff but would like to have his assistants in place within the next few weeks. McFerrin said Maher would benefit from hiring an assistant with WNBA experience.

Maher said he favors an uptempo brand of play and plans to implement that with the Mystics. A similar style worked well under Walker, who guided Washington to its first playoff berth last season after replacing the fired Nancy Darsch.

"I believe the game is a fullcourt game," Maher said. "That's not to say it's all-or-nothing every play. A lot of teams don't run because people take bad shots and it becomes run-and-gun. But with perseverance, any team can run and take good shots. I like to create an atmosphere of pressure."

An Australian rules football player in his youth, Maher first played basketball at 19 and got his first taste of coaching shortly thereafter.

Although he considers himself a student of the American style of play and counts Arizona coach Lute Olson a friend and mentor, Maher said coaching in the United States will present a unique challenge.

"It's naive to think there's no differences in culture," Maher said. "Every U.S. coach that's come to Australia has had to make adjustments. I have to try and get a feel for that explain to players that if you don't understand my jokes, don't take it personally."

Maher's sense of humor a quality that could serve him well given the Mystics' spotty history was evident when, during a question-and-answer session, an Eaton student asked him how long he intended to coach the Mystics.

"Probably 10 years, at least," Maher said with a laugh. "And [win] five titles."

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