- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2019

It was just after the NBA All-Star break when Kristi Toliver really started to get “the itch” to play basketball again. Working in her first season as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards — and one of only a handful of women coaching in the NBA — Toliver had every intention of continuing her WNBA playing career this summer.

Coaching? Sure, it’s rewarding — but the 32-year-old Mystics guard missed competing.

“I was like, ‘All right, it’s time,’” she said.

Now with the Washington Mystics in training camp, Toliver is back on the court. And she’s not just highly motivated after the Mystics were swept by the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals last year — she’s back with a new perspective from her time with the Wizards.

Toliver said she’s excited to share what she learned from her coaching experience with teammates, starting with a video of plays she put together to show Mystics star Elena Della Donne that Toliver thinks Washington could install for the season, which begins May 25.

“Yeah, I didn’t think Kristi’s IQ could get much better,” Della Donne said, “and it did.”

In October, Toliver became the first active WNBA player to join an NBA coaching staff. 

During her time with the Wizards, Toliver helped out with drills at practice and before games. She also prepared scouting reports, poring over film to identify opponents’ tendencies. Because of her WNBA contract, Toliver earned just $10,000 for her role — though she plans to be back with the Wizards next season.

Toliver will again juggle the WNBA’s schedule with the Wizards. For instance, she plans on working with the Wizards during the NBA’s Summer League — since the Mystics will be in Las Vegas to play the Aces around the same time. Toliver did the same thing last year, before she was officially a member of Washington’s coaching staff.

Toliver got a couple of unexpected benefits with her coaching stint.

Beyond preparing her for one of the possibilities of a post-WNBA life, Toliver said she feels better physically without the grind of playing overseas, as many WNBA players play internationally in the offseason to make more money. She added that being part of coaching meetings and collaborating has added to her understanding of the game.

Mystics coach Mike Thibault said Toliver’s confidence level “is at an all-time high.”

“Her ability to talk to her teammates both off and on the court has changed,” Thibault said. “She’s, for a lack of a better term, a little more chatty with everybody, coaches included.”

Toliver agrees.

Entering her 11th season, Toliver said she’s gotten more vocal over the years, especially since joining the Mystics in 2017 after coming off a championship with the Los Angeles Sparks.

There’s a part of her, she said, that’s still in coach mode when she dissects video for her teammates.

“I have a lot to share, so there’s no point in having those experiences if you’re not willing to share them with your teammates,” Toliver said. “And we have to championship to go after, so I want to help them in whatever way I can.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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