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'Basketball junkie' Kristi Toliver on coaching in NBA while playing in WNBA

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Just under 60 minutes before tip-off in Toronto Saturday, a few of the Dallas Mavericks players got in a final workout before they played their first game at Scotiabank Arena since December of 2019.

Kristaps Porzingis and Reggie Bullock were the final two taking shots behind the arc, getting tips from two champions of the game: Retired NBA player Jared Dudley and current L.A. Sparks guard and two-time WNBA champion Kristi Toliver.

The trip north of the border marks the first time the Mavs have been back in Canada since the pandemic and Toliver’s with her new team.

“Twenty-nineteen,” Toliver said during shootaround. “2019 was the last time I was in Canada and it was with the [Washington] Wizards so it’s been a while.”

What brings Toliver back to Canada for the first time in nearly 24-months is her relatively new role as assistant coach of the Mavericks under the helm of Dallas first-year head coach Jason Kidd.

“It really organically happened,” Toliver said about her coaching gig with the Mavericks. “I always knew after I retired I would stay in the game, but I didn't know in what capacity. But I'm glad I'm doing this. I’m extremely happy with where I am and I am going to continue to learn and to grow from all of these guys that I am fortunate enough to be around every day.”

Toliver is on contract to play with the Sparks through 2022 and has no plans to retire as a player anytime soon. For now, it’s a balancing act. She was hired back in August to help Coach Kidd. It’s her second stint with an NBA team after working for the Wizards for two seasons (2018-2020) while she was playing for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

And it was there that she worked briefly with two new faces to the Raptors roster, Sam Dekker and Isaac Bonga.

“Both Dekker and Bonga, they play the right way,” said Toliver. “Bonga is a great catch-and-go guy, a great finisher. I think that’s where he can grow the most, is on the defensive end. I know Toronto is very big on defence, so I think both of them can make an impact.”

The 34-year-old says she mostly works with Luka Dončić, Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, Frank Ntilikina, and Dwight Powell who all call her K.T.

“With these guys how we organize we call the pods, and those are my guys. It’s been a great journey so far, they are extremely talented. They work very, very hard you never have to ask them to go early to the gym, they are already there and they stay late. For me it’s perfect, it’s ideal as a basketball junkie because they are basketball junkies. They are great guys to be around. It’s been a great experience so far.”

The 12-year WNBA veteran holds several records with her current team including the most three-pointers made and free-throw percentage. When working on the court with Dončić and Co., she sneaks in shots of her own. A skill she said she’s working on with Toronto native Powell.

“He is such a physical presence for us, he is a great communicator, you know he can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting ability. I think that is what makes him special in that position. We will work together to just continue to develop that skill. He is a joy, a hard worker.”

The three-time WNBA all-star won two WNBA championships, her first in 2016 with the Sparks, and three years later won the title with the Mystics. In 2009 she was drafted third overall by the Chicago Sky, who just won their first WNBA title this year with her former L.A. Sparks teammate Candace Parker.

“It was a great series. Just as a fan, I wish it would’ve gone to five games. But really happy for both sides and I’m happy for Candace for going home and achieving her goal and for Chicago, the team that drafted me, for their first championship.”

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