In his pursuit of WNBA All-Star guard Kristi Toliver, Washington Mystics coach-general manager Mike Thibault could have dangled the prospect of playing alongside 2015 WNBA Most Valuable Player Elena Delle Donne to lure the prized free agent to the District.
Turns out he might have been able to land Toliver regardless, with Toliver welcoming the challenge of bringing a WNBA title to the franchise closest to her hometown of Harrisonburg, Va., and College Park, where she helped Maryland win the 2006 national championship.
"To be honest, that wasn't really a factor for me," Toliver said during a Wednesday conference call when asked how much having Delle Donne as a teammate influenced her decision to sign with the Mystics. "Obviously it's a great plus to have a player like Delle Donne on the team, but for me, it wasn't a part of my reason. I think I just kind of reached a point where I was ready for the next thing."
Washington will be Toliver's third stop in the WNBA after stints with the Chicago Sky, which made her the No. 3 overall pick in 2009, and most recently the Los Angeles Sparks, who outlasted the Minnesota Lynx in the 2016 WNBA Finals, three games to two.
Toliver's championship pedigree was particularly enticing for Thibault, who had led the Mystics to the playoffs in each of his first three years before an injury-filled 2016 ended that streak. Toliver is the first Mystics player on the roster since Thibault's arrival to have won a WNBA championship. Delle Donne, meantime, was part of the U.S. Olympic gold medal team during the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Washington is seeking its first WNBA championship and in doing so must advance out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"When you have talented players, it's one thing to be talented. It's another thing to be talented and have done it, been through it, what it feels like to get through tough times in a playoff series," Thibault said. "Kristi having won both at the college and pro level I think brings something we don't have on our team. That can't be understated."
Toliver referenced a recent NBA champion, the Golden State Warriors, when discussing how she envisions the Mystics' playing style this season. The Warriors added Kevin Durant in the offseason to join a club that already had extraordinary three-point shooters in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
Washington, meantime, has three of the league's most accurate 3-point shooters from 2016 in All-Star forward Emma Meesseman (first), Delle Donne (third) and Toliver (fourth). The Mystics also recently re-signed Tayler Hill, the No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft who led the team in 3-point baskets and attempts last season, going 60-for-171 (35 percent).
Toliver owns the Sparks franchise record for 3-point field goal percentage and famously made a 3-pointer for Maryland with 6.1 seconds to play in the NCAA title game to force overtime during a 78-75 win against Duke.
"I've read that [Thibault] said we're building a Golden State type of team, type of offense," said Toliver, who currently is playing internationally on the same team as Meesseman. "I wouldn't want to play for any other style than that, so I'm very happy and excited."