Key still keen on future of Sky's Toliver

  • Kristi Toliver, right, posed with WNBA president Donna Orender after Toliver was drafted by the Sky in April.

    Kristi Toliver, right, posed with WNBA president Donna Orender after Toliver was drafted by the Sky in April. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/17/2009 10:06 AM

Message boards haven't been a very friendly place for Chicago Sky coaches.

Former coach Bo Overton was relieved of his duties nearly two years ago when a scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment seemed to originate on the team's message boards.

 

This summer, Overton's successor, Steven Key, was also the subject of some heated postings.

Some fans wanted Key fired.

Last week, as the WNBA Finals were coming to a close, I took the opportunity to wrap up another Sky season, with observations about what worked and what didn't so much.

One of the great mysteries, not to mention frustrations of the season for many observers was the inconsistent progress and use of rookie guard Kristi Toliver, the Sky's top draft pick and an all-American out of Maryland. Some on the message boards were furious about her roller-coaster season that often included low minutes and even some coach's decision DNPs.

At times, I could understand the uproar.

It did seem odd that Toliver, a fantastic success in college from the moment she set foot on campus as a freshman and who hit a crucial late-game, 3-pointer that season in the NCAA national championship, wasn't being used more. Those of us sitting on press row sometimes scratched our heads about it, especially when we'd see her hit three or four 3-pointers in a row in some games.

We knew she had game.

You could tell that Toliver, who isn't used to playing second fiddle and probably never has, didn't understand her role either. She never said a word publicly, never complained, but her body language told you that she desperately wanted to play more, and was disappointed that she wasn't getting more chances.

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Of course, that's natural, and you would question Toliver's competitiveness if she reacted any other way.

So the fingers started pointing at Key. Why wasn't he playing Toliver more? Had there been some kind of falling out between the two? Fans wanted answers, and they took to the message boards.

I tried to reach Toliver this week but she's getting settled in with her off-season team in Israel and has been tough to pin down.

So, I asked Key, and he was frank.

"I can't worry about what people are saying about me," Key said. "But I will say that a lot of what's out there is people being frustrated because they know what Kristi is capable of, and that's scoring a lot of points. She can score, so why isn't she playing more?

"But what happened with Kristi is about much more than her scoring."

Toliver averaged 7.6 points a game and reached double figures eight times, including a career-high 25 points against the New York Liberty near the end of the season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But scoring was just part of the reason Key, also the Sky's general manager, drafted Toliver. He wanted her to come in and play as advertised, which was as a point guard. At Maryland, she was a point guard who could score, but a point guard nonetheless.

Toliver struggled with the point guard part of her job with the Sky. Key said she often had trouble directing the offense, mostly because she was so bothered by pressure defenses that she got flustered and out of sync.

Defensively, Toliver was also a liability at times, missing assignments, getting picked off and exposed.

But, hey, that happens to rookies a lot in the WNBA. Going from college to the pros is difficult for almost everyone.

Some rookies improve by simply being thrown into the fire.

But with the Sky working hard all season to secure the franchise's first playoff berth, Key said it wasn't always possible for him to find "teachable" minutes for Toliver in which she could play through her mistakes.

"It wasn't really about me holding her back, it was just a tough adjustment for her and all rookies go through that," Key said. "It's going to take her a little more time to be a point guard in this league and I think some people are surprised by that because of how good she was in college."

But fear not Sky fans (and disgruntled message board posters), Key still has faith that Toliver will be that same kind of player in the WNBA.

"The plan was, and what I originally told Kristi was, this thing (starting point guard) is waiting to be handed over to you," Key said. "But I also told her, 'I'm not going to give it to you, though. You're going to have to earn it.

"After a year of doing a lot more watching than she's ever done before, she's soaked a lot up. She's going to get her opportunity and she's going to be a great player in this league. She can do some things you can't even teach. But when she gets the whole thing and puts it all together on a consistent basis, she's going to be amazing."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

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