Phoenix Mercury assistant coach Anthony Boone spent less than three months with the team after a midseason coaching change in 2013.
Nevertheless, there was a direct correlation with his arrival and enhancements to the Mercury's frontcourt.
Boone joined the Mercury staff last August after four seasons as an assistant at Grand Canyon University. In a short time with the Mercury, his individual work with the team's post players was credited for an improved offensive repertoire for center Brittney Griner and dramatic improvement in the all-around play of center Krystal Thomas. Despite undergoing four knee surgeries during his collegiate career, Boone played in 79 of 94 games at Ole Miss, and joined Archie Manning as the only student/athletes in Rebels history to have their jersey numbers retired.
PhoenixMercury.com recently caught up with Boone to get his thoughts on coaching women for the first time, his affinity for the Mercury organization and his goals for Brittney Griner in 2014.
PhoenixMercury.com: What surprised you most about the women's game in your time with the Mercury last season? What did you learn about the caliber of athletes in the league?
Anthony Boone: Although I had never coached women before, I knew they would be competitive. However, seeing them up close, I was most surprised at how the game was no different than the men. The ladies are quick, physical, and highly skilled, showing great ability to handle the ball, pass, and shoot. They are fierce competitors, yet very nice individuals and a lot of fun to be around and watch on the court.
PhoenixMercury.com: What made you want to continue to be a part of this organization and its march toward a third championship?
Boone: I was with the Mercury for only the last part of the season and the playoffs, but if I am being honest, I have never had a more fulfilling experience during my coaching career. My family enjoyed the Mercury games more than anywhere I have coached, and the ladies were very welcoming.
PhoenixMercury.com: What was your most memorable moment of last season?
Boone: It is difficult to point to one moment as most memorable. I would have to say that two were equally memorable. The end of our first game with the Mercury, against Tulsa at home, when we got a defensive stop to win the game was incredibly exciting. Likewise, Game 3 in Los Angeles in the Playoffs when, after Brittney hit the go-ahead shot, we got a defensive stop to win the series.
PhoenixMercury.com: After the coaching change last year and your arrival, the Mercury was a completely different team defensively'in fact, they had the stingiest field goal defense in the league. Can you tell us what made such a difference?
Boone: We certainly emphasized pressuring more on defense - making it harder to pass the ball around, adjusting pick and roll defensive assignments, and rebounding. Most of what we covered in practice for the first couple of weeks was defense and getting the pressure ramped up. However, the biggest reason the defense improved was the ability of the ladies to take what was shown to them and put it into play. We didn't have much time to work with them - we only had a very short practice the day before our first game with the Mercury - so it should have been more difficult than it was, but the turnaround was evidence of the intelligence, focus, and determination of the ladies.
PhoenixMercury.com: What do you think you did that made such a difference with the post players last year and how do you build on that?
Boone: With almost all the drills we did, whether we were reinforcing skills the ladies already had, working with their off hands, or learning something new, I tried to always set it up in the context of the game and provide a body to go against to give it a game feel. Working for better post position was a big focus, and rebounding was a huge emphasis. Through it all, I aimed to encourage the ladies as much as I could to keep going with the process.
PhoenixMercury.com: With Brittney Griner, specifically, how would you assess her progress last season and what does she need to do to take her game to a new level?
Boone: Last season was tough on Brittney at times - adjusting to a new team and the pro game, the injuries she had, being highly touted and getting everyone's best shot each game. She handled it well. She had a stretch with us where she rebounded the ball very well, and she put into play things we worked on in the workouts - she used her off hand a few times around the basket, which was great to see; she is also a good passer when teams double and triple down on her in the post. Brittney's biggest need is to be physically stronger. Beyond that, continuing to develop using either hand around the basket, working for good post position and thinking one pass ahead. She has a great attitude and is up for the challenge.
PhoenixMercury.com: What is the most important aspect of having an imposing presence in the paint?
Boone: Defensively, when there is someone who has the ability to block and alter shots on players driving, perimeter defenders have more confidence to deny and to pressure the ball. On offense, it is great to have a threat inside. Attacking inside usually leads to tallying fouls on the opponent, and with success, opponents normally adjust defensively, opening opportunities for drivers and shooters. And of course, an imposing presence in the paint helps a great deal with rebounding, and teams that win the rebounding margin have greater chance for consistent success.