Abraham Lincoln is often credited with the saying, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
Indeed, there may not be a better phrase to characterize Phoenix Mercury Head Coach Sandy Brondello.
From the moment she was being considered as head coach of the Mercury, Brondello has worked tirelessly - in every sense of the word - to put the team in the best possible position to succeed.
But working "tirelessly" means so much more than just going over the opposing team's plays or motivating your own squad. It's enforcing (and repeating) the exact process of how to guard specific players and plays for every WNBA team. It's knowing intricate tendencies of the opposition with precise ways to combat them. It's having a different but equally effective play ready to go after a timeout that leads to a vital score.
Perhaps more than anything, it's innovatively communicating these principles to her assistant coaches and players in a manner that inspires belief, poise and comfort.
"Offensively we have a lot of weapons," Candice Dupree said. "But Sandy [Brondello's] main focus is defense. She knows we can score the ball on the offensive end of the floor so it's about being able to shut teams down and trying to contain as many of their scorers as possible."
For example, after the Mercury picked up a victory at home against the Mystics on July 15, Brondello was standing in the hallway of US Airways Center following her postgame media availability. Rather than discussing the team's impressive 90-78 win over Washington minutes before (their 11th victory in a row), she and assistant coaches Julie Hairgrove and Todd Troxel were going over an initial scouting report for the Connecticut Sun whom the team would face in less than 48 hours.
(As Mercury fans know, Phoenix ended up beating Connecticut 101-85.)
These leadership qualities aren't forced for Brondello; it's just who she is. She even has notes scribbled on her hand to quickly refer to as she roams the sidelines. Indeed, it's easy to say you're going to extensively prepare for something, but it's another thing entirely to put those words into action.
Still, Brondello's affinity for preparation hasn't been a surprise to the Mercury organization.
"She works extremely hard," Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman said back in March. "There's no denying how much time she puts in to scouting her opponent and preparing the team. In fact, I'm confident we'll be the most prepared team in the league."
So far, at least, her hard work has paid off. Phoenix has won a franchise-record 13 games in a row, has already clinched a playoff spot, and has helped lead the Mercury to a league-leading point differential of +10.41 - over two times better than the next closest team (+5.14, Minnesota).
"It's very satisfying," Brondello said about the streak. "To win 13 in a row, it's not easy in this league. But we've taken the approach of playing one game at a time. For us, we find ways to win with our depth and our chemistry. This is a team that has a goal in mind and we want to make sure that we come out and play to the best of our ability every single day. Hopefully that's good enough, but it's a long way to go."
But even with a record of 19-3, there's no let-up in the way Brondello prepares. That is to say, she and the Mecury have a much bigger goal this season that they've yet to attain.
"Everyone wants to win a championship," Brondello added. "That's what it's about, but keep your feet on the ground. Championships are not won in July; they're won in September [this year]. It's a long way to go. We've got a tough schedule to finish the season off, but we're going to approach that one game at a time, like we've done all season long.
"We're not going to change what's been working for us."