Despite Unusual Circumstances, Mercury Draft Night Remained Focused on Building Towards Championship

 

Swap Talking Stick Resort Arena for a residential home, a conference hall for a dining room table and a handful of landlines and computers for a laptop and a couple of cellphones.

Welcome to the 2020 Phoenix Mercury War Room.

In a time of social distancing, locations have been moved, essential personal have been limited and processes have been adjusted, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the focus to improve the roster and build towards bringing another championship to The Valley.

The group was kept small as Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman was joined at his house by Head Coach Sandy Brondello and Chief Operating Officer Vince Kozar, as. opposed to a larger war room setting.

“The big difference was instead of being in a war room at Talking Stick Resort Arena where we have multiple landlines and multiple computers, I’m sitting at my dining room table with my laptop and my cellphone using my wife’s cellphone as the dial-in call for the conference call for the league. As long as our technology didn’t go out, it wasn’t a whole lot different because the draft is done remotely generally, but you’re typically in your arena conference room as opposed to at your dining room table.”

– GM Jim Pitman

The Mercury held the 10th pick, but with plenty of unforeseen circumstances regarding who would be selected prior and what technological issues could arise, Pitman prepared himself and his team for any situation.

“Because of the virtual-ness of the draft, we had a plan A, plan B and a plan C,” Pitman said.

That time spend preparing paid dividends when all was said and done and allowed for a smooth process where problems could have occurred. With his first few options off the board by the 10th pick and the Mercury on the clock, Pitman simply moved onto his next plan, picked up his cellphone and traded the pick to New York for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

 

“We had talked about this ahead of time, just in case,” Pitman said. “We were prepared so that it wasn’t quite so bad as you might think. Still, when our players weren’t there, we only have a few minutes to actually make the call and make sure we get the deal done. We were able to do that with New York.”

The personal technology pulled through as the Mercury continued an aggressive offseason of roster improvements with a draft-night trade acquiring a young shooter and playmaker with championship experience in Walker-Kimbrough.

This was one of just three guards the Mercury added to their roster on Friday night. After focusing primarily on the frontcourt during the 2019 Draft, Pitman turned to backcourt this year drafting Baylor’s Te’a Cooper and Rider’s Stella Johnson with their other two selections.

 

Unlike their first-round pick that they decided best to move, Pitman and his staff felt both Cooper and Johnson fell right into their laps, making the decision to select them a quick one. In fact, before trading out of the 10th overall slot, Pitman contemplated drafting Cooper there instead.

“Te’a Cooper was someone we were considering drafting at 10,” Pitman said. “For her to fall to 18 was a real bonus. We really like her size as a guard. She has a WNBA body coming out of college. Extremely quick, fast with the ball. Really has improved her three-point shooting well over 40 percent this year.”

And if they had taken Cooper 10th, who was a possibility for them to select at 18?

“At [pick] 29, Stella Johnson was actually someone we were looking at 18,” Pitman said. “If Te’a Cooper hadn’t been there, that may have been someone that we picked. She was the leading scorer in the NCAA this year. We were fortunate that she fell.”

So, not only did the Mercury walk away with a proven talent with a championship pedigree, but still managed to acquire the two players they were wishing to draft nearly a round early than they did.

Despite the change of scenery in the make-shift war room, Pitman and the Mercury went into the draft with their same mindset and objective to bring in the best talent to compete for a championship.

“What we wanted to do was add shooters and playmakers to go with the core group that we had assembled in the offseason,” Pitman said. “Between BG, Diana coming back, adding Skylar, we knew that we needed to continue to add players who can do the things that make us successful. Scoring and shooting were two of the biggest things that we were looking for. We think we did that very well tonight.”

 

In an unprecedented time in history, Pitman, Brondello and Kozar were all able to feel a sense of normalcy again, even for just a few hours, as their focus was able to turn to strictly basketball and the Phoenix Mercury.

“It was nice not to think about everything else going on and really think about the Mercury and the draft,” Pitman said. “For three hours, that’s what we did. It was refreshing, actually, to have some sense of normalcy back in our lives.”

Even with a future of uncertainty, the Mercury are preparing for training camp, focusing on the upcoming season and gearing up for the day sports return to the world.

“It’s just business as usual,” Brondello said. “We are in regular contact with our players. Our medical staff, our athletic trainers and strength coach are in contact with them and making sure that they have everything they need to do what they can in these unusual circumstances. All we can do is control the controllable and that is just making sure that we are preparing our bodies so that when the season does start, we are ready to go.”