Sitting courtside is a very different experience than watching the game from above and armed with a bevy of statistics.
Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to ask some questions of the one man who could make sense of it all after the Atlanta Dream's scrimmage against the Chinese National Team: new head coach Michael Cooper.
Swish Appeal: When you watch games during the regular season, the fan sees a finished product, whereas as head coach you see a raw product. How far is the Dream along to a finished product?
Michael Cooper: You know what? For them to be able to adapt to a new coach, a new system, a new style of play, I was very pleased with them. If I had to grade them, I'd give us a C-plus, a B - I think we're right there. The one thing I was looking for? A lot of stuff I gave them during the game was new stuff. Which players could take something from the board to the floor? We've got to get down in numbers, and I'm trying to see who can think on the move and who can pick on the run. I thought our defense was okay. We're going to get better. Overall, a C is not bad for this team.
Swish Appeal: Are there any players that you're really undecided about? Is it a case of "I'm almost there, and they have to prove that they belong, or they don't belong."
Cooper: I think it's a little bit of both. I think there's some indecision, but then again there are some players that have to step up and show me something. Again, the coaching staff as well as our general manager Angela Taylor is going to make those decisions. What we went into starting training camp is to tell the players, "Hey, make it hard for us to cut you." That's their job, their job is to make it hard for us to cut them, and I think a lot of players are doing that.
Swish Appeal: Are you going to go to twelve players this year?
Cooper: Yes. We're going to try to get to it, and I think with our numbers we can. It depends on how things are going, especially in these last final days.
Swish Appeal: Schimmel was sort of a distributor today - more like a one than a two. Do you see yourself putting her at the one position this year?
Cooper: A lot of people say they see her as a scoring one, but I see her as a player than can play the game. I like the fact that she can play the one position but the biggest arsenal she has is that she's a three-point shooter; you can't back off of her like you can with some ones. I like the fact that she was moving the ball around and making things happen; I have her sitting next to me so she can eventually be that coach on the floor. I know she's a rookie coming into this, but this is old to her. It's basketball, it's just at another level.
Swish Appeal: You mentioned in another interview that she needed to develop her court vision. Do you think she's coming along on that?
Cooper: I think she is. Early in the game she had, like, three or four turnovers , but I think that's something as a coaching staff that we can live with, taking those risky passes. We see her like Magic Johnson and that's one of the things that Pat Riley said with him - he's such a great passer and she's such a great passer that she sees things before they happen on the floor. I don't mind her taking a risk and throwing the ball away that one or two times, because for the one or two times she throws it away three or four times she's going to make it easier for our players to score. I have to live with that.
Swish Appeal: Shoni Schimmel's jersey has already sold out. When you go to Tulsa, it might be like an Atlanta home game. Do you think the popularity of a player like Schimmel puts pressure on a coach to play her more often than she would be played otherwise?
Cooper: No. The important thing is that she learns and has fun and continues to grow as a player. Whatever those steps are - is it playing for five minutes, is it playing for twenty-five minutes? - we don't know, we'll take our time with that. She has to fit into what we're doing here. I think she's doing a great job so far. The one thing I love about her is that she's eager to learn more, and that's why I have her sitting with me, so I can talk to her as the game goes and talk to her about different things, because eventually we're going to put the ball in her hands and it's going to be hers - and then her and Celine will have to fight it out.
But it's going to be fun traveling. It reminds me of my early years with Magic. Magic was like the traveling circus; everywhere we went people wanted to see Magic. Same thing with Shoni. Big crowds in Seattle, Minnesota, and Tulsa? That's great! If we can get our away games to feel like home, we're going to win those.
Swish Appeal: What do you think about Nadia Colhado?
Cooper: I like her. The one thing we loved about her when we went to Brazil and saw her was her physical presence down low. For me, we can use her as a defensive player but her offense is pretty good - she can hit that free throw line jumper. She's a banger, she'll flop around and kind of be like our Bill Laimbeer in a sense. She's a good solid player.
Swish Appeal: Inga Orekhova - we know she can hit the three. You had talked earlier about Schimmel's presence being able to open lanes up. Do you think Orekhova can do the same?
Cooper: I think Inga can definitely stretch the floor. The one thing I'm loving about her is her ability to shoot beyond the WNBA three point line. If you can get a player to step out two, three feet behind that and consistently hit that shot, then it's really going to open it up for our inside people and for people driving to the basket. We've got players like Celine coming in, we've got Shoni that can see the floor and can get her her open shots. We didn't have that last year, but we've got it this year.
Swish Appeal: Talk about Cassie Harberts. Did she know that she was going to be drafted?
Cooper: No. Cassie is very basketball smart, a high basketball IQ. Provided she makes this team with the bigs we have - Sancho, Aneika, Nadia, Erika - she's that one in between. She knows the game, she's a good passer. She'll get down there and bang hard, and she's good in the locker room for us. It remains to be seen whether or not she'll make the team, but her chances might be pretty good depending on how things go.
Swish Appeal: The last player I'm going to ask about it Samantha Prahalis. She got waived two times last year, first by Phoenix then by New York. There are some questions marks about her. What motivated you to bring her to training camp this year?
Cooper. She's the ultimate point guard. She's not a scoring point guard, she's a point guard to the purest sense of play making ability, coach on the floor, and a good passer. That's the intriguing part about her to us. I really didn't know much about her but our general manger Angela Taylor brought her in and you know what? She's one of the ones that's making it hard to cut her. It's going to be interesting the next couple of days. She's a little injured now with her quads bothering her with the work we're doing in two-a-days, but she's fighting through it and she's making that point guard spot pretty interesting.
Swish Appeal: When will you make your next set of cuts?
Cooper: Probably not until we play New York. I think this group that we've got will be able to take us that far. The Chinese team is great to play against, and so is the Australian team, but I want to see them play against WNBA players when we play in New York.