Toliver vs. Key: The topic that refuses to die

Daily Herald columnist Patricia Babcock-McGraw promised a follow-up piece after last week’s article “Sky highs…and lows of 2009” to further examine Kristi Toliver’s role with the Sky in 2009. Well, she followed thru with her promise and posted this article a few days ago: Key still keen on future of Sky’s Toliver.  The article brings up a lot of different issues, but let’s start with this…

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.

C’mon now!…not only is that not a fair statement, it’s also completely not true. The Overton stuff didn’t start on the Chicago Sky message boards…it ended there. After lots of behind-the-scenes jockeying and attempts by the Sky/league to resolve the Overton situation quietly, it all blew-up when someone on the inside decided to make it public by bringing it to the message boards. Please don’t blame the fans for that mess, ok? ok! Every Sky fan I ever met liked Overton as head coach of the Sky. None of us were conspiring against him.

With regards to the rest of the article, I’m kinda torn. Unlike most people, my frustration with Key as head coach of the Sky has very little to do with Kristi Toliver’s playing time. Sure, I thought the whole situation regarding her sporadic minutes last season was bizarre, but honestly, I don’t really care how many minutes Toliver gets. The simple fact is, we sucked in 2008 becasue of poor coaching. We underacheived in 2009 due to poor coaching. I define “poor coaching” as crappy substitution patterns, ineffective use of the players, bad play calling and seemingly poor preparation for several games (mostly on the road). Not to mention there just seems to be a complete lack of competent leadership on this team from the coaching ranks. This fact bugs me the most so let me elaborate…

Firstly, nothing irks me more than the “we struggled because Sylvia was hurt” excuse. Sure, as fans it’s ok for us to use Syl’s injuries to rationalize a bad loss or a sub-par season, but the head coach? C’mon now! Game-to-game, even season-to-season, Key is perfectly willing to keep spouting this tired excuse. I mean, if as head coach you don’t believe that your team can win being ONE PLAYER DOWN, you are not exactly leading them confidently into battle, are you? Los Angeles managed to get to the conference finals despite not having Parker and/or Leslie for good portions of the season. Seattle was able to stay competitive and finish strong even without LJ. Detroit forced their way into the playoffs despite losing pretty much every veteran for significant time. Atlanta didn’t feel bad for themselves and mope when Holdsclaw (or their starting PG) went down with injury. Sure, the Connecticut Sun kinda imploded after the Asjha Jones injury, but I surely didn’t hear any any lame excuses out of Tibault. Rationalizing losses and making excuses instead of encouraging/motivating other players to step up is a sign of a very, very poor leader. I’m glad that Key’s mentality didn’t trickle down to the players — we never heard any lame excuses from them.

Secondly, like I stated earlier, I’m not overly enamored with Toliver like some people are, but seriously, some of the things Key said about her game last season makes him look like, well, a complete jackass. I mean, how/why would you rip one of your own players (a rookie, no less!) midseason while saying that you don’t need them? Really?!? That’s one of those pesky cognitions that should probably stay between the ears and never reach the lips. So often during the season I just wanted to tap him on the shoulder and simply say “You drafted her, bro.” Several times during the season, he exasperatedly and frustratingly pointed out all of her so-called flaws/shortcomings as if (a) he’s surprised by them and (b) he doesn’t know what to do about them. Everyone that watches even a nominal amount of college basketball knows who Kristi Toliver is and what she does. If she is SOOO deficient in so many areas and you didn’t want to be bothered with helping the rookie develop, then why draft her? The whole “we have veterans that want to win now” nonsense is another lame excuse for not developing the rook. Detroit had veterans that wanted to win too, but Mahorn found time and opportunities to develop their rookie. Look how much that helped them in the playoffs and when other players got injured. Also, the veteran-laden Atlanta Dream was able to develop their rookie PG into a starter and an integral piece. Not to mention, there is no team in the league with more vets hungry for a title than the Indiana Fever, but ya know what, they found the time to develop their rookie PG. It didn’t stop them from getting the best record in the entire eastern conference…and it paid HUGE dividends in the post-season. Lastly, Phoenix found significant time for their rookie…even on their way to a championship. Are Zellous, Bonner, January, Lehning SOOOOO much better than Toliver that they can contribute on veteran teams, but Toliver can’t? Key seems to think so. That AGAIN begs the question: WHY DID YOU DRAFT HER, BRO! Why draft her then treat her like she’s a useless burden? Sure, sometimes players get drafted and coaches/teams are duped into thinking they’re one thing when they’re really not. This was not the case with Toliver. Everyone with half an ear to college basketball knew what Toliver brought to the table. She didn’t come to the Sky then flip the script on them. She came in and played just like everyone expected Kristi Toliver to play…and Key has the nerve to act all haughty and surprised! That’s craziness.

In my opinion, Key should have invested more time in developing Toliver. I think her defense and ballhandling were fine and should not have prevented her from getting regular minutes on the court. I think she could have contributed significantly to the team if given encouragement and an opportunity. But like I said earlier, her lack of playing time doesn’t really bug me. If Key thinks that she should learn from the bench, then fine. That’s his decision to make. My problem with Key was how he handled the situation. Criticizing the rookie to the media was bad.  His body language on the sidelines indicated that he had an overall disgust for her game. Every time she made a basic rookie mistake, he’d throw up his hands exasperated and angry. How about some encouragement, Key? If you’re not gonna play the rookie, at least build up her confidence. Why intentionally tear her down? That’s the mark of a HORRIBLE leader and that’s what bugged me the most about this guy.

Switching gears a bit, in the article, Backcock-McGraw talks a little bit about the Chicago Sky message boards and about how most (all?) of the fans on there don’t like Key and are calling for him to be fired. I really wish she didn’t do that. Any hope/wish that that forum would ever return to how it used to be (intelligent, fun Sky bantering) completely died when Babcock-McGraw gave legitimacy to the incessant rantings of disgruntled Kristi Toliver apologists that have completely poisoned what used to be a really awesome community of Sky fans. When the 2010 season starts, those same people are simply gonna re-double their efforts in promoting Toliver as a godsend and Key as the antichrist. Everytime the Sky do something that they don’t like, they’re gonna rant and rage about it in hopes that someone is silly enough to come by and legitimize their delusions. The Sky did a great job ignoring them for the entire season…too bad Pabcock-McGraw didn’t follow suit. Anyway, I like Toliver, but I hope next year the Sky draft someone that has cool/chill fans because Kristi Toliver fans are, quite frankly, the most annoying, unreasonable and delusional group of fans that I have come across in all my time as a basketball fan. Probably kinda harsh, but definitely true…

Bottom line is this: Steven Key is the head coach of the Sky for presumably the next two years at least. As fans, we just have to accept it and move on. I accepted it a few weeks ago after the initial shock of the 2-year signing wore off and I wrote this post. I probably wouldn’t have commented on it again if not for this article. Key just needs to step up his game…not with regards to the “Toliver Situation”, but with regards to everything else…


** Nice article/interview with Kristi Toliver from Israel — Grab a Tennis Ball, Hit the Lights. Regarding the WNBA, Toliver says…

“It was challenging because it was different from my college experience, but I think it will only get better, only get more competitive, it’s really fun playing in that league just because you are playing with the best in the world so as a competitor, it’s just a whole lot of fun”, said Toliver. She certainly hopes to return to the Sky next summer improved and better prepared. After all, nobody in Chicago really heard of Jia Perkins before she torched a few nets around our courts. “I definitely want to work on my ball handling, penetrating to the basket and being able to get my teammates involved off the penetration.”


** More news about Sky players overseas! The Chicago Sky’s official twitter (@wnbachicagosky) informs us with this (and this) tweet that Jia Perkin’s Galatasaray (Turkey) team will be playing against Sylvia Fowles’ Spartak-Moscow (Russia) team tomorrow (10/20/09). From this article…

Eurocup winner Galatasaray is playing against Euroleague winner Spartak Moscow on October 20 for the Super Cup game to determine the best European basketball team.

Being the first-time Eurocup winner from Turkey, Galatasaray is representing Turkey once again, this time at a final game organized for the first time by FIBA Europe.

Very interesting. Good luck to both! Hopefully the game is broadcast somewhere online…

I didn’t know which team Perkins was playing on till now, so I’ll be keeping up with her in Turkey using this site.


** I was watching a Bulls preseason game vs. Minnesota a few days ago and I was intrigued to find out that they have re-modeled the entire upper-bowl of the United Center and have dubbed it “The Madhouse on Madison” (article: United Center: It’s a mad, mad, mad world)

The fancy seats aren’t the only sections sporting a face lift.

The United Center’s 300 level–a.k.a. the cheap seats, where the rowdiest, most hard-core fans tend to sit–has been rebranded The Madhouse on Madison, after the nickname of the old Chicago Stadium, and debuted this season with considerable upgrades.

That’s really cool. I’ve only seen the Bulls from the upper level (except for an open practice in 2002 when I was courtside 🙂 ) so I’m excited that they have this re-newed commitment to the fans closest to the rafters. Sure, they’re just strying to make the nose-bleed seats cool by giving 300-level fans a cool moniker, but hey, it worked and I’m excited to be part of the “Madhouse” this season after not having stepped foot in the UC in over 4 years. Go Bulls!

Sky in 2010!


~ by audsquad on October 19, 2009.

2 Responses to “Toliver vs. Key: The topic that refuses to die”

  1. You nailed it. In all my years watching sports, I have NEVER seen a coach repeatedly rip his or her own player in the media the way Key did Toliver. Add in that he didn’t say a single word to her for the first two weeks of camp and you can see why their relationship got off to a bad start and Key quickly destroyed it after a bad beginning. Credit to Kristi that she never fired back through the media. Key’s behavior should be textbook material for future coaches on how not to handle a player. There is no way she’ll ever trust him and I can’t blame her.

  2. I’m at my wits end with key and I’m glad to see that some of the media is as frustrated about his coaching and logic as much as we fans are. I kid u not everytime his name is mentioned and peolple say what a great job he’s doing my blood boils and my blood pressure rises.

    To tell any player that u don’t need them is unacceptable!

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