Shock Coach Hopes for Playoff Season
By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
WATCHING THE ACTION: Tulsa Shock Head Coach Fred Williams watches Skylar Diggins take a shot last season at the BOK Center. Williams is confident the Shock will deliver a playoff team this season.
HARRY LENTZ for GTR Newspapers
Ever since the Tulsa Shock came to town in 2010, the franchise has treated fans to narrow losses and disappointing seasons. Entering its sixth year at the Center, the team has frequently seemed on the verge of a breakthrough campaign. Finally, the time may have come.
Fred Williams, the second year Shock coach, has visions of Tulsa’s first winning season and playoff berth when the season opens June 5 at Minnesota. With more size, a depth-filled roster and the anticipation of greater defensive ability, it’s easy to see why the coach is so excited.
“Last year I was encouraged about how our young ladies fought through a lot of things from past seasons here,’’ says Williams, whose first team had a Tulsa franchise best 12-22 record. “We were able to be a team that competed for 40 minutes. We had a few players playing out of position by the time I got here, but I was pleased with how we competed until the end to be a possible playoff team.’’
The Shock lost just two players of note after free agents Jennifer Lacy went to the Los Angeles Sparks and Roneeka Hodges to the Atlanta Dream. The rest of the team’s nucleus returns, coupled with some promising newcomers. Amanda Zahui B. (6-5) was the second pick of the draft with guard Brianna Kiesel (5-7) taken in the second round and Mimi Mungedi (6-8) in the third.
Williams is counting on his draftees and entire roster helping the Shock improve in one key phase of the game. Defense. “I was pleased with our offense last year, but I didn’t like our defense,’’ Williams says. “We weren’t really connected defensively, and it usually takes two years to get your defensive concept established. Over the years I’ve been an offensive guru with teams that are in the top two or three in the league in scoring. We’ve got to get better defensively, and I had that mindset going into training camp.’’
Williams welcomes back a potent stable of scorers, including guard Skylar Diggins (5-9) who led the team with 20.1 points a game and was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player. Guard Odyssey Sims (5-8) managed 16.7 points per game followed by 6-3 forward Glory Johnson at 14.7 and 6-4 center Courtney Paris at 9.2 points and a league leading 10.2 rebounds.
Again, Williams is confident his team can put points on the board. But can the Shock prevent other teams from doing it?
“My focus is on defense and (Plenette) Pierson (6-2 forward-center) and (Karima) Christmas (6-0 guard-forward) will help us,’’ said Williams “They have played on defensive-minded teams and know our concept on defense.’’
Size is another area where the Shock needed improvement and Williams said his team has found it with help from its draftees.
“Every team we came up against last season we were outsized,’’ he says. “This year, I feel comfortable with the size we have coming in. In the draft we were going for size and we got Amanda from Minnesota at 6’5”. She will help in running the floor and scoring. In the second round we looked at the perimeter, and we got Kiesel from Pittsburgh. She’s a good stop and pop guard. We also wanted to take a look at Mimi. I saw her a few times in college and she shows signs of being a really skilled player. If she applies herself, she can be a threat on the floor and a contender for this team.’’
Forward-center Vicki Baugh (6-4) also returns to the roster and Williams said she has shown improvement since her first full season in the league in 2014. He said Diggins has surprised the league with her offensive touch. “She’s worked hard in the offseason and she looks good in individual skill work,’’ Williams notes of Baugh. “Skylar has upped her level on defense, and they said she couldn’t hit shots outside last year. She proved that she could. They are key players for us defensively and offensively.’’ The inside anchor for the Shock will again be Paris, a 250-pound enforcer who should have more help in roaming the paint and bullying enemy shooters. “Courtney played overseas and she’s ready to come back and reclaim her rebounding crown,’’ said Williams. “I’ve told her how she won’t get as many rebounds because we’re going to shoot pretty well, but I expect her to be one of the top five players in the league. She’s still working on her shot by putting the ball on the floor and working on spin moves. “This year I want us to be more balanced. We were 80 percent offensive last year and 20 percent defense. This year we need to be more 50-50. Our team on paper can make a playoff push for the first time in franchise history. We want to get out of our conference, get to the playoffs, play well and see what happens.’’ Williams believes all the tools are in place for a postseason push. He said the Shock are three deep at every position, with competition between Riquna Williams, Angel Goodrich, Sims, Diggins and Kiesel at the one and two spots and Jessica Kuster, Jordan Hooper and Christmas at the three position. At four he’s counting on Tiffany Jackson-Jones, Johnson, Pierson and Baugh with Paris, Zahui B. and Mungedi at center.
“I’m excited, knock on wood. If we stay healthy, from what I’ve seen on paper, it looks pretty promising,’’ says Williams. “We’re working hard at it and the ultimate goal for a coach is to make his team improve every year. Last year we moved forward and we want to continue to improve even more this year.’’