A few months ago, when Kristi Toliver was leading the Washington Mystics to the WNBA playoffs, she spoke with City Paper about her career aspirations. She’s won at every level throughout her extraordinary basketball career and played a significant role in the Mystics’ first WNBA Finals appearance this summer. At 31, she remains one of the league’s most clutch shooters.
But Toliver’s next career goal, she said, wasn’t necessarily on the court. She had her eyes on the bench—as a coach in the NBA.
“I’d love to be a coach in the NBA, that would be a dream,” Toliver said in August. “I feel like I know enough [about] the game. I’ve been around the NBA since I was born with my dad being an NBA official. The NBA was always my first love, so if I can do that for the rest of my life, I’d be happy.”
On Tuesday afternoon, that dream became a reality for Toliver. Just two days before the start of the Washington Wizards season, the team announced that Toliver will join David Adkins, Mike Terpstra, and Maz Trakh on the “back of the bench” as an assistant coach. Her role also includes some player development work.
“When I was kid I thought I was going to be first woman’s player in the NBA. This dream has been a long time coming,” Toliver told reporters. “I want young ladies to know to dream big. Anything is possible, so long you put in the work.”
Toliver, who becomes the first active WNBA player on an NBA coaching staff, impressed Wizards head coach Scott Brooks with her coaching during training camp and summer league play in Las Vegas.
A native of Harrisonburg, Virginia, Toliver got an early taste of life in the NBA when she traveled with her father, George, a longtime NBA referee who is now the league’s associate vice president of referee development, to games.
He’s seen her scout teams and break down plays even as a high school player.
“After her playing days are over, there are several things she can do and do very well,” George told City Paper in August. “I would say that she has studied this game, not just looked at and watched, but studied from a very, very early age. … Her ability to coach, scout, and see the game and take a leadership role, it’s all there. I think given an opportunity, she will find a way to succeed.”
This move is also not much of a surprise to her teammates, who have relied on Toliver to be a player-coach during the Mystics’ historic season.
“I feel like at any big point of the game, we’re always looking to her for the answers and she has them,” Elena Delle Donne said in August. “She’s going to be a great coach someday. Right now, I’m glad she’s our player-coach.”
“She’s just such a good teacher,” Delle Donne continued. “She knows what the other team is going to do, she sees it early and is able to get it to us. Her IQ is so big.”