April 1, 2022
How the Atlanta Dream picked a staff in 2022
Christie Sides, Paul Goriss and Barbara Turner to join Tanisha Wright's staff
At this time last year, the Atlanta Dream’s coaching staff consisted of three names: Nicki Collen, Mike Petersen and Darius Taylor. Unlike most coaching staffs, you may recognize all three names: it’s because all three are gone. Collen departed for Baylor before the season; Petersen stepped down during the All-Star break; and Taylor transitioned to the Dream’s front office where — as of publication — he remains, per a team source, following his wife Joni’s recent acceptance of the head coaching job at Texas A&M.
Enter first-year head coach Tanisha Wright, who announced her inaugural staff on Tuesday.
That new contingent includes Christie Sides, a recent associate head coach for Louisiana-Monroe in the Sun Belt with eight years of WNBA coaching experience; Paul Goriss, who will bring six years (and two championships) worth of head coaching experience in Australia’s WNBL; and Barbara Turner, who worked as a player development assistant with the Houston Rockets in the NBA this season and played several years in the WNBA.
Wright’s staff will also include a player development coach in Dale McNiel and an assistant athletic trainer and strength and conditioning specialist in Katie Buria, who will assist head athletic trainer Natalie Trotter.
While it’s unlikely that any of the aforementioned staffers will pivot to a head coaching role in 2022, they will play a crucial role in establishing a culture in Atlanta, building a young team up on both sides of the court, and assisting Wright in her day-to-day duties.
Here’s how each should assist Wright on the staff.
The Next talks with Christie Sides, who emphasizes defensive pressure
Atlanta struggled in just about every statistical category last season, but was at its worst on the defensive end of the court, allowing more points per 100 possessions (103.1) than any team located outside Indiana.
Though the coaching staff hasn’t set formal roles yet, Christie Sides (who chatted with The Next this week) will likely assist the defensively-minded Wright in a pursuit to turn Atlanta’s previously porous defense into a cohesive unit.
That transformation will start with pressure and conditioning, according to Sides. Though the Dream’s steals-and-speed-centric defense caused more issues for Atlanta than its opponents in 2021 (before it took on a more traditional look after last year’s All-Star break) the pair of defensive-minded coaches and the overhauled roster spark potential for a turnaround in 2022. It will require buy-in from the roster, though.
“We’re going to start guarding players the minute they walk in the gym,” Sides told The Next with a laugh. “We want to be the best-conditioned team in the league. That’s because we really are going to have to defend from start to finish, you know, 90 feet … That’s our identity. We’re going to get up and we’re going to guard.”
Sides, who found success as an assistant in Indiana and Chicago and arrived from a rebuilding Louisiana-Monroe program, began talking with Wright in October and was offered the job in December.
“Christie brings a ton of league experience to the Dream and she fits right in with everything we’re trying to build here,” Wright said. “Her energy is off-the-charts and she is well-respected by players in the league. She shares my excitement about what we’re building here in Atlanta and is going to be a great addition to our staff.”
Proximity to home, an overwhelming desire to return to the WNBA and a relationship with Wright — “She’s just a workhorse,” Sides said — played a significant role in her decision to come on board.
It didn’t hurt that she had previous relationships with three of the players. Sides oversaw Nia Coffey’s development while she worked as an assistant at Northwestern University, and worked with Erica Wheeler and Cheyenne Parker in Indiana and Chicago, respectively.
Said Sides: “Parker came from MTSU where it wasn’t clear what was going to happen with her at that point, but we believed in her, and she has turned into the player that we all knew she would; the minute [the hiring] was released yesterday E-Dub FaceTimed me … she is just a ball of energy, she is just a great human being; and when Nia was a senior, I was able to go with her and her family to the WNBA Draft.”
Sides also plans to play a major role in rejuvenating the team’s character after a frustrating 2021 season in which star guard Chennedy Carter was suspended and two starters, Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford, were dismissed after the season following their involvement in a physical altercation outside an Atlanta club.
“I think it’s [priority] A1,” Sides said of building the team’s character. “Without a doubt, I want to make sure that I am the person that each one of these players need, whatever that is … I just know at the end of the day, you work hard and you treat people right, and good things are coming your way.”
How Paul Goriss and Barbara Turner come into the fold
There’s a string of scenes in HBO’s new show “Winning Time” that features Paul Westhead, an assistant coach on Jack McKinney’s 1980 Los Angeles Lakers staff. In each scene, Westhead, who joined the Lakers after working as an English teacher, is presented as an outside-the-box thinker on and off of the court and spouts off literary quotes to players and coaches alike.
Subtract the Shakespearian literature and you’ll find another Paul — the Atlanta Dream’s Paul Goriss —possibly filling a similar role. Goriss comes to the team with an outsider’s perspective from the Australian professional ranks with two WNBL Championships and a Coach of the Year award to his name, as well as an assistant coaching stint with the Australian national team.
“I wanted someone on our staff who could bring fresh ideas and a newness to our approach with this team, and Paul will fill that role perfectly,” Wright said. “Paul has a ton of experience as a head coach and built a WNBL Championship team from scratch. He has a great basketball mind and will serve as a sounding board for me as I continue to grow as a coach.”
Goriss’ UC Capitals were a successful offensive squad this past season, as they averaged the second-most points in the WNBL this season while sporting the league’s second-fewest turnovers. It wasn’t a solely positive experience, however: in December, Goriss received a one-month suspension after he received “confidential footage” of an opposing team’s training session, and his Capitals were recently forced to forfeit in the WNBL playoffs due to a lack of available players stemming from a COVID outbreak, per ESPN.
Goriss had announced in early March that he would be leaving for the WNBA, which he said was a “dream“ of his. It’s unclear if the pun was intended.
Barbara Turner, who had over a decade of professional basketball experience in the states and overseas, will round out Atlanta’s coaching staff in 2022. She spent this season with the Houston Rockets as a player development coach while working as a translator for Turkish rookie Alperen Şengün, according to former Hartford Courant reporter Alexa Philippou, and was notably identified as an “energetic” presence early on during her stint with the team.
“Barbara’s hire is really special to me personally as she is a young, talented basketball mind and really understands the game,” Wright said. “As a former player herself, Turner had to develop and grow her game to play at the highest level which will help our players connect with her on a different level. She is a young talent whose career is just beginning to take off, and we’re lucky to have the chance to bring her to Atlanta.”