August 6, 2022 

What Lawson, Taylor and Thibault bring to USA Basketball staff for the World Cup

The trio will join head coach Cheryl Reeve on the sidelines in Australia

We do not know the players USA Basketball will send to next month’s World Cup yet, but the coaching staff is fully loaded.

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Head coach Cheryl Reeve, who was appointed to the position in December, will be joined on the sideline by three acclaimed basketball minds. USA Basketball announced on July 28 that Mike Thibault, Kara Lawson and Joni Taylor will be the assistants for the event, which will run from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1 in Sydney, Australia.

Thibault, who has been the head coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics since 2012, was an assistant coach under Anne Donovan for the team that won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With nearly 400 wins, he is the WNBA’s all-time winningest coach and a future Hall of Famer. He is presently coaching Japan’s Rui Machida with the Mystics and won a WNBA title with Belgium’s Emma Meesseman, two of the top players in the World Cup.

Lawson, currently the head coach at Duke, was a guard on that 2008 team that swept through the competition at Wukesong Arena. The former Tennessee star was the advisor of the 3X3 team that won the gold medal at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Her teams also won gold medals in six other 3X3 events over the past five years.

“I think the diversity of my experience is what I bring to the team,” Lawson said. “I am the only coach on the staff who played for the team. I know the preparation and the pressure of what it takes to win at this level. Last year, the pressure leading into the Olympics — there are not a lot of people who have dealt with that. I feel confident, and I also have the perspective of being a coach at both the professional [with the Boston Celtics] and collegiate levels. Cheryl has also coached at both levels.”

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Lawson played in the WNBA most recently in 2015, for the Thibault-coached Mystics. Thus, she has the benefit of being on the court at the same time as some of the players she will coach and face.

“I have guarded a lot of these players, and they guarded me,” Lawson added. “I was teammates with some of them, and I will rely on all of these things to help our coaching staff.”

Lawson also mentioned that being the head coach of the 5X5 national team is a goal of hers one day.

Joni Taylor has quickly moved up the ladder for national team coaches. (Photo courtesy of USA Basketball)

Taylor recently moved to Texas A&M following a successful run coaching the Georgia Bulldogs. The former Alabama forward was an assistant on the Under-19 World Cup team last summer and was the head coach of the Under-18 team that won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championships in June.

“I am extremely honored and excited to have an opportunity to represent my country,” Taylor said. “It is humbling every time to be chosen. I am excited to learn from Cheryl Reeve and to work with Mike Thibault and Kara Lawson. With USA Basketball, it’s all first class, all the time.”

While she has been successful with college-aged players, this will be the first time Taylor coaches professionals.

“The older players were all younger players at one time,” she said, “and I have been watching them for a long time. I was around them in the training camp in April, and they all play at a high level. All of them are still trying to make the team. Obviously, I have done everything the right way, [I’ve] had success as a head coach, and I uphold the USA Basketball standards.”

The Under-19 team won the gold medal in Hungary in 2021 with UCLA’s Cori Close as the head coach and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark as the tournament MVP.

“It was great to be around them and to put in the practice and to see how everything came together in a short period of time,” Taylor said of the Under-19 experience. “Everyone was so competitive and there was tons of talent. The training camps and practices are some things I really enjoyed. The Under-18 team, taking those 12 young ladies down to Argentina, I had some really great memories, and it was a lot of fun. It was great to work with [assistant coaches] DeLisha Milton-Jones and Teri Moren.”

The 12 athletes who will compose Team USA will be named in September, between the end of the WNBA season and the tip-off of the World Cup.

Written by Scott Mammoser

Scott Mammoser has covered major international events for FIBA, World Athletics and the International Skating Union. He has been to six Olympics and traveled to more than 90 countries.

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