That's one method Kristi Toliver used to become such a clutch performer, known mostly for making one of the biggest shots in NCAA history. Now she's here, an exciting playmaker and just as nice a person, welcome interview inside.
Becoming a 'Safsal' favorite is really not that difficult, sometimes one 3-pointer at just the right time is enough. On the morning of April 5th 2006, Toliver hit an overtime forcing three which eventually led to Shay Doron hoisting the NCAA trophy.
"Of course I still get asked about it, that's the moment in my basketball career that I'll never forget", said Toliver when we caught up with her at Raanana Hertzeliya's home gym after a scrimmage. "I was really blessed to be on such a great team, have great teammates, be on the biggest stage in women's college basketball and to have an opportunity to make a shot like that, I wouldn’t change anything", she continued and added, "yes we did know we'll win in overtime, most importantly".
Toliver signed with Raanana Hertzeliya late in the offseason, but it was definitely worth the wait. " I've heard nothing but good things about Israel starting when I was in school, Shay would say 'oh we have the best food in Israel, we have the best beaches', Israel has the best everything according to her, she told me a million times I need to come visit so I'm really lucky to have opportunity to play here", said Toliver. "It's only been a few days but I definitely enjoyed my time here, from what I've seen it looks like a great place and I'm definitely excited about being here".
Toliver is known for her ability to hit shots under pressure, and her perfect text-book shooting style. She hit more threes in her career than anyone in Maryland history, and she ranks 3rd in the entire ACC conference. She misses a free throw approximately once a month, you just have to see it to believe it. "The credit goes to my dad really, he taught me the fundamentals of basketball, he taught me how to shoot and really play the game", she said. Her father, George, was an NBA referee for many years and is now the NBA Director of D-League Officials. Legend has it that George started training Kristi in their home basement with a tennis ball, to make sure she shot correctly right from the very start. After she mastered the ability, he would turn off the lights.
Toliver won every possible accolade in college, including the Nancy Liberman award as a senior. Maryland has already raised her jersey to the rafters, right next to old #22 of course, Shay Doron. Toliver was the 3rd overall pick in the WNBA draft by Chicago and ended up missing the playoffs in the last game of the season. Toliver had a season of ups and down, with inconsistent playing time. Her averages were 7.6 points and 1.9 assists in just 14.3 minutes per game.
"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. Our coach is a defensive minded coach like a lot of great coaches are but I think he's also offensive oriented as far as getting the stop and running, I think that’s fun basketball and I'm definitely am excited to play", she continued.
We couldn’t end the interview without asking about the incredible, border line disrespectful, effortlessness in which she takes the big shots. It looks unfair sometimes. "You know I think it really started when my dad and I would play 1 on 1 in the basement, I'd be 7 or 8, we'd play for a trophy and he would always let me win, I'd always make the game winning shot and I would always win. So we'd have these post game interviews afterwards, and I'm like 8 years old. I think that’s really where it started, I knew what it felt like to succeed and to be a champion even though it was downstairs in my basement playing 1 on 1 with my dad, just to have that felling at an early age, it just progressively grew as I got older".
Looking at Raanana Hertzeliya's sideline from the stands, Toliver blends right in to the view of 18 and 19 year olds that make up the team's bench. She's not the strongest player in the league, or the most athletic, but something about her is just hypnotizing. It's like the ball is an extension of her hand. She's not going to have it easy this season on the youngest team in the league, but here's hoping we get to see a game winning three, or two.
photo by: washingtonpost.com