If The Glue Sticks ...
WASHINGTON _ Did you ever try to put a jigsaw puzzle together and get a nice surprise when you dump the pieces on the table to find that several of them are already interlocking with each other?
That’s the way it is with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, who are ready to move to a new dimension without former All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw.
In fact, the departure of the Tennessee superstar of the late 1990s in an offseason trade involving the Los Angeles Sparks wasn’t even a conversation piece Monday at the Mystics’ media day.
(It will be in several weeks, however, when the Sparks come to town on May 10 for an exhibition game.)
Still, when it comes to the Mystics, there’s always a distraction and on Monday the disruption was the appearance of the brother NBA-playoff Wizards contingent in the MCI Center, which caused fits for the local press corps trying to handle two unrelated stories at the same time.
But where the focus was on the Mystics, it was obvious that some previous interlocking pieces already exist as the team once again tries to re-invent itself, this time under new coach Richie Adubato, who had been in charge of the New York Liberty until he was fired in early July.
One of Adubato’s former Liberty assistants, Jeff House, had already been hired by former Washington coach Michael Adams days before his departure to the University of Maryland as an assistant men’s basketball coach.
“It was just by coincidence,” Adubato said of their reunion. “Michael had shown some interest in him and I had spoken to Michael about hiring him.
“As it works out, that’s great because we have half the (former Liberty) organization here. And we actually have a veteran in every area.”
Marynell Meadors, the other new Mystics assistant, had been the original coach of the Charlotte Sting and also worked in the organization of the former Miami Sol.
That experience should help when it comes to Adubato’s reputation for having a million plays in his game strategy.
“Oh, I know a lot of them, I just don’t know the names,” Meadors joked. “Remember, I was in Miami with Ron Rothstein, and he and Richie are close friends (as well as former NBA coaches).”
Adubato also talked about Linda Hargrove, a coach of the former Portland Fire, who was an assistant to Adams last season before being promoted to general manager several months ago.
“When you come up through the coaching ranks and then become a general manager, you understand what goes on in regards to the job and complexity of it, but she also knows the players in the league, so that will help us.”
Hargrove said Adubato was at the top of the list when the head coaching position suddenly became vacant on April 15, the eve of the draft.
“We’re happy and we’re sure he’s happy,” she said.
Adubato said to expect see an emphasis on defense, trying to shut three people down, “like we did in New York.”
“But we’re still going to carry some of the system they had here before, so it’s not a difficult learning process. We had a lot of plays in New York. We will build on the ones that worked very well for them (Washington) at the end of last season (during the run to the playoffs).”
The coaching staff isn’t the only place where there are some previous working relationships.
Second-year player Alana Beard, an all-American guard at Duke who was one of the league’s top rookies, is being joined by former Blue Devils teammate Iciss Tillis, a 6-5 forward, who arrived a week ago through a trade with the Detroit Shock.
“I’m definitely thrilled about it,” Beard said. “She’s a unique character. She’s a great player and she was like my sister at Duke so to have her back here and play together is great.”
Beard and top-draft pick Temeka Johnson, who starred at LSU, played together in USA Basketball competition.
Another new player is veteran Charlotte Smith-Taylor, who played in the WNBA with the Charlotte Sting and had been in the former American Basketball League.
A niece of Hall of Famer David Thompson, Smith-Taylor is noted for the game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer that gave North Carolina a come-from-behind NCAA title over Louisiana Tech.
“I’m just excited about a new opportunity,” Smith-Taylor said. “Sometimes change is good.
“I’ve also coached against some of the players here on the team (as an assistant at her alma mater), so I’m familiar with their personnel. I played against Richie for a few years, so I know his expectations and I just see a lot of potential in the players we have here.
“It all starts with team chemistry and they’ve done a good job with that.”
Former George Washington star Cathy Joens almost made the Liberty squad last year, Adubato said, and now she’s back from Europe to try to make the Washington team in the same town she excelled as a collegian.
“I was really excited, especially with Jeff being here, also,” Joens said of having a comfort level with the coaching staff, which is looking to add to an outside shooter.
“We’re right in my back yard, practically.
“My main strength is being an outside shooter. I have to make sure I show that and be solid in other parts of the game as well.
“There’s a lot of people here who can play multiple positions, so that’s great,” Joens added.
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Speaking of George Washington, the luxury of not being on deadline, Monday, allowed us to venture across town on the other side of the White House to visit Colonials coach Joe McKeown, a graduate of Father Judge High in Philadelphia.
While waxing nostalgic in his office in a row house across 22nd Street from the Smith Center, assistants Lisa Cermignano, a graduate of Gloucester Catholic in South Jersey, and Tajama Ngongba (nee Abraham), who were Colonials stars in the mid-1990s, were busy assembling their recruiting tracking list into a computer database.
Due to a new cultural development in the nation’s capital called baseball, we needed to delay our departure because our nice little short-cut discovered last summer that is saving 40 minutes both ways in and out of the District happens to run near RFK Stadium, where the Nationals call home until the new stadium is built.
So we hit the jackpot with a free and legal parking space right near the Knight-Ridder News Bureau where we finally had a chance to visit some longtime friends in their still relatively-new digs that will limit our ability to drop in out of the blue as in the past.
In showing off the headquarters one of the staffers noted that cell phone reception is virtually impossible, an interesting occurrence since inside staffers were given cell phones in the previous location several blocks away in a cost-saving implementation.
Then we headed North and because the Baltimore Orioles were on the road at Boston, we were able to venture traffic-free into the town, whose main newspaper houses a nest of Inquirer immigrant journalists, and partake of a well-known Chesapeake Bay delight.
Then it was time to head North and get on a keyboard and file this report.
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