Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

WNBA's Mystics Look to Make Magic This Season

By Mel Greenberg

WASHINGTON
_ In a town where the political environment is anything but upbeat, the Washington Mystics are filled with optimism that they have a well-balanced blend to overcome the the early season hardships of a year ago that ultimately kept them out of the WNBA playoffs.

“I think we have a lot of strong players on this team,” said guard Coco Miller at the Mystics’ media day on Thursday in what is now known as the Verizon Center. “We’re going to be extremely deep. Our bench is going to be great.

“We have some great new additions on this team with Crystal (Robinson) and Nikki (Teasley) so we’re going to be tough.

Robinson signed as a free agent after spending all of her WNBA career with the New York Liberty. The move reunites her with coach Richie Adubato.

Teasley, returning to her native D.C. area, was acquired in a trade that sent Muriel Page and last season’s top rookie Temeka Johnson to the Los Angeles Sparks.

“The key to any season is to stay healthy,” Miller recalled the early season struggles a year ago.

Miller likes the new rules this season that includes a change to four 10-minute quarters from two 20-minute halves, and also the reduction of the shot clock to 24 seconds from 30.

“The shot clock change will make for a quicker offense,” Miller explained.

The former Georgia star, whose twin sister Kelly is with the Minnesota Lynx, doesn’t feel there is a particular favorite in the WNBA.

“This year there is a lot of different changes around the league, a lot of great players went to new teams,” Miller said. “Connecticut is going to be tough again, but I think a lot of teams are going to be right up there with them.”

Robinson said there was no real mind set to her move from the Liberty, which she’ll see as an opponent for the first time on May 23 when the Mystics host New York in their home opener.

“I had an opportunity that I thought was good for me. I’m very excited to play for Richie again,” Robinson said. “I think they have a lot of talent on this team, a lot of young talent,” Robinson said. “It’s just going to be a great opportunity to be in a new atmosphere.”

Adubato said acquiring Robinson was “a no-brainer.

“I had her 5 ½ years and I think she’s one of the best defenders in the league,” Adubato said. “Also, an excellent three-point shooter. Last year, she played with a broken finger on her right hand – her shooting hand. But she’s played very, very well in Russia.

“She’s a defensive stopper,” Adubato said. “She can play the (Tamika) Catchings. She can play ther (Chamique) Holdsclaws. They’re a little bigger than her. But at the end of the night, if they score a lot points, they have to take a lot of shots. You’re no going to get anything easy with Crystal.

“She’s going to deny you the ball, make you work very hard to get it. And then she’s very difficult to get around, so she makes you shoot over the top most of the time, which prevents a lot of good scorers getting to the basket," Adubato continued.

“She’s been to the finals three times. She’s got a great personality. So she’s going to add to the chemistry of the group even though she’s new. She’ll fit in very quickly.”

Alana Beard is trying to make sure she avoids the injury such as the one to her ankle a year ago that kept her sidelined in the early going.

“I have to be a lot smarter,” said the former Duke star guard who finds herself one of the veterans on the team in what is only her third season as a pro.

“With Teasley coming in, we have a lot of people who can play the backcourt, we have a lot of people who can compete, we’re very versatile,” Beard said of the Mystics roster reconstruction.

“It feels good,” she said of her veteran status. “I love it. I think our first or second day here, Richie asked the veterans to step out on the court, and I stepped out on the court and said `Yeah, I’m a vet,’ and it felt so good. You just want to go out and have fun.

“The only difference is I’m a vet and I still have a rookie salary,” Beard smiled about the collective bargaining agreement that has her still on a lower play scale through this season and next.

“If you look at this team on paper, you just have to marvel how many good things are on this team,” Beard continued. “I can’t even put into words how amazing training camp is. Everyone is competitive, yet we still respect each other, respect each other’s game, and respective each other as individuals. I think that’s the most important thing.

“Having Nikki in the backcourt, It’s going to be exciting, because she’s going to get you the ball, and it’s going to bring in more fans, watching her,” Beard said.

She noted how important some quick success would be in pursuit of a playoff berth.

“It’s just like starting your day,” Beard said. “You want to have breakfast to get that energy going. It was hard last year. This year it feels different, and I like it very, very much.”

Beard spent most of the offseason playing basketball overseas in such places as Australia and Korea before joining up with the U.S. national team.

“But I want to keep my body young, so I want to be smart with it. And I definitely love the game. You don’t want to play if you don’t love it,” she said.

Beard’s toughest moment in the offseason came at Christmas when she was away from her family for the first time, playing overseas.

“It was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. It was even harder than going off to college for four years, not being with your family – I missed thanksgiving, I missed Christmas,” Beard said. “I cried the whole day.”

Beard also praised playing for Dawn Staley, who coached the U.S. team in Australia for a day until Anne Donovan returned from the WNBA draft.

“Dawn loves the game, whether she’s playing or whether she’s coaching, she motivates you,” Beard said. She knows what she’s talking about and I just sit there and soak everything up. It’s so much fun being around her.”

Delisha Milton-Jones, who recently arrived in town from playing overseas, spoke of the blend of vets and youth on the Washington squad.

“When you’re putting a team together you need that mixture of the old and the young, although I don’t want to call myself old,” Milton-Jones smiled.

“I look forward to the season this year. I just have a feeling we’re going to have more fun. And when you have fun out there, than you can win a lot of games. And if we have fun, maybe we can win one more game to get into the playoffs,” Milton-Jones recalled losing out on the last day of the season.

“But with Alana Beard healthy this time, I think you can look for some early wins here.”

Adubato feels the learning curve won’t be as steep for the Mystics in his second season.

“Hopefully, they’ll understand our system better, it takes a little time.”

The only player not exposed to Adubato’s style is Teasley, who’s delayed returning from Hungary while she is engaged in a salary dispute.

“This is the second year with our system,” Adubato said. “And I think we’ll execute better, we’ll be better defensively because of that, and we’ll have more team work and more offensive execution to give us better shot opportunities.”

Adubato said there is no surprise that Beard is quickly becoming acclimated to a veteran’s mentality.

“When you have to take a team over, you start understanding what a veteran’s all about because the pressure’s on you every night to carry on,” Adubato said. “And now she’s injury free. So far it’s a completely different story with her and Delisha.”

Perhaps, the final chapter of this season will be different than most have been with the Mystics.

-- Mel

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