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.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

WNBA: Washington Believes Its Time Has Arrived

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

As far as veteran forward Kia Vaughn is concerned, the 2015 Washington Mystics have all the ingredients needed to enjoy a memorable season.

“ We have shooters, diversity, big players, fast guards, defensive players, offensive players,” Vaughn said during the Mystics’ media day on May 18 at the Verizon Center. “Anything you would need on a championship team, I feel that we have.”

Vaughn knows a thing or two about winning championships.

The Rutgers graduate earned MVP honors after helping USK Praha win the FIBA Euro League Women championship in April.

Vaughn wasn’t the only Mystic who brought a title back to the nation’s capital. Second-year guard Bria Hartley was a member of UE Sopron’s championship team in Hungary.

It seems like championships follow the former UConn star guard, who won a pair with the Huskies.

“Now, we just need to win one here,” Hartley said while sporting an angelic smile during media day. “I am glad to be back in D.C. and ready to get started.

"I can’t wait for the season to begin. We’re excited as a team to be back together. We are probably one of the deepest teams in the league and I think that’s good. Having multiple ball-handlers and lots of people who can do many things is going to help us.”

When asked what championship experiences she could bring to the Mystics this season, Vaughn confidently and quickly said, “me.”

The youthful and energetic Mystics enter a much-anticipated season full of swagger, excitement and hunger.

Washington believes its ready to take the next step and move beyond the first round of the playoffs, a place that has been the Mystics final destination in each of the last two seasons.

The Mystics finished last season with a 16-18 record and dropped a pair of games to the Indiana Fever, including a crushing overtime classic in their finale.

Third-year head coach Mike Thibault has constructed the Mystics in his image. They are athletic, versatile and experienced. If the preseason is any indication, the Mystics will be entertaining to watch this season.

There were plenty of encouraging signs, which featured a 2-1 record. The Mystics shot 48 percent over the three games while averaging 81.3 points per game. They also recorded assists on 61.9 percent of their made baskets.

“I think there’s an overall belief in everybody that it’s time for us to take a big step up this year and compete at an elite level,” Thibault said. “Enough of our players have been together for some time and now have the opportunity to take a big leap forward and they should walk in the door everyday with the idea of competing for a championship on their mind. We’re looking at ourselves as a really good team.”

Washington has a beautiful blend of grizzled veterans like Vaughn, all-star guard Ivory Latta, Kara Lawson and defensive specialist Armintie Herrington along with youthful sparks Emma Meesseman, Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Tayler Hill and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.

Latta is one of the best players in the league. She led the Mystics in scoring last season (14.3 points per game) and set a Mystics record for three-pointers made in a season with 81. She is the engine that will power the Mystics machine.

Add in rookies (all from mid-major conferences), Ally Malott, Kayla Thornton and Natasha Cloud and the Mystics could create some special wizardry this season.

Cloud has been impressive during preseason camp and figures to be an integral part of the Mystics early season rotation. There are whispers that she could start Friday season’s opener at small forward against Connecticut.

“We’ve had great vibes so far and there have been a lot of smiles so far,” Latta said of training camp. “As a team, we’ve been focused on getting better and correcting little things. I am not saying it’s easy and I am not saying it’s going to be hard, but as long as we continue to progress every single day as a team to become a championship team, then I believe things will work out for us.”

By all accounts, Washington had a pretty quiet offseason. They lost a key cog in their machine last year in Monique Currie, who is now with Phoenix.

Otherwise, the moves made by the Mystics were under the radar acquisitions that will help them challenge in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re going to miss Mo as a teammate and a friend,” Vaughn said. “However, we have to move forward and I believe we have everything we need to be a championship team. I feel more excited personally for the season.”

One reason of many for excitement is the return of Hill, who saw action in five games last season after giving birth to her son. Hill has impressed during preseason, averaging 11.7 points per game, including an electric 18-point performance against Minnesota.

Hill is ready to remind everybody that she was the fourth overall draft pick in a much celebrated 2013 draft. She could challenge for the league’s most improved player honor.

“I am anxious and excited to get back out on the court,” Hill said. “Last year I sat out most of the season, came back at the end but I wasn’t 100 percent. I am excited to be back this year.

"I feel like I haven’t played since my rookie season where I was healthy. We are working towards winning a championship and taking everything one step at a time. We have to work together as a team to reach our goal. Coach’s message to us at our first team meeting was to ‘play like a champion every day.’

Meesseman, who was the only player to start every game last season, has also been impressive during the preseason, averaging 11.3 points per game during the preseason while shooting 76% from the floor, including an 8-for-8 performance in Washington’s loss to the Fever on Friday in its preseason finale.

She appears poised to build off of her 10.1 point per game average from last season. Meesseman also led the Mystics in rebounding (6.4 per game).

Cloud has also turned heads with her performances so far. She scored 15 points against the Fever, finishing with four assists. The former Saint Joseph's star is the first rookie and overall player from a Big 5 school to survive a WNBA training camp in eight seasons.

“Emma Meesseman and Natasha Cloud have had exceptional training camps,” Thibault said to the Mystics website. “Natasha, for a rookie, has acted like a veteran from day one…. They have stood out to me as exceptional. I think it’s exciting to see how much we’ve progressed since last year. It’s nice that we had a starting point to build on, being a playoff team two years in a row—now, we have another step to take.”

The Mystics will begin the season most likely without Herrington, who is still working her way back from off-season surgery. Ruffin-Pratt, who had shoulder surgery during the offseason, didn’t play during the preseason. Latta, who also didn’t play during the preseason, should be ready to roll in Friday’s season opener in Connecticut and Saturday’s home debut against New York.

The Mystics should be clicking on all cylinders by the time they enter the home stretch of their schedule in late August and early September that has them playing five of their final seven games on the road that includes a three-game western swing crammed into five days.

Thibault was asked in looking at the competition in the Eastern Conference, who made the most improvement.

“I don’t really have a feel for that because right now there’s still a lot of question marks from teams in our league. In our division, Connecticut had a big loss with (Chiney) Ogwumike being out,” he said of the reigning rookie of the year out of Stanford.

“What Sylvia Fowles does with (reigning Eastern Conference playoff champion) Chicago will have an impact. New York’s added new pieces but they haven’t played together yet. Atlanta’s going to miss Sancho Lyttle, possibly, in the early part of the season so I really feel our conference is in flux and at least early in the season,” Thibault said.

Thibault is only focused on the Mystics, who play five of their first six games against Eastern Conference foes.

“Right now, I’m not going to worry about what other teams are doing,” Thibault said. “I can’t control that. We’ll try to worry about what we’re doing and take control of that each day. I like our team and we are all on the same page in our thinking of playing like a champion every day.”

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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