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 01, 2017

WNBA Feature: New Look Washington Has Mystics' Natasha Cloud Embracing New Role

By ROB KNOX
Twitter: @knoxrob1

WASHINGTON – Natasha Cloud is standing and clapping. She’s yelling encouragement to her Washington Mystic teammates. The former Saint Joseph’s standout was thoroughly engaged from her new vantage point.

Cloud accepts her new reality.

For one of the first times in her career, Cloud isn’t a consistent starter. That doesn’t mean she’s not a factor for the Mystics, who claimed their third consecutive victory with a 78-76 victory over the Connecticut Sun at the Verizon Center Wednesday morning.

A 6 foot, 1 inch guard, Cloud has started 50 games during her three-year career.

 Since the Mystics enjoyed an awesome offseason by adding former MVP Elena Delle Donne and all-star point guard Kristi Toliver, who helped the Los Angeles Sparks win the title last season, Cloud’s role changed.

“We needed some extra pieces,” a smiling Cloud said while standing in the middle of the commodious Mystics locker room. “We just want to be successful, we want to get wins and we want to become a championship team. Whatever we need to do in order to do that then I am fine with. It doesn’t affect me because I still have the same mindset, which is trying to be impactful for this team in any way I can.”

Since the affable Cloud is too focused to look over her shoulder, Toliver’s arrival has eased a burden and helped Cloud concentrate on the area of her game she loves, which is playing defense.

“I am more comfortable in my role and figuring out what I need to do for this team,” Cloud said. “I am focused on playing defense and being a pain on that end of the floor because I know that helps our offense. In order for us to be great, we need to be a great defensive team as well. We have so many weapons here on offense. We need to focus on the defensive end.”

A gloriously skilled bundle of disruption, Cloud is thriving for the Mystics, who are 4-2 overall and perfect at home.

The native of Broomall, Pa., in the Western Philadelphia suburbs, who also played for the dynamic Cardinal O’Hara High School squad, is more comfortable than ever after enjoying a strong season playing overseas for the Townsville Fire in Australia.

She’s averaging 4.6 points and 2.8 assists in 19.4 minutes for the Mystics. She scored a season-high seven points against the Sparks and Sky. Cloud also dropped a season best eight assists against the Sparks.

She is part of a loaded Mystics bench brigade that includes Ivory Latta, Tianna Hawkins, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. They have supplied energy and elasticity to a talented Mystics roster giving head coach Mike Thibault a smorgasbord of outstanding options.

“We have such a deep bench and there’s no dropoff (in talent),” Cloud said. “We’ve always had a solid bench and it’s a luxury to have and keeping up that level of play for our team.”

They made a huge difference in the win over the Sun. With the Mystics sleepwalking in the first quarter, missing their first 10 shots and falling into a 10-0 hole, the bench came to the rescue, combining to score 11 of Washington’s 19 first quarter points.

Cloud chipped in with six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes against the Sun. The first time she touched the ball on the right wing, Cloud drove left and attacked the basket with fury, scoring a layup.

Rough and resilient, Cloud swoops into passing lanes like a hawk. Her relentless and aggressive game resembles a pack of hungry dogs going after a pork chop. Cloud plays suffocating soul-to-soul defense.

“We had a chance to sign an all-star point guard,” Thibault said. “(Cloud) had to understand that she can still help our team by playing multiple positions. The good thing for us is she can play the wing and play the point. Her size also allows us to help with defensive matchups. I think she’s relaxed a little bit and because of it, she’s taken some of the pressure off of herself. She’s become the perfect utility player for us.”

Off the court, Cloud is the Mystics unofficial team historian, capturing almost every hilarious moment on social media. As the interview concluded, Cloud couldn’t help but to smile when thinking about all of the scoring options the Mystics have and how they are continuing to evolve into a formidable force.

“It’s going well,” Cloud said of her third year. “We have a new squad. We’re adjusting to each other, figuring out our chemistry and how we ebb and flow together. So it’s a learning process but we’re playing well for it to be early. This is huge for us moving forward and helping us get to where we want to be at the end of the season. The only place we can go from here is up as long as we continue to work hard and stay focused."