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.

Friday, May 18, 2018

WNBA Report: Healthy and Hungry is the Word for Washington As Mystics’ Season Opens

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

NEWARK, Del. – Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault spent plenty of time last year reading medical reports instead of studying scouting reports.


Despite several key players missing time last season because of various injuries, the Mystics still won 18 games and advanced to the WNBA semifinals where they lost to the eventual champion Minnesota Lynx in three games. 


The Mystics are hungry for more as their 2018 season opens Sunday at home against the Indiana Fever. The game from Capital One Arena starts at 1 p.m.


With Meek Mill’s “The Get Back” blasting over the arena sound system as teams warmed up, Thibault was asked before last Saturday’s preseason finale against Indiana at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center what can people expect from Washington this season.


“Hopefully a good playoff team a team that wants to get past where we got last year,” Thibault said. “Hopefully a healthy team since that seemed to be a problem a year ago. A more mature team. We had six new players last year and now we have a group of players who’ve played together now with each other. They’ve had a good offseason. I see a more grown up team that has a better sense of its self. The core of our team has played together and should be better.”


The Mystics have a solid team led by All-Stars Elena Delle Donne, Monique Currie, Kristi Toliver as well as veterans Tianna Hawkins, Natasha Cloud, Krystal Thomas and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Delle Donne was fourth in the league in scoring (19.7 points per game) and Thomas was third in rebounding (9.6 per game). 


Washington will get stronger later in the season when dynamic guard Tayler Hill returns to action in June following a torn ACL at Indiana last July 14. Forward LaToya Sanders is expected to miss the next couple of weeks due to illness. Guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough averaged 4.4 points in 27 games last season. 


Rookies Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen made the final roster and will make their WNBA debut this Sunday. Two of the Mystics’ first three games are against the Indiana Fever.


One missing face from last season will be Emma Meesseeman, who will play with the Belgian National team in the FIBA World Cup this fall. While her versatility along with her 14.1 point per game average will be missed, the Mystics still have plenty of pieces to enjoy a special season. Her loss allows Thibault to shift some players around to different positions.


“We lost Emma which is huge but it puts Elena back at her natural position at the four,” Cloud said. “That makes things easier for her because there’s more open shots for her at the four position. Then we have Krystal, Kristi and we added Mo (Currie), who is a great addition in the locker room and on the court.”


A 12-year WNBA veteran, Currie could be one of the league’s most underrated free agent signings. She spent the majority of her career with the Mystics (2007-2014). 

The former Duke star was selected in the first round (third overall) of the 2006 WNBA Draft by the Charlotte Sting. She played in 36 games last year  due to being traded from San Antonio to Phoenix in the middle of the season where she averaged 10.8 points per game while shooting 42.8 percent from the field. 


Currie’s presence fills an important void for the Mystics. Her ability to score on the wing, shoot from deep, drive to the basket and get to the free throw line will be an important part of the Mystics offense.


“Being back here has been easy,” Currie said. “I am familiar with coach Thibault and some of the players. They’ve all welcomed me in. I am familiar with how he wants me to play. I’ve been in the league long time so it feels good to help them. My role is to be a leader on and off the court and showing the younger players how to be a professional. They’ve been open to the things I have to say so far.”


The Mystics understand their mission this season. 

While they received plenty of congratulatory pats on the back for making the Lynx earn three wins in the playoffs and winning postseason contests against Dallas and New York, the Mystics understand Minnesota is the measuring stick for greatness. They learned plenty of lessons that they aim to apply this season.


“When you play a team that ends up winning the WNBA championship in a series like that, you learn how hard you have to play for all 40 minutes for every game,” Thibault said. “It’s not like we’re not playing hard, but it’s that extra little stuff that you have to do whether its making somebody catch the ball three feet further out from where they want to catch it. 


“The little details matter whether it’s how hard you set a screen to get somebody open in a tight spot in a game. All those little details in a game matter and I think our players have a better understanding of that.”


The Mystics are excited for more playoff success and poised to become the final team standing this season. They were predicted to have the second most wins in the Eastern Conference in the annual WNBA general managers poll released earlier this week. 


New York has won at least 20 or more games in each of the last two seasons. Connecticut will be improved so escaping the Eastern Conference as the top dog will be tough. However, the Mystics are excited for the numerous challenges that await. 


“We have to continue to work and we can’t be satisfied,” Currie said. “There’s a lot of good teams in this league and if we want to be the best, we have to work hard everyday. We can’t take any possessions off and have to do the little things. We also have to have mental toughness. There’s a lot of things that go into being successful. We’re working toward perfecting those things.”