Matee Ajavon came to the United States in 1992 at the age of six, and after almost 20 years, says she’s pretty “Americanized” by this point. Born in Liberia, the Mystics guard is about to complete her fourth season in the WNBA, but it’s a bittersweet one for Ajavon.
The Mystics are about to close out one of their worst season’s in franchise history - they are 6-26 with two games left - but for Ajavon, it’s been a breakout season for her personally, one which has her in strong contention for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player.
“I was able to start this year, and I grew a lot as a player,” Ajavon said.
“It’s really been a tough season for our team. No one ever wants to lose. We went through a couple of changes this year, and we’re just trying to make the best of it, but we also grew as a team,” Ajavon said.
One of the changes includes Ajavon as the team’s starting two-guard, a role she inherited after Alana Beard missed her second straight season due to injury.
Formerly cast as an absolute spark plug of energy off the bench in her three seasons in Washington, Ajavon has embraced the starting role.
“It was my first year starting, so I was able to play a lot. I just wanted to be able to contribute to my team however I could,” Ajavon said.
Ajavon played in college at Rutgers, and spent her first season in the WNBA with the now-defunct Houston Comets before joining the Mystics. As a starter this season, Ajavon has increased her points-per-game average to just under 15 (14.8).
She’s also averaging 1.7 steals, 3.0 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game this season, and plays about 31 minutes per game, making her one of the few bright spots for the Mystics this year.
“You can’t just label us as a bad team because of the loses,” Ajavon said.”
“For the most part, we competed with a lot of teams and our games went down to the wire. One of the biggest things we learned was to never be satisfied with the losing; to never get used to it. A lot of things about our program will change by next year,” Ajavon said.
Ajavon said she hopes to return to Liberia in a couple of years, and wouldn’t mind having some WNBA hardware to take with her, the like 2011 Most Improved Player Award.
“It would be a great accomplishment for to win,” Ajavon said.
“It shows how how hard I’ve been working and waiting my turn. I just want to continue to grow and get better,” Ajavon said.
Among her favorite players, Ajavon lists former Rutgers teammate Epiphanny Prince, who made the all-star team this year, and all-time great Tamika Catchings, selected as one the the top-15 players in WNBA history. Ajavon models her game after another all-time top 15-player, Cappie Pondexter.
Head coach and general manager Trudi Lacey believes Ajavon deserves serious consideration for the MIP Award.
“In a starting role this year, Matee has really improved,” Lacey said.
“There’s a lot of upside to her game.”
Ajavon said she tries to take a little bit from everyone’s game and add it to her own. Former MIP winner, all-star teammate Crystal Langhorne, thinks it’s working.
“Matee has meant so much to this team,” Langhorne said.
“For her come in and play how she’s played with the absence of certain players, I think it really shows how much confidence she’s gained, and how much she’s learned as a player,” Langhorne said.
“She’s really stepped up her game this year and showed people in this league what she can do.”