- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007

Tree Rollins has a running joke with Washington Mystics guard Laurie Koehn. When the coach sees Koehn make 500 shots before each practice — Koehn’s routine dating back to her days at Kansas State — Rollins expresses his desire to take Koehn to the local playground and hold shooting contests.

“We could go make some money,” Rollins often says.

For her career, Koehn — in her third year with the Mystics — is a 47-percent 3-point shooter. She rarely misses in practice. Mystics guard Alana Beard estimates it takes Koehn 525 shots before she hits 500 — a 95 percent conversion rate. And last week Koehn won the 3-point shooting contest at the WNBA’s All-Star Game.

Rollins knows his team, which visits the Minnesota Lynx tonight, could use Koehn’s perimeter shooting. But she averages only 4.4 minutes a game because the Mystics coaching staff sees her 5-foot-8, 143-pound frame as a defensive liability.

“As a staff, we have to have a better idea how to get her in the game and determine what defenses we can go through,” Rollins said. “She knows, we know and the league knows she’s limited on defense. Sometimes there are situations I wonder whether or not to put her in.”

Rollins often hears the pleas to play Koehn.

“Put Laurie in!” fans often cheer, causing Rollins to re-evaluate his decision to keep her on the bench. But the coach has determined Koehn needs comprehensive defensive instruction — which he thinks can be done only in preseason — to make her ready for game situations.

For now, Koehn enters late in the game when the Mystics need a quick 3-pointer.

“She’s our unsung hero,” forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said. “She comes in and does the hardest thing to do, which is come in and hit big 3s when a team needs it. She does that after sitting on the bench for 38 minutes.”

Last year, Koehn came off the bench and paced the Mystics with 12 points in a rout against the Charlotte Sting. In 2005, Koehn scored a team-high 15 points to lead the Mystics to a nine-point win over the Detroit Shock.

Rollins criticized himself and the Mystics’ coaching staff for not finding ways to get Koehn in games more often. He points out that Celtics great Larry Bird played poor defense but still contributed.

Koehn uses her limited playing time as motivation.

“I’m the type of person who looks at it as, ‘What can I do better?’ ” she said. “If I’m doing certain things better, then they don’t have to try to find a way to play me. If I’m able to guard someone, they don’t have to worry about it.”

Koehn has been working in the weight room to increase her strength so she’s not pushed around easily. Rollins also has started incorporating Koehn in different zone defenses in practice.

The Mystics certainly could use her on offense. In 2006 Koehn owned the league’s highest 3-point percentage (52 percent).

While growing up in Newton, Kan., Koehn took 800 shots a day — 400 before and after school. “I didn’t have a lot of people to play with,” Koehn said. “When I could find another person, I’d usually ask to play a game of one-on-one because having a chance to play was few and far between.”

Maybe that’s why her play suits shooting contests more than game situations. Despite concluding her career as the NCAA’s 3-point leader (392 in her career), Koehn still felt exposed with her defensive weaknesses.

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