The intense two-day tryout had come to an end. More than 300 people showed up, hoping to fulfill a life-long dream. But only 12 were left standing; huddled together at midcourt of Verizon Center, still dripping sweat and saying silent prayers.
Only six numbers would be called. Six players would be invited to the Washington Mystics’ training camp for their inaugural season. The other six would walk off the court, and most likely say goodbye to their dreams of playing professional basketball in their country.
It’s been 13 years since that day, but Christy Winters-Scott recalls every moment, every detail, with perfect clarity and searing emotion. It was, and still is, the defining moment that shaped her life.
“I was No. 305. They told us, ‘If we call your number, you’re staying in camp. Wes Unseld was calling out the numbers,’ recalled Winters-Scott. “They called 298. I was waiting, thinking I had to be next. Then they called 309. I just dropped to my knees. I felt like all the air was just taken out of me.
“I laid it all on the line, but it didn’t happen. I was devastated. I’m not sure how I made it home that day.”
Winters-Scott, 6-foot-2 in her stocking feet, was a star basketball player at Maryland who describes herself as a high-post and short-corner shooter with 3-point range, with good maneuverability, rebounding and defensive skills.
She graduated in 1990, but the WNBA didn’t exist yet, so Winters-Scott did what all women did who still wanted to play after their college days; she headed overseas.
“I spent a year playing in Italy, and another two years playing in Switzerland,” she said. “I stopped playing in 1996, so for two years I didn’t play competitively, but I was still working out. When I found out there was going to be a team in D.C., I knew I was going to try out for it and give myself a chance. I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
But after missing out on one dream, Winters-Scott set her sights on another: a broadcasting career. She was working on cable access television doing the Roundball Report and, in ironic fashion, found herself standing in the Verizon Center tunnel for the Mystics‘ inaugural game.
“I was excited for the moment, but I felt sicker than I had in my whole life. I still had raw emotion about not being on the team,” Winters-Scott said. “I was still trying to pull it together, and I turned around and saw [ESPN commentator] Mike Wilbon. He said, ‘Christy, can I talk to you about this moment.’ He would later write that I was misty-eyed, but I don’t think he knew why. No one did.”
A consummate professional, she gave Wilbon an interview.
“I had to talk to him about how great this opportunity was for these young women to get to play in the United States and in D.C. But after I answered his questions, I kind of got myself together. Whatever I told him, I was saying it to myself. I think that’s when the healing process actually started for me.”
In addition to her cable access work, Winters-Scott also spent the next several years coaching basketball. Her stops included George Mason, Maryland and Georgetown. But after the birth of her third child, Winters-Scott grew weary of the travel and wanted to be home with her family.
“I know he doesn’t remember it, but I told my husband that the perfect thing would be to work at South Lakes [her high school alma mater] and to work with the Mystics,” she said.
Deeply spiritual and grounded, Winters-Scott believes her wish was heard as a prayer, one that was soon answered.
“I got a call soon after that South Lakes was open, and I jumped at it,” she said.
As a high school coach, she no longer has to travel and can be home in the evening with her family. Not long after that, in the same spot in the same tunnel where she stood on Mystics opening night, she was offered a job with the team as a radio broadcaster.
“I said yes before they could even finish asking me,” Winters-Scott said. “I went on the road with the team a little bit that first year, which was awesome. Even though I wasn’t on the team, I was around to see the funny things that happen on the bus, in the restaurant, in practice; those are the things that you miss. I saw what it would have been like if I had made the team.
“To be so close to it, it was like closure, like a healing for my emotions.”
“She’s more than just a broadcaster, she’s also a site director for our camps and clinics,” said Greg Bibb, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Mystics and Wizards.
“She knows the game, and she has incredible versatility. She works as an emcee for us; she does color on our telecasts and works as a coach in our camps. Christy has a real gift for teaching, and she’s an incredible asset for us.”
Broadcast partner Frank Hanrahan said that just like a great player would, Winters-Scott makes everyone around her better.
“She’s a blast to work with,” Hanrahan said. “She’s extremely prepared, gives the fans great information and brings real professionalism to her work. She makes my job easier.”
For Winters-Scott, it’s been a journey full of learning, healing and unexpected rewards.
“I know that I gave everything I had to give. If I hadn’t done that, if I hadn’t tested myself and pushed myself, I don’t think the moments I have now with this team would be as rewarding,” Winters-Scott said. “It’s an evolution. Maybe that wasn’t my time, but maybe that’s not what I was supposed to be doing. But, I’ve come full circle and now, I’m finally home.”