Mystics take youthful lineup into the season opener

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The Washington Mystics will open their season on the road Saturday against the Connecticut Sun with a roster that includes four rookies.

Point guard Jasmine Thomas, center Ta’Shia Phillips, forward Victoria Dunlap and guard/forward Karima Christmas are the rookies who made the final cut.

Earlier this week, the Mystics waived point guard Ashley Houts and forward Megan Frazee, and also cut ties with 12-year veteran Chastity Melvin to reduce their roster to the final 11 spots.

The Mystics clearly are embracing a youth movement and now have a roster that includes just two players with at least five years’ experience — 10-year veteran point guard Kelly Miller and six-year veteran guard Alana Beard.

Coach Trudi Lacey said she’s confident in her team despite its youth.

“They are working hard, learning each other and learning to play as a team,” Lacey said. “As long as we continue learning and growing, as long as we play with energy and enthusiasm, we will be OK.”

Like Beard and Monique Currie, who will miss the season as she rehabs an ACL injury, two of the rookies — Christmas and Thomas - are from Duke, and both cite playing with Beard as an asset in their learning process.

But for Christmas, being a rookie still is a bit of nerve-wracking.

“Everybody’s nervous, but you learn you have to bring it every day to compete for a spot on the team,” Christmas said.

Christmas said training camp was intense from day one, but the two exhibition games helped her begin the transition from college to the WNBA.

“It’s going to be very different. I’m very excited,” said Christmas, who was the Mystics’ second-round pick.

Dunlap, the first-round pick, also described camp as nerve-wracking but exciting.

“I just wanted to make sure I was doing what the coaches want me to do,” Dunlap said.

The Mystics won the Eastern Conference last season with a 22-12 record but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Atlanta Dream. This year, they will have Beard back after she missed last season with an Achilles’ injury. But the guard has struggled to find her shooting touch this preseason.

She went only 1-for-15 in the two exhibitions, but Beard said she understands that her timing will not return overnight. She called her return “part of an ongoing process” and is doing her best to remain patient as she regains her form.

Patience is something Lacey also says is important as the Mystics try to turn regular-season victories into playoff success.

“It’s a long season. There’s an ebb and flow, and there is no easy road to a championship,” she said. “If we focus on growth, not goals, we will be moving in the right direction.”

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