Wednesday, April 26, 2000

The Washington Mystics selected ex-American Basketball League center Tausha Mills with the second-overall pick in yesterday’s fourth-annual WNBA Draft.

Mills is listed at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds and is referred to as the female version of Shaquille O’Neal. In a superstar-less draft, Mills instantly conjures up images of Margo Graham and Leslie Johnson two overweight free-agent post players who rode the Mystics bench in their disastrous 3-27 inaugural season.

“There is no comparison,” Mystics coach Nancy Darsch said of the perception that Mills is another Graham or Johnson. “Tausha is physical, strong and has sprinter’s legs. It’s all strength, there is nothing extra there. She can get up and grab the rim. She runs the floor very well for a big girl.”

Ann Wauters, considered the best prospect in Europe, is a 6-4 center from Belgium and was the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Rockers.

At No. 3, Detroit selected Edwina Brown, a 5-9 forward and All-Big 12 tournament MVP at Texas. The Shock acquired the third and eighth picks after trading leading scorer Jennifer Azzi and its No. 12 pick to Utah Monday night. Azzi had threatened to not play in the WNBA this season because of salary issues.

Orlando picked 6-5 center Cintia Dos Santos of Brazil at No. 4. Minnesota, which had three first-round selections because of trades, chose guards Grace Daley of Tulane and Betty Lennox of Louisiana Tech with the fifth and sixth picks.

Two years ago when Mills was the ninth overall pick by the Chicago Condors in the defunct ABL, she was listed at 6-2 and 170 pounds. If the Condors’ numbers are accurate, then Mills grew an inch and gained 62 pounds in two years.

“I don’t know that she has ever been 170,” said Mystics assistant coach Melissa McFerrin. “Somebody was feeding the Condors false numbers.”

Mills, 23, played for Urla in Turkey last winter and said it was an experience she never wants to experience again. When the ABL folded early last winter, Mills didn’t sign with the WNBA which would have made her eligible for last year’s draft.

“There were two reasons mentally and physically,” Mills said of sitting out a season. “Mentally there were so many things going on with the collapse of the ABL and the chaos of who the WNBA was going to bring in. Physically I was not ready and not in shape. I needed another three or four months. I didn’t want to embarrass or hurt myself going in the draft.”

In 11 games for the Condors, Mills averaged 2.3 points and 3.1 rebounds. Mills was named the 1996 Junior College Player of the Year at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, the same school that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Shawn Kemp briefly attended. Mills transferred to Alabama and was second-team All-SEC her senior season when she averaged 10.2 points and six rebounds.

Coming off a 12-20 season, the Mystics also had the 18th overall pick in the draft. The Mystics needed a shooter and selected Florida swing player Tonya Washington. Washington, 5-11 and 166 pounds, was first-team all-SEC last season averaging 18.6 points and 6.9 rebounds.

The athletic Washington is a 3-point specialist, something that fills a huge hole in the Mystics lineup.

“She gives us a person we can kick out to and knock down threes,” Darsch said. “She is a slasher and a creative scorer.”

Washington is the 17th of 18 children. All of her nine brothers and eight sisters played basketball at some level. Washington is Florida’s all-time 3-point shooter making 73 of 203 3-pointers (36 percent).

Darsch wanted to add a point guard to back up Andrea Nagy.

“We think Markita [Aldridge] has the skills to be [the backup point guard],” Darsch said. “We will probably acquire a free agent [guard] from our training camp roster [which begins May 3].”

The Mystics’ urgency for post player was accelerated because of Valerie Still’s planned retirement and a knee injury to 6-5 reserve center Heather Owen. Owen also will sit out this season.

The lack of a dominant center has plagued the franchise since the league’s inception three years ago. In the offseason, the Mystics acquired all-star forward Vicky Bullett from the Charlotte Sting in exchange for Shalonda Enis and the Mystics’ third-round pick (34th overall) in yesterday’s draft.

For now, the plan is for Mills to come off the bench and offer a physical presence. At 6-3, the 33-year-old Bullett could be projected as the Mystics starting center, but her solid outside shooting enables Bullett to extend her game beyond the paint. Murriel Page, a 6-2 forward, and Bullett were the Mystics only post players before the drafting of Mills.

Note George Washington’s Elisa Aguilar did not sign a contract with the WNBA and wasn’t eligible for yesterday’s draft. No local players were drafted.

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