- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

There were many times during her past two seasons as a Washington Mystic that Chamique Holdsclaw had had enough.

Enough losing. Enough poor communication with the coaching staff. Enough injuries. Enough frustration.

She became so discouraged during the 2000 season when she feuded with the coach and team management while battling nagging injuries she contemplated leaving the game.

"To myself, I was thinking, 'If things don't change, I don't know what my future holds, because my future's unhappy,'" Holdsclaw said yesterday. "There was a point, with the injuries, where I was like, 'I don't know if I even want to play anymore.'"

But, she said, "tough times don't last, but tough people do."

Two seasons later, things have taken a turn for the better: Holdsclaw leads the WNBA in scoring and rebounding and the Mystics are 14-5 and the Eastern Conference's top team more than halfway through the season.

There is a nagging injury a high left ankle sprain that will keep Holdsclaw out of today's game against the New York Liberty and Monday's WNBA All-Star game at MCI Center but otherwise, the 2002 season is one of vindication for Holdsclaw and her team. Her first three Mystics seasons produced a combined 37-61 record, but now Holdsclaw is primed to lead the Mystics to the league playoffs.

For Holdsclaw, the changes have been subtle but significant and have come together at the right time. There is better communication between her and the coaches, she entered the season in better condition and she is playing more power forward.

"My whole mindset this year has just changed," Holdsclaw said. "I'm out there this year focused, on 'attack mode,' playing with a lot of energy."

Holdsclaw started the season right, working with Tennessee trainer Jackie Ansley in the offseason and getting to the Mystics' preseason camp trimmer and fitter then in any previous season.

She forged a relationship with first-year coach Marianne Stanley, a no-nonsense veteran whose honesty and sharp communication skills earn respect from players. Gone were the disagreements and contentious relationships Holdsclaw endured with Mystics coaches past.

"When you come through difficult circumstances for a couple years, then you have to sit down and look at what can [you] do to make it better, and really reflect on that," Stanley said. "[Holdsclaw] has done that.

"At the same time, I think it's only natural to expect and believe that a natural talent like Chamique is going to be a whole lot better emotionally, maturity-wise in year four than year one and two. Then add to that people she respects and trusts in myself and [personnel consultant Pat Summitt], and you have the right formula for success."

Stanley has played Holdsclaw more at the power forward position, a spot where the No.1 overall pick in the 1999 draft has flourished, combining rebounding ability with an athleticsm and all-court game rivaled by few, if any, players in the league. She can still handle the ball and play the perimeter, much like she did in the past at small forward, but down low she plays in the "attack mode" that has inspired her play this season.

Despite her injury, which has forced her to miss the last five games, Holdsclaw has not ceased asserting herself as a team leader. When the Mystics played three road games while Holdsclaw was injured, she phoned Stanley and players especially forwards Murriel Page and Vicky Bullett with opponents' tendencies.

"Even though she can't be there physically, mentally she tries to be there for us to give us her support and encouragement before the game," Page said. "Whichever player she feels might need a lift or she might need to talk to, she tries to do whatever she can to get us to where we need to be with her being out."

This season hasn't been all basketball for the Mystics star; she had to cope with the death May 27 of her grandmother and primary caretaker through adolescence, June Holdsclaw, who raised her in Astoria, N.Y., after her parents separated. Holdsclaw missed two games to be with her family and received a groundswell of support from her teammates and the Mystics' organization to help her through the grieving.

"[Their support] definitely took me out of my self-pity," Holdsclaw said. "At first I was like, 'I can't really focus on basketball.' But having them around and hanging out, it really helped me come out of my element. They really helped me a lot."

Most of all, Holdsclaw has helped herself. Summitt, Holdsclaw's coach at Tennessee, said the former four-time first-team All-American has finally grown into her responsibilities as a professional athlete. The key, Summitt said, was getting Holdsclaw in a structured situation, much like she had under her grandmother and with Summitt at Tennessee. When she arrived in Washington, Holdsclaw wasn't quite ready for life on her own, Summitt said, and it was reflected in her physical fitness and time management.

Holdsclaw said it was just a matter of allowing her team's success to catch up to her own competitive drive and desire for success.

"You learn from and appreciate things," Holdsclaw said. After a tough loss, "I would go to the locker room and be all emotional, all [ticked] off. And people could say what they wanted, that I was a crybaby or whatever, but I take it serious. I would go home and I would think about it. I don't know if everyone on the team thought about it, but I would, I'd replay it in my mind.

"I always promised myself that if I was in position to be successful, I wouldn't take it for granted, because I know in the past how hard I worked. When you do work hard and don't achieve what you want, you feel it. So I felt this season I wanted to take it to the next level of being a professional."

And a true professional Holdsclaw has become. Although disappointed she cannot play in front of the home fans Monday, Holdsclaw realizes what is important returning to the team healthy and prepared for the Mystics' playoff push. She's due to return for Thursday's game against Detroit.

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