- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Washington Mystics coach Marianne Stanley has accomplished what many deemed impossible: She's taught the Mystics how to win.
Where her five predecessors failed miserably, Stanley has the Mystics (11-4) running away with the WNBA's Eastern Conference and on pace for the franchise's first winning season. Just 15 games into the season, Stanley has eclipsed last season's win total and is just four wins shy of the team record.
The one season turnaround has exceeded even her wildest expectations.
"To be 11-4 right now is incredible," Stanley said. "I thought we would do well, and I didn't put a number on it, but I don't know if I could have envisioned what we've done thus far and in the manner in which we've done it."
Stanley's past she won three NCAA women's basketball championships at Old Dominion gave credibility and brought instant respect to the Mystics right away. The five previous Mystics coaches brought baggage in one form or another. They were either unqualified (Jim Lewis), on an interim basis (Cathy Parson and Darrell Walker), unpopular (Nancy Darsch) or unfamiliar (Tom Maher).
More than 20 years of experience as both a coach and a player is perhaps Stanley's biggest asset. She knows all the players in the league and their individual weaknesses and strengths. She also formulates game plans to her team's strengths, not its limitations, as some of her predecessors did.
"We worked so hard in training camp. We worked on just so many different situations, and [Stanley] did a great job staying with the game plan," rookie forward Asjha Jones said. "Just seeing what she was doing, I recognized a lot of it when I was going to college. So I understood that's going to work. In everything she's doing, she really knows what she's talking about."
Jones should know. She played on Connecticut's 39-0 NCAA championship team. Stanley is a master of the chalkboard, but the bottom line is that she is only as good as her players.
Fortunately for Stanley, she has one of the best in forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who has spearheaded the Mystics' resurrection and made the franchise this year's WNBA feel-good story. Holdsclaw, in here fourth year, is having her best season. The 6-foot-2 forward leads the league in scoring (19.9) and rebounding (11.8) and is one of just two players reigning league MVP Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks is the other to be averaging a double-double.
Stanley has caused the Mystics to believe in her system, but the magnificent start wouldn't have been possible without Holdsclaw. The former Tennessee star has let her game speak for itself this season and has led the team by example. She's overcome personal tragedy this season, dealing with the death of the grandmother who raised her, and has shown a steely resolve.
She has a Jordan-like affect on the team. Even when she's not in the lineup, the rest of her teammates raise their level of play so as not to let her down. In games without Holdsclaw in the lineup, the Mystics are 2-1 this season.
"I'm really excited about the season. We've already exceeded our expectations based on the previous year and what people thought of us," Holdsclaw said. "We're moving in the right direction."
Before this season, naysayers questioned not only Holdsclaw's leadership ability but also her playing ability. Her critics said she was overrated, pointing out that the Mystics didn't have a winning season in any of the three after they drafted Holdsclaw, who scored more than 3,000 points while leading Tennessee to three national titles.
But what the critics never saw was how hard Holdsclaw took the losses. In her first season, after one particular ugly Mystics loss, Holdsclaw cried in a corner just outside the team's locker room. The 1999 WNBA's rookie of the year did everything in her power to lead the Mystics to victory, but it became painfully obvious she needed some help.
"You can listen to [Holdsclaws critics] talk or you don't have to, and I choose not to," rookie Stacey Dales-Schuman said. "I choose to look at Chamique as an incredible basketball player who makes players around her better. In the past, I don't know how it was, but sometimes it takes chemistry to make a team go and have people around you that make you better. I think we have a unique chemistry this year that hasn't existed previously."
Dales-Schuman can call it chemistry, but others would call it talent.
In the past, teams were able to double- and triple-team Holdsclaw because no other Mystics player was able pick up the scoring. This year, if teams double Holdsclaw, there are other weapons, such as Jones (7.0 ppg), Dales-Schuman (12.6 ppg), guard Coco Miller (9.5 ppg), center Vicky Bullett (8.8 ppg) and reserve guard Helen Luz (6.5 ppg), who will make teams pay on any given night.
The impact of rookies Jones and Dales-Schuman shouldn't go unnoticed. The first-year players have walked in and performed like savvy veterans, providing a strong supporting cast for Holdsclaw. It's taken a little longer for Jones to get acclimated to the WNBA because, at 6-2, she's had to adjust and find spots on the floor where she can score against the league's taller post players.
In the case of Dales-Schuman, it was an easier transition. She is taller than most in the WNBA and has tremendous range, and most small forwards aren't quick enough to come out and defend her.
The acquisition of Jones and Dales-Schuman was made possible by the Mystics finishing last season tied for last in the conference at 10-22 and a trade that soon may be known as the Indiana Swindle.
The Mystics traded ineffective guard Nikki McCray in December to the Indiana Fever for the WNBA Draft's fourth pick overall. After the Mystics selected Dales-Schuman, a two-time All-American out of Oklahoma, with the third pick overall, they took Jones with the fourth.
The McCray trade was brilliant and probably one of the few things the past administration did right. The trade of the poor shooting McCray, a fan favorite, signaled that the Mystics were about to get serious. During her four seasons in Washington, McCray missed countless shots, turned the ball over too many times and played little defense. McCray's legacy in Washington is the team's record during that time: 39-87.
It's fitting that once McCray left town, the Mystics finally started to win. McCray, who is scoring slightly more than Dales-Schuman with a 12.9 average, hasn't really helped the Fever that much either. Indiana is 6-8, 4 games behind the Mystics.
Stanley has emphasized the team concept this season. It helps that the coach rotates players in and out of games regularly. With active WNBA rosters set at 11 players, Stanley assembled 11 who can provide something more to the team than dressing in warmups and leading cheers.
With Holdsclaw out at least the next five games with a left ankle sprain and the Mystics on the road for the next three, Stanley's team concept will be put to the test.
However, the Mystics have gotten through the most difficult part of their schedule, and the team has no West Coast road trips remaining the Western Conference is considered the stronger of the two. The Mystics have nine of their remaining 17 games at home, where the team is undefeated, and a majority of their remaining opponents have losing records. It seems everything has fallen into place for the Mystics so far this season.
"It's a good sign for the type of team we have, the type of players who want to win and play together," Bullett said. "You've got to have that, and you can't win with just one scorer."

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