- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

It took them nine tries, plus a rookie rainmaker who was blissfully unacquainted with the futility that marred the first eight, to finally pull it off. And once the Washington Mystics wrapped up the club's first-ever victory over the Houston Comets last week, the face of charmed forward Stacey Dales-Schuman beamed on MCI Center's big video screen.

While an interviewer asked about her nine-point effort in the second half that helped secure the win, a giddy Dales-Schuman sat atop press row, swinging her legs like a joyful toddler on a swing set. Speaking to a crowd of 14,004 who didn't want the night to end, Dales-Schuman sensed the moment and addressed her audience. Bring all your friends next time, she exhorted them, because Washington is going places.

When the Mystics selected Dales-Schuman out of Oklahoma with the third overall pick in April's WNBA Draft, they knew they were acquiring a perimeter talent who could pass, post up and shoot 3s. What they might not have known then, but do now, was that the dynamo is also a smooth diplomat.

Dales-Schuman, 22, polished that PR savvy at Oklahoma, whose struggling women's basketball team she rescued not long after it teetered on the verge of extinction. In 1990, the university cut the program and it took a public uproar to save it. After mixed results the next six years, the Sooners hit rock-bottom in 1996-97, going 5-22. But that same year, the new Oklahoma coaching staff stumbled upon Dales-Schuman in Canada while recruiting a different player.

That dumb luck became a saving grace. Last March, Dales-Schuman delivered front-page headlines to the publicity-starved program and directed the Sooners all the way to the NCAA championship game.

"We made her the poster child for our program," says Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale. "She was billed as our savior before she even played a Division I game. In a lot of ways, all that attention might have been unfair, but we were building and we were looking for a star."

A two-time All-American, Dales-Schuman certainly fit that bill, especially in her native Canada. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, she was Team Canada's youngest player. Two years later, she is the sport's most visible ambassador in her hockey-crazed homeland.

"I go to tryouts in Toronto and Vancouver," says Allison McNeill, coach of the Canadian national team. "I ask these girls, 'How many of you know who Stacey Dales is?' There's not a hand that doesn't go up. That's never happened before in Canada."

In her hometown of Brockville, Ontario, Dales-Schuman had a day named for her last July 2. Then, during the Sooners' NCAA run, Dales-Schuman drew crowds of up to 80 people to Brockville's local watering hole to watch the games on satellite.

"The atmosphere was pretty wild in here during the [tournament]," says John Ackerman, owner of Bud's on the Bay. "She is right up there [celebrity-wise]. She's number one, I'd say."

Washington is now the latest stop on Dales-Schuman's goodwill tour and she's made an immediate impact. On June 1, she poured in a game-high 23 points in her first game as a Mystic. She added 20 in Sunday's win at Cleveland, including 4-for-5 shooting beyond the arc.

That production, combined with her youthful exuberance, has lit a fire under the Mystics. At 6-1, they're off to the best start in franchise history.

"Stacey's attitude is, 'You're in it to win it otherwise why do it?'" explains Washington coach Marianne Stanley. "To be so competitive is contagious.

"She's a winner. It's helped our players to accept her as one of the leaders and as someone they have confidence in."

Her name bears a dash, but a slash might be more appropriate. Dales-Schuman can play either of the guard positions or the small forward spot equally well. Coming from Oklahoma, where she directed the Sooners' up-tempo offense, Washington's new run-and-gun style has been a perfect fit.

"We drill fast-break basketball everyday," says Dales-Schuman, the Mystics' second-leading scorer after Chamique Holdsclaw. "It's a fun way to play the game and it's fun to watch. Fortunately I've come to a team that plays this style, because it fits my game."

While Dales-Schuman has flourished on the wing, knocking down the second-most 3-pointers (17) in the league so far this year, she still occasionally takes over at the point. Prior to the season, Stanley had toyed with the notion of putting her there permanently, then thought better of it.

"I think we can maximize all that she brings to the table by playing her at the wing and moving her around," Stanley said. "[At first], I liked the idea of having the big point guard and I wanted to play her there. But to restrict her to that is to limit her."

When she's allowed to run loose, Dales-Schuman is a sight to behold in the open court.

"Stacey plays in full color," Coale says. "We were able to attract great fans immediately just from her. There's nothing vanilla about the way she plays. We drew a lot of fans that before might not have even cared about women's basketball."

Dales-Schuman tends to go full speed off the court, too. This spring, in between the Final Four, graduation and the WNBA Draft, she sandwiched in her wedding to fellow Sooners alum Chris Schuman on April 13. The couple recently made the move together to the area.

"It's been a little chaotic at times, but I've enjoyed every minute of it," Dales-Schuman says.

Coale thinks all the demands on Dales-Schuman's time actually helped her focus last spring, if only because they provided enough outlets for her boundless energy. The opposite was true during her freshman year when Dales-Schuman missed the entire basketball season with an ACL tear.

"I think she cried every night," Coale says. "Her room was like a morgue. The thing that she had come all the way from home to do had been taken away from her."

That freshman whom Coale describes as "high strung" is a far cry from the even-keeled senior who juggled school, basketball and her wedding plans her senior year. Considering everything else that was going on, an off shooting night at Texas A&M once a tragedy was no longer a big deal.

"If she was a freshman, she might have cried the whole ride home, thinking she had let people down," Coale said.

Dales-Schuman's game is maturing as well. McNeill, who also works as an assistant coach at Oregon and watched Dales-Schuman in the Final Four, notes that she only recently has improved her outside range and that while still occasionally prone to turnovers "she makes better decisions with her passes, which have always been creative."

"She's not anywhere near her ceiling," Coale says. "Of all those in the draft, Stacey might have had the highest one. She only became a consistent shooter in the last year-and-a-half."

McNeill goes a step further.

"I firmly believe she can be one of the best players in the world."

For now, Dales-Schuman is working plenty of wonders just by her presence. Coale remembers road trips when Dales-Schuman would spend the entire ride at the back of the bus, sitting next to a freshman teammate who was doubting herself.

"Suddenly, that freshman would feel good about herself just because Stacey Dales had talked to her for two hours," Coale said. "Stacey's matured so much. She knew the power of her emotions on her teammates. When she walked on the floor, her teammates felt invincible."

Just one win away from matching the franchise's longest-ever win streak, her Washington teammates appear to feel much the same way. That's the power of Dales-Schuman's personality which, like her image on the MCI Center video screen last week looms just a tad larger than life.

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