Monday, April 26, 2004

New Washington Mystics coach Michael Adams already has earned his players’ seal of approval.

After the first day of workouts, Adams, the latest in the Mystics’ carousel of coaches, seems to have the perennial losers thinking turnaround. Adams opened the Mystics’ seventh training camp yesterday with an air of optimism the club has seldom exhibited.

He’s NBA, he’s young, and he’s bringing energy.

“I can tell you right now, with Michael having come from the NBA, he knows halfcourt basketball,” forward Stacey Dales-Schuman said. “The objective — first option — is to get out and run. He plays with us. He cocks it on his hip, launches it, and it’s nylon.”

Adams, 41, was known over his 14 seasons in the NBA as a player with an unorthodox, yet effective 3-point shot. The former Bullets point guard is the youngest coach in Mystics history, which might help him relate to the players better than his predecessors.

The Mystics, who are coming off a 9-25 season, have tried virtually every route — WNBA, college, international and local — in selecting their six previous coaches. Aside from Darrell Walker’s 14-game stint as interim coach in 2000 after Nancy Darsch was fired, Adams is the first from the NBA ranks.

“I’m not older than Darrell Walker,” Adams said. “It was fun to get out there and get the adrenaline flowing as a coach, just trying to mesh this group and see if I can form them into one solid team.”

Adams identified a huge weakness in the Mystics before the start of training camp — perimeter defense. Last season, opponents shot 44.7 percent — tied for the highest in the league — and averaged 73.5 points. The WNBA champion Detroit Shock averaged a league-best 75.1 points a game.

In last week’s WNBA Draft, the Mystics addressed their poor perimeter defense by selecting Duke’s Alana Beard with the second pick overall.

Touted as an athletic defensive specialist, the 5-foot-11 Beard says she can lock down either guard position and, if necessary, defend the post. Newly acquired point guard Tamicha Jackson, who the Mystics received from the Phoenix Mercury in March in exchange for Asjha Jones, is also billed as a tough perimeter defender.

“Coaches bring in what they need,” Beard said. “[Adams] brought Tamicha in for great perimeter defense, and he brought me in for defense. So we’re going to get it done along with the other players that have been here. The little intangible things that they didn’t do last year is what he’s looking to put in and have us do this year.”

Just like some of the previous Mystics coaches, Adams wants to play up-tempo. The 5-6 Jackson is the first Washington point guard who can push the ball at full throttle. What remains to be seen is whether she can play under control during game conditions.

With superstar Chamique Holdsclaw (20.5 points), Dales-Schuman (10.0), shooting guard Coco Miller (12.5), forward Murriel Page (6.3) and now Beard, the Mystics are built for speed.

“I’m probably one of the most laid-back people, and I’m not like a real big trash-talker, but it’s now or never. That’s just the way I feel,” said Holdsclaw, who was the WNBA’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder (10.9) last season. “If we don’t get it done this year, then hey. … I look forward to us competing for the Eastern Conference finals this year, and I’m confident we can get there.”

Notes — The Mystics’ June 13 home game at 2p.m. against the New York Liberty has been moved to Comcast Center to accommodate a Madonna concert on the same day at MCI Center. … Center Chasity Melvin, Page and guards Kiesha Brown and Jocelyn Penn are still playing overseas and won’t arrive at training camp until later in the week.

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