If Michael Adams was looking for a challenge, he has one now: turn the Washington Mystics into winners.
“The losing mentality is going to be out the window because I’m preaching win, win, win,” the Mystics’ latest coach said. “I’m not worried about me — it’s all about them. If they have success, then I’ll have success. It’s all predicated on what they do. I’m part of their puzzle. If I can get them to execute the way I think they can, good things are going to happen.”
Starting, he hopes, tomorrow night when the Mystics open their season against the Charlotte Sting at MCI Center.
Adams knows about challenges. Few basketball people gave him much of a chance to make it in the NBA at 5-foot-10, but he had an 11-year career as a point guard with the Washington Bullets, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets and Charlotte Hornets.
In 1992, as a member of the Bullets, he was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Adams led the NBA in 3-point field goals in the 1987-88 and 1990-91 seasons. He is remembered for an unorthodox 3-point shot that appeared to be launched off his hip.
Now Adams is coaching women after being out of work for two years, and the Mystics’ players have taken a liking to him. Soon after he was hired Feb.17, Adams was playing pickup games with his team, instantly establishing himself as a player’s coach.
“Ask Michael what happened to his shoulder. Ask Michael how much weight he lost playing with us,” forward Stacey Dales-Schuman said.
Countered Adams: “I was guarding Stacey a few times in those weeks that we were playing, and I think she sort of hit me and hurt my shoulder. She wants to take credit for that, but I don’t know. It could have happened somewhere else. She was hacking me, but she wants to say that she put me down for the count.”
The Mystics have been the league’s biggest enigma. High draft picks, college superstars and seasoned pros dot the roster, but the Mystics haven’t been able to win. They’re the losingest team in WNBA history, with a record of 68-131 (.341) under six head coaches in as many years.
Why would Adams want to tackle such a challenge, especially since the Mystics are coming off a 9-25 season?
“Because I wanted to keep coaching basketball,” Adams replied. “The opportunity was there. If you’re going to coach, you put your name in a hat and see if you can get a job to coach these women. I’m happy I did. It’s been good so far.”
Adams becomes the fifth ex-NBA player coaching in the WNBA, joining Bill Laimbeer (Detroit), Michael Cooper (Los Angeles), Brian Winters (Indiana), and Dee Brown (San Antonio). Cooper has won two WNBA championships and Laimbeer one. A team coached by a woman has never won a WNBA championship.
“If you look at what [Cooper and Laimbeer have done], they’re running a lot of NBA sets,” Adams said. “You can’t help but try to learn some of the stuff that they’ve done because, hey, they’ve been a success. Hopefully, I can follow their lead and have some of the same success.”
Adams, 41, intends to install NBA sets into the Mystics’ offense by setting more screens, running isolation plays for top scorers like forward Chamique Holdsclaw, and shooting more quickly. Adams wants to keep the Mystics’ halfcourt offense as simple as possible.
“We call it quick hitters. [Adams] wants to bing, bing. Inside, out and shoot,” said rookie guard Alana Beard, who was the second selection in April’s WNBA Draft. “If we’re not running, we set it up in halfcourt, get a quick cut, maybe a screen on the ball. He gets on me all the time for not shooting when I come off a screen. It’s like 10 or 15 seconds into the play, the shot is up.”
When the Mystics hired Adams, other more qualified women’s basketball coaches were looking for work.
“This is my seventh season and I’ve had seven different coaches, so I tend not to really pay attention to what’s going on in the front office and try to better myself as a player,” said forward Murriel Page, who is the last of the original Mystics from the 3-27 team of 1998. “I heard a lot of different coaches’ names, and he was not one of the guys that was thrown into the pool.
“[When he was hired], the first thing that came to mind was ‘Michael Adams? Who is that?’ I called, and they told me who he was and I was satisfied. I was happy and eager to get back and get into the gym and get started.”
Adams, a Hartford, Conn., native, began his coaching career in 1999 as Ralph Sampson’s assistant with the International Basketball League’s Richmond Rhythm. In 2000, he returned to the NBA as an assistant with the Vancouver Grizzlies, moved with the team to Memphis and stayed there until the end of the 2001-02 season.
For the next two years, Adams looked for work as a coach. He had some local business ventures, coached his 11-year-old son Michael’s youth team and did volunteer work in the area.
“[Michael Jr.] doesn’t remember when I was a player, but I think he’s seen some of the tapes,” Adams said. “It’s funny when people come up to me and talk to me about basketball, he wonders why so many people know who I am because he was too little to realize that I did play.”
Adams averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.9 rebounds during his 11 pro seasons. His best was 1990-91, when he averaged 26.5 points for the high-scoring Nuggets.
Adams approached the Mystics about their coaching vacancy after Marianne Stanley resigned Jan.21, and it helped that he has a long-standing relationship with Mystics owner Abe Pollin and lives in Mitchellville.
“We would see him at different events, and he has always been a part of our organization,” said Judy Holland-Burton, the Mystics’ senior vice president of business and basketball operations. “Mr. Pollin has a unique relationship with former players with an open-door policy — staying in touch, caring about former employees and remembering them.”
The Mystics’ six previous head coaches have not been a part of the family of Washington Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Mystics and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. Adams becomes the first Mystics coach to have ties to the organization.
“I kept my face in front of other people’s faces so they wouldn’t forget me just in case an opportunity like this comes around — you just don’t know if they will consider you or not,” Adams said. “Fortunately, they did. I’m happy to say, yeah I’m still a part of this organization and I can say that I played for them and worked for them before, and they knew me and they knew a lot about me.”
Adams, who played at Boston College under Maryland Terrapins coach Gary Williams, was a Mystics season-ticket holder during the team’s first year. When he was an assistant in Memphis, he worked out with a former Mystics fan favorite.
“Me and Nikki McCray still talk, and when she was doing some commentating in Memphis, he was there and would work out with her,” Holdsclaw said. “So he’s a big women’s basketball fan.”
Adams won’t rule out the possibility that this job could be a springboard back into the men’s game, but first he has to prove he can win with the women.
“I’d hate to say that, and I will not look at it that way — it’s about honing your craft,” Adams said. “I can learn as much as possible about basketball from sitting on the hot seat as a head coach. You learn more, you prepare more, you lead and you direct, and then if good things happen with this team, who knows what’s in the future?”