- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

The newest Washington Mystic issued a bold guarantee for long-suffering fans: Losing is in the past.

“We’re not losing this year — you can put that in the paper,” rookie guard Alana Beard said.

Beard, who was the second pick overall in April’s WNBA Draft, is a major reason why the Mystics could be one of the most improved teams in the WNBA as they open their seventh season tonight at MCI Center against the Charlotte Sting.

Coming off a 9-25 season, the Mystics have added a new coach (former NBA player Michael Adams), a starting point guard, a starting center, more post depth and Beard. Now many veteran Mystics consider this a no-excuses season.

“We have all the pieces — we just really need to pull it all together,” shooting guard Coco Miller said. “We just need to have a winning mentality. That is the main thing.”

Now in her fourth season, Miller calls this the most talented Mystics team she has played on. Miller’s optimism comes from the addition of 6-foot-3 veteran center Chasity Melvin and veteran point guard Tamicha Jackson, plus draft picks Beard from Duke and 6-foot-3 center Kaayla Chones from N.C. State.

It’s conceivable there could be three new faces in the Mystics’ starting five tonight.

“We have new players on this team, and it’s a totally different situation, so we should be good and in good shape,” said Miller, who averaged 12.5 points lastseason. “We have a lot of weapons on this team.”

Melvin, who the Mystics selected with the second pick in the dispersal draft for the remnants of the defunct Cleveland Rockers, gives the team its first legitimate center. Over her five years in Cleveland, Melvin averaged 11.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Rockers went to the playoffs in three of those seasons.

“It’s hard to compare the teams, but in Cleveland we worked so well together as a team — that’s how we won,” Melvin said. “We knew how to stop people and how to do the little things to win games.”

However, the Mystics probably won’t go anywhere if Chamique Holdsclaw doesn’t play a full season. The 26-year-old franchise player has missed 19 games because of injuries the past two seasons, when the Mystics went 29-42 overall.

The 6-2 Holdsclaw, a three-time WNBA All-Star, will play more small forward this season now that Melvin is aboard in an attempt to save the reigning WNBA’s leading rebounder (10.9) from unnecessary pounding in the lane. Adams said he will move Holdsclaw around tonight.

“She’ll play some [small forward] and some [power forward],” Adams said. “Where we start her, I don’t know.”

Adams, who played 11 years in the NBA, is emphasizing a running, uptempo style. In his halfcourt sets, Adams plans to set a lot of screens and have his shooters run off them. He also wants to isolate mismatches in his halfcourt offense, and everything has to be done fast.

That’s one reason the Mystics traded for Jackson, a quick, 5-6 player who can push the ball. With thoroughbreds like Holdsclaw, Beard, Miller, Melvin and swing player Stacey Dales-Schuman filling the lanes, the Mystics should get easy layups this season if Jackson is doing her job and not turning the ball over.

“I love it,” Melvin said of Adams’ system. “For five years, I’ve had to grind in the paint to get all my points. So now maybe I’ll get a couple easy buckets. [But] anytime we can run, I’m going to run the floor, and that’s an easy two points for me. I’m a lighter post player, so I can beat my player down the floor. I’m looking forward to that.”

Defense is one area where the Mystics need to improve; last season they allowed a league-worst 73.5 points a game. Beard, who won the inaugural Wooden Award given to the nation’s best women’s college player, is a defensive specialist. If the 5-11 Beard can play strong perimeter defense, disrupting the ball and cutting off passing lanes, the Mystics shouldn’t give up wholesale points.

It won’t take long to figure out the Mystics this season. They open the season with back-to-back games (at Indiana tomorrow), play three games in four days and play their first four in a week.

“We’ll find out what we’re about, find out where we are as a group,” Adams said. “You get to know after four or five games what your team is going to look like, and hopefully we’re going to be fine.”

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