- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

Life without Chamique begins tonight.

The Washington Mystics play their first regular-season game since franchise cornerstone and troubled superstar Chamique Holdsclaw forced a trade when they visit Charlotte tonight to open the season.

Holdsclaw’s departure is the Mystics’ most noticeable change but not the only one.

Washington has an overhauled roster and a new coach in Richie Adubato. DeLisha Milton-Jones — acquired for Holdsclaw from Los Angeles — will fill Holdsclaw’s power forward slot. Other additions include free agent signee Charlotte Smith-Taylor and first-round pick Temeka Johnson, a 5-foot-3 point guard from LSU. Veteran center Chasity Melvin is one of the Mystics’ mainstays.

Alana Beard, expected to miss tonight’s game because of a hamstring injury, is the top returning scorer after averaging 13.1 points as a rookie. She missed both preseason games and was limited in training camp with the injury.

“We are more athletic than we have been before,” said Adubato, who spent five seasons with the New York Liberty and replaced Michael Adams. “We are going to be able to play up tempo.”

The Mystics hope pressure defense and a commitment to push the ball will help offset the loss of Holdsclaw, who averaged 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in her six seasons in Washington. The team is looking for a new leading scorer, which could be Beard, Melvin, Milton-Jones or even Smith-Taylor on a given night.

“We don’t have any ‘superstars’ here,” said Smith-Taylor, a six-year veteran who averaged 8.2 points last season with Charlotte. “We have a lot of heart. Everybody is so humble. We have a lot of great defensive players. We have a lot of people who can score, and we have an equal-opportunity offense.”

That wasn’t the case when Holdsclaw was the focal point.

The Mystics have had little time to mesh after several key players missed chunks of training camp. In addition to Beard’s injury, Milton-Jones showed up two days ago after finishing the playoffs with her team in Spain. Melvin missed much of training camp while playing in Israel.

If Beard is healthy, she could emerge as the team’s go-to player.

“I don’t consider it pressure,” Beard said. “Maybe last year, the answer would have been different. But being here for a year and getting to know everybody, I feel comfortable.”

After tonight’s opener, the Mystics return to MCI Center to play host to Connecticut tomorrow.

“We have a team here that can develop,” Adubato said. “What is important is how fast we can put it together.”

Washington rallied to make the playoffs last season, posting a 17-17 record and going 7-4 after Holdsclaw left the team for an undisclosed medical condition, which she later said was depression. Connecticut ended the Mystics’ season in the first round of the playoffs.

Note — The Mystics finalized their 13-player roster. Washington placed forward Mactabene Amachree (knee) and center Kaayla Chones (foot) on the injured list. The team cut guard Helen Luz, who never reported after her season in Spain, and center Iciss Tillis.

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