- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

The coach bolted on the eve of the draft. The disgruntled face of the franchise forced a trade. A starting guard abruptly retired to become a television commentator.

Other than that, little has changed with the Washington Mystics.

Richie Adubato is now the coach. The former NBA and New York Liberty coach replaced Michael Adams, who resigned three weeks ago to became an assistant at Maryland. Departed star Chamique Holdsclaw now plays for the Los Angeles Sparks, and Stacey Dales-Schuman retired at 25 to work full time for ESPN.

The renovated Mystics play their first exhibition game tonight in Houston and open the regular season in 15 days.

“I wouldn’t call it strange,” said forward Murriel Page, who amazingly has been with the team since its inaugural season in 1998. “I have been here for eight years, and each year I had a new coach. That wasn’t uncommon. Players come in and out. You get used to it.”

Second-year player Alana Beard takes over as the team’s best-known player. The guard is part of a core of returning players from last season’s team that advanced to the playoffs with a 17-17 record before losing to Connecticut 2-1 in the first round. Center Chasity Melvin, guard Coco Miller and Page rejoin Beard, whose 13.1 scoring average was second to Holdsclaw’s 19.0.

However, the Mystics will rely heavily on newcomers, led by Delisha Milton-Jones, who was acquired for Holdsclaw. The 6-1 forward started for Los Angeles for six seasons, and averaged 9.8 points last season before undergoing surgery on her right knee after 19 games.

Forward Charlotte Smith-Taylor (8.2 points) came over as a free agent from Charlotte. The six-season veteran is expected to be in the starting lineup along with 6-5 Iciss Tillis, who was acquired in a trade with Detroit. They are expected to join Beard, Milton-Jones and a undetermined guard.

One candidate for a spot is first-round pick Temeka Johnson, a speedy 5-3 point guard who was the sixth overall selection.

“That two-spot is open right now,” said Adubato, who won three Eastern Conference titles and had a 100-79 record in five seasons with the New York Liberty. “We have Cathy Joens. We have Laurie [Khoen]. We have two people that can really shoot the ball. We will have to see what kind of speed they have. We have Coco. I will send Alana over to the two [spot] and bring in the point guard [Johnson]. Beard is going to play a lot of one and two.”

Adubato has been holding 31/2-hour teaching practices the last two weeks but without several key players who are in playoffs overseas. Milton-Jones is in Spain, although she did attend four days of camp during a break. Melvin is in Israel, and Tillis is still playing in Poland. Nigerian Mactabene Amachree is in Turkey, while Helen Luz is finishing her commitment in Spain.

“We do have to fit new pieces in, but the pieces are pretty good,” said Adubato, who may have some two-a-day drills when everybody arrives. “We just have to put it together and see how fast we can put it together.”

Adubato expects an athletic team designed for an up-tempo game with strong defense. The Mystics play their final preseason game Tuesday, when Holdsclaw and the Sparks come to MCI Center, and open the regular season May21 at Charlotte.

“We are bringing in more options,” said Beard, whose team used a late five-game winning streak to earn a playoff spot last season. “We are bringing in people who can score. [Johnson] is one of the best point guards at this level, and she hasn’t even played. The sky is the limit for this team.”

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