- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Youth got the Washington Mystics nowhere — as in one, measly playoff berth in the franchise’s eight seasons. So instead of trying to build through the draft as they have done in the past, the Mystics brought in some veteran leadership during the offseason.

As a result, the projected starting five of guards Nikki Teasley and Alana Beard, forwards Crystal Robinson and DeLisha Milton-Jones and center Chasity Melvin average five years of experience in the 10-year-old WNBA. Plus, Teasley and Milton-Jones both won championships with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“Some teams have the luxury of having youthfulness, but that youthfulness can only take you so far,” Milton-Jones said about the Mystics, who open their season tonight at Verizon Center against the New York Liberty (0-1). “We’re hoping that with a lot of veterans on the team this year, we have the experience that will get us not only to the playoffs but beyond the first round. That’s really what we are pushing for this year.”

Last season, the Mystics just missed the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker with the Detroit Shock when both teams finished 16-18. A key basket here or a smart play there might have given them that one win they needed to make the postseason. And having smart, savvy veterans might have prevented a late-season collapse; the Mystics lost six of their final eight games.

“Hopefully, with the leadership and the veterans we have, we can overcome stuff like that now,” Melvin said. “We have a veteran team, so when you have that bad loss, you just get over it and come back the next game.”

Experience is what the Mystics have always lacked. Many of the team’s high draft picks have come and gone — Chamique Holdsclaw, Stacey Dales-Schuman, Tausha Mills, Asjha Jones, Murriel Page and Temeka Johnson.

In their place are Robinson, Melvin and Milton-Jones, all of whom are entering their eighth WNBA seasons. This will be Teasley’s fifth year in the league. Beard, the team’s top-returning scorer at 14.1 points a game, will begin her third season.

While this is Beard’s team, the Mystics strengthened their perimeter play in the offseason. They signed Robinson, a good perimeter defender with a deadly 3-point shot, as a free agent. She is the New York Liberty’s all-time leading 3-point shooter and has made 400 3-pointers in 250 games.

Robinson is reuniting with Mystics coach Richie Adubato. Robinson played six seasons for Adubato in New York.

“I’m just excited to be back with Richie,” she said. “I experienced a lot of success in my career, individually and as a team with Richie, and I was a free agent and I saw an opportunity to hook back up with him.”

The Mystics also traded Johnson, last season’s WNBA rookie of the year, Page and a first-round draft pick for Teasley, a former All-Star.

Adubato likes Teasley because she is a tall playmaker. Johnson is just 5-3.

“She can do everything that Temeka Johnson does except that she’s 6-foot,” he said. “So she gives us a guard that we can post up. She is a guard that can see over the defenses in the zone. She’s a great 3-point shooter and a great passer. We got a player with more experience and more size that can do everything [Johnson] can do.”

Teasley, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer as time expired in the 2002 WNBA Finals to give the Sparks their second consecutive championship, has averaged 5.3 assists a game for her career. In the postseason, she has averaged 7.4 assists.

“I’m happy about being in a new situation with a program that has a winning attitude,” Teasley said. “I know they’re looking to get a championship. Although they haven’t got one yet, a lot of people here have winning attitudes, and everybody is happy. So that’s a good situation to be in.”

Teasley also is known for her flashy passing.

“If you’re open, you better be looking, or it’s going to bring a lot of bloody noses,” Robinson said. “She distributes the ball well, but not only that, Nikki Teasley is a great shooter. She breaks down people’s defenses and just gives us experience that we need at the one.”

Added Milton-Jones: “She’s like Magic Johnson in a female body.”

The Mystics also have plenty of bodies on their bench. Guards Coco Miller and Laurie Koehn provide outside help. Forward Latasha Byears, who is listed at 5-11 and 206 pounds, is a veteran space-eater. At 6-4, Nakia Sanford is the team’s tallest player and is interchangeable along the baseline. Rookie point guard Nikki Blue, out of UCLA, has impressed Adubato with the way she runs his disciplined offense.

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