Friday, June 15, 2007

Alana Beard and Monique Currie practiced against each other with such intensity at Duke that their coaches wondered whether the two star guards would come to blows.

“We were worried they would get in a fight because it was so competitive,” former Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said with a laugh. “They might get in an argument, but they never let it get out of hand.”

Those practices during three years together at Duke helped develop a strong relationship that continues with the Washington Mystics, who chose Beard with the second pick in 2004 and traded center Chasity Melvin for Currie last month.

“You can catch them in the corner every now and then giggling,” Mystics forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said. “They’re probably sharing some old secrets or sharing old memories and things like that. They’re very cordial with one another.”

Currie took time to adjust with Washington, her third team since being selected third overall in 2006 following an All-American career with the Blue Devils. But Currie, who scored a career-high 25 points in the Mystics’ first win of the season Wednesday, has benefited from her reunion with Beard, who leads the team at 18.4 points entering tonight’s game with Los Angeles and is seen as a mentor to her college teammate.

“It helps a bunch because she keeps me informed,” Currie said. “She draws up plays when we have down time. She tells me how different players are and how the coaches around here want things to be done.”

Their relationship also has its light side. Currie still is cautious when she walks in the hallway, knowing Beard — the team prankster — might jump out to scare her like she used to do while hiding in trash cans at Duke. Goestenkors groaned in laughter when recalling the time Beard climbed under seats on the team bus to grab her ankles.

“Those were my college years,” said Beard, who still often steals her teammates’ car keys, including Currie’s. “I’m a little bit more mature now. I was a prankster. I like to keep everything light.”

Her relationship with Currie also helped Currie’s adjustment to the team. After the trade, Currie was stuck behind forward Tamara James and struggled to understand former coach Richie Adubato’s playbook. When Adubato resigned June 1, Currie had to grasp another coaching philosophy.

But Beard was there, as she was while at Duke. Former Blue Devils assistant coach Gale Valley, now with Goestenkors at Texas, said the two players adapted well to different circumstances and that Currie’s mind-set combined with Beard’s work ethic brought out their best performances.

To expedite her adjustment, Currie said her Mystics teammates helped reinforce the plays. They were motivated for Currie to catch up because they needed to end their season-long losing streak.

Interim coach Tree Rollins, Mystics general manager Laura Hargrove, James and Milton-Jones saw the team embracing Currie despite any disappointment in losing Melvin — a presence the Mystics have sorely needed.

“It’s funny because this team has no cliques at all even with those players that have former relationships in the past,” Hargrove said.

Rollins soon found sets in Adubato’s playbook that suited Currie’s open-court style. Currie executed those Wednesday against the Phoenix Mercury, and her drives created 14 free throw attempts.

“I know what they brought me here for; they want me to produce,” Currie said. “They gave up a lot to get me. I want to go out there and make it known I’m there.”

Currie’s performances only will improve because of Beard’s presence. The two combined for more than half the Mystics’ points on Wednesday, and all accounts have Beard as the first to arrive and last to leave practice. Beard has stubbornly fought through her shoulder injury despite needing a machine to improve her blood circulation and numb her shoulder.

That work ethic helps push Currie as the longtime teammates continue their battle to improve.

“She’s like my little sister, although we’re only about a year and a half apart,” Beard said. “Monique comes to me for advice, and I give it to her. She always comes to me and asks me about on-court stuff and off-court stuff. I’m there for her.”

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