Friday, June 8, 2007

The coach resigned. The starting small forward retired. The player with the biggest presence inside was traded, leaving a sizable void in the middle. And, heading into the third week of the season, they still have not won a game.

Otherwise, things are just perfect for the Washington Mystics.

The Mystics this week added another player, 6-foot-5 center Yelena Leuchanka of Belarus, to a roster that has been fluid, to say the least. Here’s a quick recap of recent activity for the Mystics, who are 0-6 and off to the worst start in the franchise’s 10-year history.

c May 24: Starting center Chasity Melvin was dealt to the Chicago Sky for guard/forward Monique Currie.

c May 30: Stacey Lovelace-Tolbert, a 6-4 forward, was signed as a free agent.

c May 31: Crystal Robinson, the 33-year-old small forward, retired because of injuries and became an assistant coach.

c June 1: Coach Richie Adubato, who objected to the Melvin-Currie trade, abruptly resigned after he was unable to secure a contract extension. Assistant Tree Rollins was named interim coach.

“He quit,” general manager Linda Hargrove said. “He quit on game day. That is basically what happened. Whatever his reasons were, he was under contract when he quit.”

Rollins was unaware Adubato was about to step down.

“I don’t think he resigned because [he was upset] at anybody or anything like that,” said Rollins, who was hired by Adubato. “I really think he resigned because he didn’t think he could make the team successful.”

Whatever the case, the Mystics now begin to pick up the pieces of a season that a month ago looked good for a team that returned all of its starters, key reserves and coaches from last year.

“Boy, how things change,” guard Alana Beard said. “We are facing adversity right now, and we just have to pull together. This is probably the most adversity that I have faced since I have been in basketball. The one short-term goal we have is to get our first win.”

The Mystics conducted a second training camp of sorts this week, with four days off after Sunday’s 70-66 loss to the Fever at Indiana. Rollins used the practice sessions to implement his style and to get the three new players ready for tonight’s home game against Indiana.

Rollins, a 7-footer who played 18 seasons in the NBA, wants a more transition-oriented attack. He is redefining roles, particularly for Currie, who has averaged 5.0 points in her three games in Washington. Rollins plans to use her more in the open court and to use a deeper bench.

“We’re young,” said Rollins, in his second season with the Mystics. “When did I play with a team that had the age and experience of this team? I go back to my second year in the league. What did [coach] Hubie Brown do? He platooned us. The rookie and inexperienced players came in at about the three-minute mark. We went out and pushed and pressed and wore the other team out. Then the starters came in and, hopefully, the other team was tired.”

Where Adubato was assertive and loud, Rollins is soft-spoken — a “big teddy bear” who lets players freelance more, according to Beard.

“He sort of reminds me of Michael Adams when he was here” in 2004, said Beard, who missed practice time this week because of a shoulder sprain. “He gives us a little structure and lets us play the game.”

The Mystics are trying to mesh new players into a revamped starting five that now includes center Nakia Sanford and small forward Tamara James, a first-round pick last season out of Miami who is coming off a 17-point, four-assist, five-steal performance.

James aside, the Mystics now just hope to salvage a once-promising season.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said. “We have a new system with new players and players playing at different positions on the court. It is like training camp all over again.”

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