Crystal Langhorne was forced to improvise in the second quarter of the Washington Mystics’ game against the Indiana Fever on Tuesday. The southpaw received an entry pass in the post and turned to shoot, but seeing help defense running at her, she spun away from it and converted with her right hand.
Langhorne has plenty of experience against double teams, just not much in the WNBA. But the second-year forward has been drawing more attention all season, even more so since she was inserted into the Mystics’ starting lineup two games ago.
After a frustrating rookie season, it’s something even she wouldn’t have predicted.
“Last year I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but this year my coaching staff has been backing me up a lot,” she said. “They have a lot of confidence in me, and I just worked through some things in the offseason.”
It turned out that a season in Lithuania was the ultimate remedy for Langhorne. Free of the disarray that was the 2008 Mystics season, Langhorne rediscovered her game overseas.
“My coach just let me do whatever,” Langhorne said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Pass the ball, set a pick.’ It was just, ‘If you’re open, shoot it.’ Just for him having the confidence in me to let me do whatever and play, I think that helped me out a lot.”
Langhorne found individual and team success this winter. She averaged 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 12 Euroleague games for TEO Vilnius and was named MVP of the championship series as the team went undefeated and captured a league title.
That success allowed Langhorne to regain the confidence that vanished during the WNBA season. That was the first time Langhorne had struggled at any level - especially for an entire season - and she walked away wondering whether she was good enough to last in the WNBA.
“My rookie year was just rough the whole year,” she said. “Once I went overseas and I started EuroLeague and I was playing well, I was like, ‘OK, that WNBA season was just a rough stretch, and now I can get back to playing basketball.’ ”
The confidence Langhorne gained overseas has carried over to this season, and she has emerged as the Mystics’ premier post presence. She leads the team and is tied for fourth in the league with 7.4 rebounds, and her 11.3 points are third on the team behind guards Alana Beard and Lindsey Harding.
As Maryland’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, Langhorne entered the WNBA with a lot of fanfare. But she suffered as the Mystics went 10-24 and fired coach Tree Rollins midway through the year and general manager Linda Hargrove after it.
Langhorne never got comfortable during her rookie campaign thanks to the combination of an unstable front office, the absence of a true system and waning playing time; she averaged just 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds.
“I don’t think she was influenced enough [last year],” said Mystics assistant coach Vicky Bullett, whose Terps scoring record Langhorne broke. “No one told her what her role was. I watched her play here, and I was like, ‘What?’ She gets in there, and she’s indecisive even though a lot of players didn’t know her. She did rebound and she did get putbacks, but she didn’t have a role. This year, Coach has said, ‘This is what you got to do. This is what we need you to do.’ And she’s done it.”
Langhorne has benefited greatly this year from the Mystics’ organizational stability, starting with the front office. She has been receptive to the new coaching staff, and the results have followed.
“I love the coaching staff, especially Vicky,” Langhorne said. “Vicky helps me out so much, and I’m just really glad she’s on staff here. All the coaches are always teaching me stuff, and I just think they’re really helping me a lot.”