- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

At Washington Mystics media day last month, while the three Duke alumni on the team - Alana Beard, Monique Currie and Lindsey Harding - posed for a picture, a loud “Booooo” echoed from the other side of the Verizon Center practice gym.

The source: a grinning Marissa Coleman. With the addition of Coleman and Harding to a roster that already featured Beard, Currie and Crystal Langhorne, Washington now features a quintet of players who earlier this decade battled for ACC and NCAA championships.

“We like to represent Duke very well, and they like to represent Maryland,” Currie said. “One day the whole Maryland staff came in here, and we got Maryland people as our equipment manager and a Maryland person as a scout. So we’re surrounded by red, but it’s no big deal.”

Whereas the rivalry between the Terrapins and Blue Devils is often a source of bitterness between fans of the two schools, it has served as a source of camaraderie for this group.

“It’s fun. I like the Duke girls a lot - they are actually some of the people I’m closest with on the team,” Langhorne said.

But that doesn’t mean Washington’s practices are devoid of good-natured ribbing.

“They like to talk trash a little bit. We’re a little bit more classy, but they like to talk trash,” Harding said jokingly. “But I love this team. Everyone is just good people. We can joke, we can prank. Everyone wants to have fun, we have each other’s back and that’s what’s important.”

As new acquisitions, Harding and Coleman have been aided by the familiarity. The team’s starting point guard, Harding was tasked with learning her new teammates’ strengths and tendencies during training camp. With two former teammates in the starting lineup and her experience playing against two key reserves, Harding got a head start in that respect. And Coleman was relieved that she didn’t have to step into a room of strangers in the infancy of her rookie season.

“Just being familiar with them as players has helped my transition,” Coleman said. “They have a similar style of play at Duke that we played at Maryland, so it definitely is a good mix of players.”

For all of the Mystics’ shortcomings in recent years, there was never a lot of bickering among the players. And this new wrinkle in the team’s personality has only furthered the bond while they adapt to the demanding style of first-year coach Julie Plank.

“One thing that’s good about being in Washington is that we always had very good team chemistry,” Currie said. “Even if we weren’t performing well on the court, in the locker room we always got along. And I think that really helps when you’re bringing in a whole new system because we can work out the kinks better.”

It’s no coincidence that more than half the Mystics’ roster is from the competitive ACC (veteran Chasity Melvin went to N.C. State). General manager Angela Taylor prefers players from winning college programs as she attempts to establish a championship mentality on Washington’s roster.

Her other acquisition this offseason, guard Matee Ajavon, played under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer at Rutgers.

“You’re mindset is a little bit different,” Langhorne said. “You have a winning mentality, you never like to lose, you’re very, very competitive because you’re used to winning. Some people can kind of get used to losing.”

• Mike Fratto can be reached at mfratto@washingtontimes.com.

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