- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009

Washington Mystics general manager Angela Taylor has received a slew of phone calls from intrigued WNBA front office officials.

While most teams have shaved their rosters in anticipation of the league’s new 11-player maximum this season, Taylor continued to add players as training camp approached.

“Everyone from around the league was calling me, saying: ‘You’ve got 27 people on your roster. When are you going to trim your roster?’ ” she said. “But we wanted to get to know these players as people. You need to be able to watch them on video, go overseas and see them play to make an assessment - as opposed to rushing to judgment on somebody. We were going to take every last second that we possibly could to make sure that we have the best training camp roster we can on Sunday morning.”

The Mystics will break camp with 16 players, leaving coach Julie Plank and her staff three weeks to decide on a final 11 before Washington’s June 6 season opener at Connecticut.

Reducing the roster limit from 13 has made the evaluation process tougher. But it also set a focus for Plank and Taylor to find players willing to make the mental and physical commitment to the season.

“It’s going to be extremely competitive every day,” Plank said. “We evaluate things in the weight room, in the training room and in individual work. It’s going to be a challenge for them to compete every day, but our coaches are also going to have a challenge cutting it down to an 11-player roster.”

Plank and Taylor have zeroed in on attributes they are looking for, with versatility atop that list. The Mystics have several returning players who can play multiple positions - notably Alana Beard, Monique Currie, Tasha Humphrey and Crystal Langhorne - and added three more multifaceted players this offseason in Lindsey Harding, Matee Ajavon and Marissa Coleman, the second overall pick out of Maryland in last month’s draft.

The players are aware of the new roster size and are prepared for a more grueling training camp than in years past. Even established veterans know playing time isn’t guaranteed and that making a good first impression on the coaching staff will be critical.

“You’ve got to challenge people, and you’ve got to challenge yourself. That’s the way you get better,” Currie said. “And then to know your job is on the line too, I know that will bring out a lot more in people who are just comfortable in their situation.”

The roster change will take jobs away from players who otherwise would make the team. Plank will emphasize defense in the early days of training camp - Washington allowed 76.5 points a game last season, fifth-worst in the 14-team WNBA - and she will install her up-tempo offense as well.

That means if a player comes to camp out of shape or is slow in picking up Plank’s system, she could receive a quick release.

“Your backups need to have experience,” Taylor said. “If one of your starters goes down, you’re going to be relying on somebody to play significant minutes. In the past with 12 or 13 players, you can develop people. I think, unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to have players that are developmental players on our roster if we’re really trying to compete.”

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