- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

It was a gloomy December day for the WNBA when the Houston Comets suspended operation, but the subsequent dispersal draft came at an ideal time for the Washington Mystics.

The Mystics have been stretched thin at guard in recent years, heaping even more responsibility on franchise player Alana Beard. Most effective at shooting guard, Beard had been forced to run the point because of Washington’s turnover problems, especially in late-game situations.

The dispersal draft provided Washington’s overhauled front office an opportunity to ease the burden on Beard. By selecting Matee Ajavon with the second pick, the Mystics got an athletic combo guard with high upside whose skill set matches with coach Julie Plank’s defense-first, fast-break style. At 5-foot-8, Ajavon isn’t the most physically imposing player on the court, but her quick hands and feet enable her to thrive.

Ajavon showed firsthand how valuable she can be during Thursday’s 74-56 preseason win against the New York Liberty. With Beard sitting out, Ajavon was the focal point of Washington’s offense, racking up 17 points in 25 minutes.

“She definitely is one of our most explosive players,” Plank said. “She gets to the rim with the best of them. She’s very good at pick-and-roll because she’s not afraid to attack the paint. She’s not afraid to take a big shot as well. She really hit some big shots in the first quarter that got us started offensively very well.”

But it’s not just her offensive game that has Plank beaming. A product of Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer’s Rutgers program, Ajavon brings a defensive intensity that Plank is working to instill as the cornerstone of future Washington success.

Ajavon, 23, showed that with four steals Thursday, three of which resulted in fast-break layups.

“She is a spark for us; she is a competitor,” Plank said. “There’s one thing that I can count on from her: She’s going to bring it every game. She gives 100 percent effort, and she’s a great defensive player. She gets her hands on a lot of balls, and she’s not afraid to play.”

Added Ajavon: “I came from a system in college where my coach stressed defense. It’s something that I’m used to, and I think I fit into this program here.”

Ajavon has quickly grown comfortable in Washington’s locker room. She was friendly with several of the players - including Beard, Monique Currie and Crystal Langhorne - before Houston folded, and she has been one of the Mystics’ most impressive players during training camp.

And despite being disappointed to see the Comets, a franchise with a rich championship history, no longer a part of the WNBA, Ajavon said she is happy to be back on the East Coast. And the Mystics are happy to have her bring welcome relief to their backcourt.

“This is a team that the staff has tried to build and put in different players around the key - which is Alana Beard and some of the players that were here previously,” Ajavon said. “It’s just a building block upwards to what we are trying to achieve.”

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