- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Tayler Hill is having a breakout season with the Washington Mystics, playing the best basketball of her career.

And she’s not done developing.

When Hill returned to basketball almost two years ago after giving birth to her son, the guard expected to get right back at it. But she wasn’t herself.

“I needed that supporting cast saying: ‘OK, Tayler, you’re getting there, but it’s one step at a time. You can’t just step from here to 100,’” Hill said.

She’s getting closer. After an up-and-down 2015 season, the former Ohio State star has evolved into a more complete player.

“She’s way ahead of where she was before she had her son,” coach and general manager Mike Thibault said Thursday. “I think it’s way beyond what her norm was then before she had the baby. I don’t think that’s even a factor at this point. I feel like her body is better than it was before she had a baby. She’s worked in the weight room, she’s stronger, her speed is good.”

The 25-year-old Hill was quick before, which helped make her the fourth pick in the 2013 draft behind Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins. But having a baby took that speed away.

Giving birth took most of her athleticism away - temporarily.

“Our body changes so much as a female after having a baby and you’re a step slower and your reactions are slower,” said Hill, whose boyfriend, David Lighty, plays professionally in France. “You lose that game-time reaction, your quickness, your stability. You basically lose it all.”

Hill played the final five games in 2013 and was inconsistent last season.

The Minneapolis native worked with assistant Eric Thibault, Mike’s son, and other coaches in the offseason to get that step back.

“We played different scenarios, we did a lot of screen-and-rolls, we did a lot of shooting, a lot of contact,” Hill said. “Anything you can think of in a game we were working on every single day.”

That work is paying off. Hill leads the Mystics in scoring and ranks 12th in the league with 16 points a game. It’s the first time she’s averaged double digits in scoring or been a full-time starter as a professional.

“I think at the end of my rookie season and maybe even last year, too, I was more categorized as a shooter - a catch-and-shoot shooter,” she said. “I do think I’m a different player, adding different things to the arsenal of my game.”

Hill is a better passer and rebounder than she was before, but Thibault would like to see even more improvement. He recognizes growing pains, like two bad shooting games in a row, are part of the deal, but expects more because of her experience level.

“Right now it’s a thing about striving for consistency and both ends of the court,” Thibault said. “She’s done the skill work. She’s done the work to get better. Now it’s the focus and the energy to sustain it on a not only day-to-day by quarter-to-quarter basis.”

Thibault holds Hill to almost as high a standard as she holds herself. He believes Hill is a great mother to Maurice, whom she calls her “pride and joy,” but at this point she’s a player who’s counted on to perform at both ends of the floor and help Washington win.

“The defensive part is still a work in progress,’ Thibault said. “She can guard most any guard in our league and be good with her quickness. Right now she kind of goes in and out from being proactive to reactive, so that’s kind of the next step in her evolution.”


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