Friday, April 16, 2004

The Washington Mystics get another chance today to make the right choice in the WNBA Draft.

Other than Chamique Holdsclaw, the top pick in 1999, the Mystics have seen little return for their first-round picks. Thanks to a 9-25 record last season, the Mystics have the second pick overall today, as well as the 15th and 28th selections.

The Phoenix Mercury likely will select Connecticut’s Diana Taurasi with the top pick, leaving the Mystics to choose between Duke shooting guard Alana Beard and Stanford swing player Nicole Powell.

Mystics consultant and Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who will oversee Washington’s draft, gives the edge in talent to Beard, the inaugural women’s Wooden Award winner as college basketball’s top player.

“Beard and Taurasi have obviously received the most honors and impacted their programs when you talk about getting to Final Fours and competing for championships,” Summitt said. “Nicole Powell is a great, great player. Certainly against [Tennessee in the NCAA’s Elite Eight], she put up big numbers, and I think I’ve probably seen her at her best. But if you look at all three and you start to break it down, I think certainly Beard and Taurasi are right there, one and two.”

Unlike most shooting guards, Beard struggles from the outside, while Powell can connect from long range. In her four-year career, Duke’s all-time leading scorer (2,687 points) made 30 percent of her shots from behind the arc, while Powell made 38.8 percent.

“There’s always room for improvement, and obviously it’s in my outside shooting,” Beard said. “I don’t think it’s going to hold me back by any means, because I’m always up for improvement and getting better.”

The Mystics, the losingest team in the WNBA’s eight-year history (65-127 for a .338 winning percentage), have shown in the past they are not above drafting players in need of some refinement.

In the 2000 WNBA Draft, the Mystics selected forward Tausha Mills with the second pick. Mills, who was thought to be the answer to the team’s need for a post player, contributed little (2.4 points, 2.8 rebounds) during her three seasons in Washington.

The Mystics selected UConn forward Asjha Jones with the fourth pick in the 2002 draft, thereby passing on point guard and local product Nikki Teasley. Jones, who was traded to the Mercury for veteran point guard Tamicha Jackson in March, was a role player with the Mystics, while Teasley finished third in the league in assists (6.3) and was named MVP of last season’s All-Star Game.

Of 28 players the Mystics have drafted in expansion, dispersal and regular drafts, only six remain with the team and 10 in the league, with Holdsclaw and newly acquired center Chasity Melvin the only standouts.

At 6-foot-1, Powell is bigger than Beard and can play all backcourt positions. Powell, a three-time Kodak first-team All-American, started her Cardinal career as a point guard but broke her own Stanford single-season rebounding record (346) this past season.

Beard averaged 19.7 points for her college career, while Powell averaged 17.3 on less-talented teams.

Beard brings better quickness and is a strong defensive player. However, all those layups Beard scored in college won’t come as easily in the pro game. Plus, the 3-point shot is basketball’s greatest weapon.

“[The choice is] something we’ve obviously talked about and have to think about because each player has her strengths,” Summitt said. “Nicole’s 3-game is her strength, where Beard’s ability to break down the defense off the dribble and create is her strength. It’s just a matter of looking at our personnel and deciding what we need.”

A backup for Melvin is one key need. In a deep draft for post players, the Mystics may land a big player with their second-round pick who could significantly upgrade a problem area that has plagued the Mystics since their inception.

Possible players who might be available for the Mystics at No.15 include 6-5 Duke center Iciss Tillis, 6-4 Kansas State center Nicole Ohlde, 6-3 Georgia power forward Christi Thomas, 6-4 Texas center Stacy Stephens, 6-4 Colorado center Tera Bjorklund and 6-3 Vanderbilt power forward Jenni Benningfield.

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