Friday, June 1, 2007

Washington Mystics forward Crystal Robinson, a starter most of last season and one game this season, is retiring to become an assistant coach with the club.

The 33-year-old had battled several injuries and missed Wednesday’s loss at Detroit with a strained hamstring. Her departure from the roster is the latest in the Mystics’ string of personnel moves, which the team was still adjusting to yesterday at practice.

New acquisition Monique Currie was looking for her practice jersey. Stacey Lovelace-Tolbert popped her head out of the Mystics’ locker room, quizzically looked both ways and then asked someone for directions.

“I don’t really know my way around here yet,” said Lovelace, a 6-foot-4 veteran who signed as a free agent Tuesday.

She should not feel alone.

The Mystics are still trying to find their way after getting off to the worst start in franchise history.

Washington’s season so far has been defined by a 0-4 record and one trade, which sent its starting center and best post player — Chasity Melvin — for the 6-foot forward Currie, a D.C. native. The Mystics feel Curry will be a core player for the future, even if the deal — which made a small team even smaller — could prove costly this season.

“Right now, we are suffering,” DeLisha Milton-Jones said. “I am an optimist. I am hoping that everything we are going through now is preparing us for something greater.”

The Mystics, coming off a 94-79 loss at WNBA champion Detroit, will have a vastly different lineup tonight when they play host to Melvin and Chicago (1-2) than what was expected when the season opened two weeks ago. Nakia Sanford has gone from the bench to the starting center. Tamara James likely will start at small forward until Currie feels more comfortable in the system.

“I am just looking to learn things as quick as possible so I can help the team and not slow them down,” said Currie, a former Duke star who averaged 10.0 points for Charlotte as a rookie last season before being picked by Chicago in the dispersal draft after the Sting folded. “It’s hard. I try to study the playbook as much as possible. Reading something is different than going through it.”

While the perimeter adjusts to Currie and the loss of Robinson, Sanford will become the team’s top inside threat. The 6-4 veteran, who has started 49 games in her five seasons, had been the first big player off the bench, averaging 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in the first four games. First-round draft pick Bernice Mosby is now the top reserve.

“It’s a very difficult adjustment,” said coach Richie Adubato, whose team is in the middle of stretch of three games in five days. “You trade your starting center, and now you have the person behind her starting and have DeLisha Milton at the [power forward]. Now your first replacement is an inexperienced player.”

As the Mystics adjust, they believe they have put one problem behind them — a loss to Sacramento at Verizon Center 10 days ago in which the Mystics allowed an 18-point run in the second half. Afterward, Sheila Johnson criticized the team for its effort.

“In the Sacramento game, for some reason, everybody just gave up,” Alana Beard said. “That’s hard to take in. It’s hard to understand, and you just never want that to happen. Since then, we have played hard and given ourselves a chance to win. We just can’t get the defensive stops we need.”

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