- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

After enduring their two worst losses of the season on back-to-back nights, the Washington Mystics fired coach Tree Rollins on Saturday.

The Mystics considered themselves a playoff-caliber team coming out of training camp, but they are 8-14 with 12 games left. And after losing to New York and Detroit by a combined 58 points last week Mystics officials decided to make the change.

“We’ve been in an evaluative mode for a while because we haven’t played up to what our expectations were at the beginning of the season, but particularly the final straw was the last two games,” general manager Linda Hargrove said. “The way we lost them and the way we didn’t compete last night was very much a part of the decision.”

Rollins was named coach on Oct. 2, 2007 after nearly guiding the Mystics to the playoffs in an interim role last season. Washington, which started the season 1-8, went 15-10 under the 18-year NBA veteran.

But this year, the Mystics never recaptured last season’s form. They rank last in the WNBA in scoring at 68.1 points a game and average a league-high 19.1 turnovers. Their play has worsened in recent weeks, bottoming out in the two blowout losses.

“Whenever you are going through a bad stretch, sometimes you can keep everyone together on the same page,” Hargrove said. “I don’t think I felt the connectiveness with our team and Tree for a while. I think we won some games in spite of not having a real together feeling with everyone.

“You can be unsuccessful in the win-loss column and still have everyone working on the same page together, and we didn’t really feel like that was happening.”

The Mystics promoted assistant coach Jessie Kenlaw to interim head coach. She has served as an assistant coach in the WNBA since 2000, but this is her first head coaching job.

“It was very disappointing, the fact that Tree was let go, but we’ve gotta move on,” Kenlaw said. “We’ve gotta approach [Sunday’s] game [at home against Seattle] with energy and passion. The biggest thing is to change the mind-sets. It was all about us today, more or less getting the team in the right frame of mind.”

Rollins’ dismissal highlights the instability at the position as the Mystics have struggled to become an elite team in the East. Their highest finish was third in 2002, the only season in franchise history Washington made the conference finals.

“It’s my fourth coach in five seasons. It’s nothing new,” guard Alana Beard said.

Despite the Mystics’ recent play, there is still belief within the organization that they can turn the season around.

That’s why the team fired Rollins on Saturday, instead of waiting for the monthlong hiatus during the Olympics when Kenlaw would have time to settle into the position.

“Our goals haven’t changed,” Hargrove said. “We’re still trying to make the playoffs. We made the change now because hopefully, there’s still enough of the season left where we’re still in a position where we can recover. We were afraid that if we waited too long that window might close for us to get into the playoffs.”

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