If you can name, in order, everyone who’s been a head coach for the Washington Mystics …
No, scrap that. If you can name them all even out of order, you are either a WNBA junkie (congratulations) or a true-blue Mystics fan (condolences).
Just kidding about the condolences. It’s not been that bad to root for D.C., which doesn’t quite stand for “Dozen Coaches.” (The Mystics are almost there with Julie Plank, who’s No. 11 at the Washington helm.)
OK … actually, it has been kinda bad.
Devoting your last 11 summers to the Mystics has meant believing in one new system after another (or at least trying to); watching Chamique Holdsclaw come and go; getting up your hopes and having them dashed; not getting up your hopes and still having them dashed.
So what about it? Can the new brain trust running the Mystics – GM Angela Taylor and head coach Julie Plank _ both grow some roots in D.C. and make this team a legitimate contender in the postseason?
We’ll find out if the boss, Sheila Johnson, truly can have the patience to let these two try to build the Mystics the way they think best.
Plank had been an assistant in both the college game and pro game for nearly a quarter-century before deciding it was time to step up to the captain’s chair. She said it was the commitment of the organization that convinced her to do this, which perhaps means something really has changed in D.C.
Let’s hope so anyway, because they deserve the chance to make this work. Plank and Taylor – a former coach and former player at Stanford, respectively _ know their way around the WNBA. They were both at Minnesota last season, so they’re familiar with what it’s like to work together in the capacity they are now.
I recently talked to Plank and Washington player Monique Currie about what to expect this summer. Obviously, there are still the cuts to make in the preseason to reach the final roster size of 11, and that’s painful. Longtime Mystics player Coco Miller already was let go. But once the 11 are decided, will things be any different this season?
“I looked at Washington as a challenge,” Plank said. “But I didn’t look at it like we could not win, or win right away, because I think we can. I want to build it the right way. I want to get some stability here.”
Certainly, the players do, too. With Miller gone, now the longest-serving Mystic is Nakia Sanford, who’s been with D.C. for six seasons. Back with Washington after two seasons with the Chicago Sky is Chasity Melvin. Also making a return to the Mystics is Kiesha Brown, who started her career with D.C. She has been with four different teams since, but now has returned to where she began her WNBA career in 2002.
Sanford, Melvin and Brown have been through plenty of ups and downs in the league. And if they all make the squad, they can combine for the “voice of experience” presence on this team.
N.C. State grad Melvin is also one of six former ACC players on the squad, along with three Dookies (Alana Beard, Lindsey Harding and Currie) and two Maryland Terps (Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman, the team’s top draft pick in April).
Four of that group played in one of the most exciting NCAA championship games ever, the 2006 Maryland win in overtime. Currie says they all joke about it at times, even if it will never be all that funny (deep down) to the Duke side of the Mystics’ ACC equation.
The day after that epic game, Currie was drafted into the WNBA and spent a season in Charlotte before that franchise folded. Then she played two games for expansion Chicago in 2007 before being traded to the Mystics.
Currie played this winter in Poland, along with Beard and the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings. Currie’s biggest goal as a pro is to become more consistent, and she thinks the personnel she’s surrounded by in D.C. can help considerably.
“It’s very encouraging here now, and I’m excited about the changes we’ve made,” Currie said. “Like getting Lindsey _ someone that I played with for three years in college. It’s very special to me because I love the way she plays, and I love her all-around game.
“It’s important to be familiar with your point guard and have them really know you, so that helps. And, of course, she knows Alana well, too.”
As for the ex-Terps who’ve now become her teammates, Currie is happy to have them on the same side.
“I’ve known Marissa since I was in high school,” said Currie, who like Coleman grew up in the greater D.C. area. “It’s funny – she used to go to my high school’s basketball camp, and I would try to cheat to always get her on my team so my team would win the camp.
“She brings a lot to the table. And Crystal, she’s great, too. We do have our Duke-Maryland differences, but they’re both great people and I’m really looking forward to having them both here.”
One of the most interesting things to watch with Plank will be how she finds the right combinations on court. Individually, the Mystics have a lot of talent. But this could also be a team where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole – rather than the other way around.
Plank will try to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a big job for a first-time head coach. But Plank is hardly your average first-time head coach. Maybe she will, at last, be the one who sticks in D.C.
“I’ve been very spoiled throughout my career being an assistant coach in very successful places,” Plank said. “I also had the opportunity to have a huge amount of input in every situation I’ve been in as an assistant.
“I was in the Eastern Conference for eight years with Indiana, and so I’m very familiar with the (Mystics’) players. I just feel really comfortable and have a good handle on what they have to offer on court.”