Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Funny How Things Turn Out . . .

Back in April, when Taj McWilliams-Franklin was traded from the LA Sparks to the Washington Mystics . . . what a blow that must have been! Traded away from a team that just about everyone had picked to win it all this season and sent to one of the league's perennial also-rans. Traded away from a team where she would be playing with champions like Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker to a team that had won only a single playoff series in a decade.

At the time, probably the last thing Taj was thinking was that come October she'd be playing in the Finals of the WNBA Championships. She probably thought she'd be home watching the series on TV.

But if Taj was disappointed at this turn of events, she never let it show. As a member of the Mystics, Taj gave all that she had to give. The Mystics fans recognized that immediately. She became an instant fan favorite. How could you not love Taj?

Always the consummate professional, Taj quickly emerged as the Mystics' team leader. She labored tirelessly to make her teammates better; you could literally see her out on the court, teaching and directing. After games, she stayed up late writing out notes for each player, providing advice and encouragement. We've said it before -- Taj was the only consistent bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. A season that was going nowhere fast for the Mystics and their fans.

And then, during the Olympic break, a sudden reversal of fortune for Taj. Detroit Shock Coach Bill Laimbeer (aka Trader Bill) -- whose team was definitely headed for the playoffs -- needed a replacement for the injured Cheryl Ford. In Taj, he saw someone he believed could help take the Shock all the way. And the Mystics (finally deciding it was time to commit to building for the future) saw a promising rookie post player, Tasha Humphrey, who just might -- in the future -- add more to the Mystics' fortunes than a soon-to-be-38-year-old veteran. And just like that, Taj went from the hopeless Mystics to the title-contending Shock. Karma?

Last night, the Shock edged the Liberty, 75-73, in the decisive third game of the Eastern Conference finals. Taj, who scored 19 points, was instrumental in the victory (to no Mystics fan's surprise). This Wednesday night (7:30 PM on ESPN2), Taj and her Detroit teammates will start the best-of-five WNBA Championship series against the San Antonio Silver Stars to decide who takes home the 2008 WNBA Championship trophy.

As for Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker? They'll be home watching on TV, along with the rest of the Sparks, who were beaten by the Silver Stars in the Western Conference Finals.

Funny how things turn out.

The BasketCases congratulate Taj and her teammates on winning the East. As we look ahead to the Finals, we must confess that Detroit has never been among our favorite WNBA teams. But for Taj we're making an exception . . . we'll be cheering for the Shock tomorrow night. We'll be cheering for Taj. It would make us very happy to see Taj finally get a ring . . . the one prize that has eluded her to date. Nobody deserves one more. When you spread as much good karma around as Taj has, maybe, in time, some eventually finds its way back to you. Let's hope so.

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On ESPN.com, the BasketCases' favorite sportswriter pal, Mechelle Voepel, weighs in on former Mystics GM Linda Hargrove, the Mystics' Revolving Door, and the insane life of being a Mystics fan.

On Linda . . .

"Hargrove represents the best qualities of Kansas, where small-town people keep their approachable friendliness and concern for others no matter how large the city to which they relocate.

Her genuine kindness is why die-hard Mystics fans such as the BasketCases feel sad about her dismissal … but at the same time, the organization is desperate to find someone who can bring in a sense of sustainable success."
On the revolving door . . .

"If you need a spreadsheet just to keep track of how many head coaches an organization has had in a decade, then your team is going to be known for its absolute commitment to chaos."
On those insane fans . . .

". . . the way things have been done since the Mystics began sure hasn't worked. And I'm really starting to worry about the sanity of my friends, the BasketCases. How much more can these poor folks take?

Oh, wait … they're still living off that Maryland NCAA title in 2006. They'll be OK. But the Mystics need help."
Now go back and read Mechelle's entire article! And yes, for the record, we're OK (except for blushing).

Monday, September 22, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: The Mystics announced today that General Manager Linda Hargrove has been "relieved of her duties."

The BasketCases have very mixed feelings about this. During Linda's years in Washington, we and many other fans have gotten to know Linda. She is one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, and she has been without question one of the most accessible and fan-friendly GMs in the league. She conducted regular pre-game chalk talks, and routinely roamed the arena before games stopping to chat with early-arriving fans. If you asked her a question, you'd get a candid answer. She even made guest appearances on this blog. So one of the emotions we're feeling right now is a sadness that someone we know -- and like -- has lost a job.

But professional sports is first and foremost a business. And if we look at the "business" side of things, we have to admit that, after four seasons with Linda as GM assembling the team, the Mystics unfortunately have not proven to be competitive. There's no question that some player personnel problems along the way were not Linda's fault or within her control. (Nikki Teasley's pregnancy is a good example.) Overall, though, the player personnel decisions were Linda's responsibility, and a 10-24 season is not getting the job done. So after this many years, when things clearly aren't working on the court, we cannot quarrel with management's decision that it's time for a change.

We wish things hadn't turned out this way. But that's life . . . and, most particularly, that's professional sports. It's a really tough way to make a living. We sincerely wish Linda all the best.

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This season, the Mystics' franchise adopted a one-word slogan: BELIEVE. The directive appeared in large, uppercase type just about everywhere a fan might look. On T-shirts, on posters, on emails, on team blogs. The problem, however, was that we were never told exactly what it was we were supposed to BELIEVE in. But now that the season is officially over, the BasketCases think we know the answer. We completely BELIEVE that the Mystics are in need of radical CHANGE! This team is begging for an extreme makeover from top to bottom. It needs to be torn apart and rebuilt using an altogether different blueprint. We need Change that fans can Believe in.

Before today, if anyone had any doubts about the need for radical change, those doubts certainly should have been erased by the embarrassment we witnessed this afternoon at the Phone Booth. Today's blowout by the Lynx simply added several exclamation points!!!

For the second game in a row, the Mystics were facing a team that was missing its two big stars, in this case, Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins. Both are injured and neither even made the trip. As in yesterday's game against the Sun, the Mystics were essentially playing the opponent's bench. But unlike yesterday, the Mystics were playing on their own floor, and their opponent was not a highly ranked playoff team. No, the Lynx are another team with a losing record, and came into today's game dead last in the Western Conference. The Mystics were at full strength, playing in front of their own fans, in their own arena . . . plus it was Fan Appreciation Day!

So what did the Mystics do in appreciation of their fans? They gave up 96 points to the (Seimone-less and Candice-less) cellar-dwelling Lynx, while only managing to score 70 themselves. The game was not just embarrassing, it was boring. With today's loss, their 9th in a row, the Mystics end the season with a record of 10-24 (2nd worst in the WNBA). In only two other seasons in franchise history (one being the team's 3-27 inaugural season), did the Mystics lose more games than they did this summer.

This is not a team that needs tweaking; this is a team that needs to change and needs to be rebuilt . . . from the ground up. No one should be off the table. Nothing short of Exteme Makeover -- the Mystics Edition -- will do. That's what we BELIEVE.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


This afternoon, on national television, the Mystics faced the Connecticut Sun at the Casino in the Sun's final regular season game. Having already locked up second place in the East, and with the playoffs starting next week, Connecticut Coach Mike Thibault parked his two stars -- and MVP candidates -- Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones safely on the sidelines . . . in streetclothes. Which means that the Mystics were, more or less, playing the Sun's bench. But despite that advantage, the Mystics were still unable to leave Mohegan with a win. Final score: Connecticut 87, Washington 81.

The Mystics, with only 7 assisted baskets (to the Sun's 17), lacked good, crisp ball movement, and at times appeared unsure as to what exactly they were supposed to be doing. At one point, the TV announcers commented that no matter which Mystics player had the ball, she looked over to Coach Kenlaw for instructions. If the Sun hadn't sent the Mystics to the foul line for 29 shots (of which the Mystics made a very impressive 25), who knows what the final score would have been!

Today's loss was the 8th in a row for the Mystics, by far the longest current losing streak in the WNBA. The team comes home tomorrow for its last game of the season, a 4 PM contest against the Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx will also be without two of their stars, Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins. Let's hope the Mystics can do a better job tomorrow on the power play than they were able to this afternoon.

As fans, the BasketCases feel sad for the Mystics players; it's got to be very discouraging for them as the losses mount up. We really really hope they can close out their season on a slightly higher note. Tomorrow is also Fan Appreciation Day at the Phone Booth. As fans, we too have been feeling pretty discouraged. So we want the same thing for ourselves as we want for the players. More than $1 hot dogs -- more than anything -- what would really make our day is for the Mystics to wrap up the season with a win.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Record Survives!

Until last night, it was looking pretty likely that the one truly memorable record held by the Mystics franchise was about to be wiped right off the books. Fans who've been around as long as we have know exactly what that record is . . . the record for the most futile season in WNBA history! The Mystics' 1998 inaugural season record of 3-27!

The Atlanta Dream closed out their home schedule on Monday, losing to Indiana, to fall to 3-29 on the season. They had two games left, both on the road, the first last night in LA against the Sparks. You know that team -- the one with three Olympic Gold Medalists. Then they wrap up their season tonight in Seattle against the team with the second-best record in the WNBA. Not to be too insulting to the Dream, but the BasketCases thought it was rather improbable that Atlanta would chalk up any more wins this season.

So imagine our surprise to awaken this morning to the news that the Dream stunned the Sparks, 83-72, to improve to 4-29!!! So, happily, we were wrong.

Not only is this good news for the Dream, but this is also good news for the Mystics . . . for two reasons. First, of course, the Mystics' WNBA record for futility survives! (We're Number 1!!!) Why is that a good thing? Well, if, like the BasketCases, you were an eyewitness to that history, you just don't want anyone taking that record away. One win every 10 games? An entire season without a single road victory? All played out in front of packed houses of manic Mystics fans?! That's Special!

Second, since the Mystics own LA's first round pick in the 2009 draft (acquired in the trade that sent DeLisha Milton-Jones back to the Sparks in exchange for Taj McWilliams-Franklin), the worse that LA finishes this season, the higher the Mystics get to pick. It's too soon to be certain, but the Dream may very well have bumped Washington up one place in the college draft.

So our hearty congratulations -- and thanks -- to Coach Meadors and the entire Dream team! Well done, ladies!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The Shock beat the Mystics tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 78-66.

No surprise.

The Detroit announcers said the Mystics hustled throughout the game. We're pleased with that. But the Mystics were simply outplayed. Our talent can't match their talent. The final score makes the game seem closer than it actually was.

The Washington Post's Mystics Insider Blog is running a poll with questions about Mystics players and management.

If you wish to express your opinion, you can find the link here.

Tonight's Game Really Matters

. . . to Detroit. If the Shock beat the Mystics when the two teams meet later today at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and if Connecticut loses tonight to San Antonio, then Detroit locks up first place in the East and, more important, home court advantage throughout the Conference playoffs. It's all spelled out here.

The Mystics have lost all three of their prior games against the Shock this season, including both home games (one of which was an utter embarrassment and cost the Mystics their coach). Tonight, in Detroit, with so much on the line for the Shock, well . . . it's not going to be pretty easy for the Mystics to pull the upset. But who knows? If you want to follow the action, you can. The game will be televised on NBA TV starting at 7:30 PM EDT.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

75% is Still a Failing Grade.

At half-time tonight in Chicago, the Mystics had a 3 point lead and only 6 turnovers. At the end of 3 periods, they were still up by 2. But in a turnover-ridden 4th period, the Mystics allowed the Sky to score the first 13 points of the quarter, and were outscored in the final 10 minutes 28-7. Ouch! Not only that, but the Mystics finished with 20 turnovers. 14 in the second half! Aaargh! Final score, Chicago wins 78-59.

If we didn't know any better, we'd think the team was tanking for Toliver playing for ping pong balls instead of the victory. But we do know better, and we know that isn't what happened. We believe they were trying. They just don't seem to be able to take care of the basketball. So while they may get a passing grade for effort, tonight the Mystics earn an "F" for once again Failing to play a complete game.

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Terps/Monarchs trivia . . . Although the Mystics' and Crystal Langhorne's season will end on Sunday, the good news for Crystal's former Terrapin teammate Laura Harper is that with a win over Seattle Tuesday night, the Monarchs are once again headed to the playoffs! Ten years ago, when the Mystics were in the middle of their 3-27 inaugural season, the BasketCases met up (in Alaska!) with a couple of Sacramento fans, who were suffering through a discouraging 8-22 season of their own; they told us "we feel your pain." Ever since then, we've felt a special connection to the Monarchs. Over the years, with the addition of local DC-area (and BasketCases') favorites Kara Lawson, Becky Brunson and this year Laura Harper, Sacramento has cemented its position as our favorite team in the Western Conference. It was fun to follow the Monarchs franchise as they turned things around from that 1998 season to win the WNBA Championship in 2005. And now the team heads into post-season play for the sixth consecutive year . Congratulations to Laura, Kara, Becky and their teammates, and to all the Monarchs' fans!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Playing for . . .

Tuesday night in Chicago the Mystics take on the Sky, in a "battle" between two of the East's three teams failing to make the playoffs this season. The other is the expansion Nightmare Dream, whose place at the bottom of the Conference (not to mention the league) is secure. However, the Mystics and the Sky are still playing for 5th place in the East (and a certain intangible). Of course, the cynics among us would observe that finishing 6th in the Conference would likely get the loser more ping pong balls in the WNBA draft lottery. But some things are more important than ping pong. Hint: 5 letters, starts with "P".

The game tips off at 8 PM EDT. It's not being televised or webcast, which once again leaves us with Frank "Woman to Woman D" Hanrahan's audio cast on WNBA.com.

Tuesday Morning Update: On the front page of today's Washington Post Sports Section, Kathy Orton has a long, interesting feature about Mystics owner Sheila Johnson and her bumpy ride. Link here.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

100%> 75% > 50%

In the Mystics' previous home game, against the Fever, Washington played well for the first two quarters. But 50% of a game isn't enough and they lost. Tonight at home against the Shock, the Mystics were competitive for the first three quarters. At the end of 3, the teams were tied at 58. Then the Shock shifted their game into overdrive, while the Mystics reverted to form (scoring only 11 points in the final period) and lost to Detroit, 69-84. We guess the moral of the story is that even 75% of a game, when facing a formidable opponent, isn't enough.

It certainly would be nice to see a complete game for a change, but despite Coach J-Law's best efforts, it didn't happen tonight. A complete game requires that all the players perform as expected. It's tough to win a ball game when your franchise player, Alana Beard, starts the game 0-9, not hitting a field goal until about 2 minutes left in the third period. Reserves Crystal Smith (12 pts) and Andrea Gardner (10 pts) helped carry the team during Alana's drought, but they could only carry the team so far. In the one-star system of the Mystics, when AB is that cold, it's not likely the Mystics will win, and they didn't tonight. (For the record, Alana finished with 14 points, second highest on the Mystics behind Mo Currie's 15, but a number of AB's baskets were scored after Detroit had put the game out of reach.)

As expected, Taj McWilliams-Franklin got an extremely warm welcome and a well-deserved round of applause when she was introduced. Taj proceeded to play an excellent game, and finished by leading all scorers with 21. We understand why she was traded and don't regret the acquisition of Tasha Humphrey, a promising rookie, but we sure do miss Taj!

And not that anyone, at this point, was expecting to see the Mystics play in the post-season this year, but until the loss tonight, the team still had not been mathematically eliminated. Well, tonight's loss took care of that.

At 10-20, the Mystics now have 4 games left to play purely for pride. They play their final home game next Sunday, September 14th, against the Lynx. It's Fan Appreciation Night. More than anything, besides the give-aways and entertainment, what these two fans -- the BasketCases -- would appreciate the most after seeing a paltry 6 wins in our first 16 home games is to see the Mystics play 100% of a game . . . a complete 40 minutes of basketball.

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Sunday Morning Update . . . The Washington Times didn't even send a reporter to the Phone Booth last night, and instead published the AP story.

Taj Returns To Washington

Two powerful women are expected to visit Washington later today -- Hanna, making her first (and, we trust, only) appearance in our nation's capital, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who will be returning to the Phone Booth for the first time since being traded to the Detroit Shock in August during the Olympic break. Katie Carrera has an interesting article about Taj in today's Post. No surprise here, but it's pretty clear from Taj's quotes why, for the Mystics, she was such a much-needed and now much-missed leader.

Game time: 6 PM. Don't forget your umbrella!

Also: Happy Birthday to Coco Miller, who turns 30 today!

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Tale of Two Halves

Too many turnovers (12), but otherwise the Mystics played a pretty good first half of basketball tonight against the Fever. At the break, they had out-shot their opponent and had grabbed twice as many rebounds as Indy had; as a result, they took a 45-37 lead into the locker room. The first 20 minutes were played with intensity and energy and were fun to watch. In short, the Mystics looked very much like the team we'd been hoping to see after the Olympic break.

Unfortunately, the second half was a different story altogether. In the next 2 quarters, the Mystics were ice cold, managing to score only 23 points, while giving up 42 points to Indy. Add to that another 12 turnovers in the final 20 minutes (for an egregious total of 24!), and it's not surprising that the Mystics lost to the Fever; the final score was 79-68.

Washington's loss tonight puts Indiana a full 4 games ahead in the battle (if you can even call it that now) for the final playoff spot in the East. And while the Mystics have not been mathematically eliminated, with only 5 games left in the regular season, it would practically take a miracle now for them to advance to post-season play.

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But we do have some good news! Apart from the fact that Maryland released its schedule today (see "Ribbit" below), the BasketCases learned this evening that the Rebounders have planned even more fun for members, forming a tailgating committee that expects to organize several tailgating parties this season. All that in addition to the usual post-game "socials" with the team, not to mention some roadtrips, and just the all around good feeling of knowing that you are helping to support one of the best programs in women's college basketball. So again, if you haven't joined or haven't re-upped, go here, now! Trust us, you'll be glad you did!!


At long last, the ACC has released its women's basketball schedule for 2008-09, which has allowed the Terps to release theirs. And while the upcoming season is still a long way off, at least now we can begin the countdown. Maryland opens its new season 73 days from today, on Friday, November 14th, on the road against the Horned Frogs of TCU. Ribbit! The first home game for the new-look Terps takes place two days later on Sunday, November 16, 2008, when the Delaware State Hornets visit Comcast Center at 2 PM. Mark your calendars!

Of course, everybody already knows about Thanksgiving in Cancun . . . sun, fun and basketball! Other games, though in less scenic locations, but still noteworthy: the Terps host UCLA (Nikki Blue's alma mater) on November 23rd. On December 4th, Maryland travels to West Lafayette, Indiana, to face last season's Big 10 tournament champion, the Purdue Boilermakers, in the 2nd Annual Big Ten-ACC challenge. This should be an exciting non-conference test. Then on the Sunday before Christmas (December 21st), the Terps meet the always tough Old Dominion Monarchs -- again on the road -- in Norfolk. Road trip? Very likely!

After New Year's, the ACC schedule gets underway. First up, Wake Forest, at Comcast on January 8th; then it's on the road at Cameron Indoor Stadium to face the Blue Devils on January 12th. The 'Heels come to town on the 25th of January. And Duke arrives on February 22nd! But between those two big in-conference games, Maryland hosts the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the rematch of the Big Reds on February 15th in a nationally televised game. Of course, the ACC tournament concludes conference play. As always, it will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum; the dates are March 5-8. Road trip? Definitely!

If you don't yet have your season tickets, what are you waiting for? Click
here now!

And if you're a Rebounder, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can now renew your membership on line; just go here! If you haven't yet joined the Rebounders, you should, or you'll miss out on a great deal of fun!!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Feeling Feverish

The parade of returning Olympic Gold Medalists continues at the Phone Booth when the Mystics meet Tamika Catchings and the Indiana Fever tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7 PM.

The Fever are currently hanging precariously onto the 4th and final playoff spot in the East, with the Chicago Sky narrowing the gap, now just 2 games behind. (The Sky stunned Detroit Sunday night, winning a one point overtime thriller.)

The last two losses have dropped the Mystics to 3 games behind Indy. As we've previously noted, tomorrow night's game will result in a full game swing; the Mystics will either pull a full game closer to Indy or drop to 4 games behind the Fever. So obviously, this is a "must win" to keep any slim hope of a playoff appearance alive for the Mystics.

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Tuesday Morning Update . . . The Post's Katie Carrera profiles Mystics newbie Tasha Humphrey.