Friday, April 30, 2010

Best Fans Forever!!!

Ask anyone who's been a multi-year season ticketholder for any sports team and she'll probably tell you that one of the most interesting aspects of being an STH is the experience of connecting with the other fans around you.

It's a weird phenomenon. You buy season tickets, often with one or more friends or family members, and through the luck of the draw, you are assigned to a side, section and row with other fans you may never have laid eyes on before. But except for the unlucky few who immediately call their ticket reps and beg for a new seat assignment, chances are that by season's end there's a special kind of bond formed between you and your nearby seatmates. For however long -- or short -- the season lasts, we are all BFFs! With some of our BFFs we may form real friendships, but mostly, after the last game (or team banquet or team event), we won't have any contact with each other until next season. But after months and months, when that first game of the new season finally rolls around, we see each other again . . . and immediately the smiles break out, we hug, and we exchange all the how-ya-beens, great-to-see-yous of old friends excited to finally be back in touch. Definitely weird. But weird good.

So with the Mystics season about to kick off this Wednesday with a lunch-time (11:30 AM) pre-season contest against the New York Liberty, we're looking forward not only to seeing what the Mystics training camp roster looks like on the court, but also looking forward to seeing a few of our BFFs in their seats.

If you've been reading this blog, or anything else about the Mystics, you've undoubtedly heard the unfortunate news that ankle surgery will sideline Alana Beard for the entire 2010 WNBA season. Bummer! What you may or may not have heard, however, is that AB's status (injured but still under contract) means that Washington will be playing with a 10-person roster throughout the regular season. There's no extra roster spot for GM Angela Taylor and Coach Julie Plank to play with. This means that every new player added to the 2010 Mystics will displace a former member of the old team. It's a tough way to make a living, that's for sure.

We expect the final roster will include one or more new faces. There's no doubt that Angela and Julie are pretty excited about some of the young talent they've brought into training camp. Today, the Mystics launched a new every-Friday video feature on their website called Inside Access. The BCs watched Episode 1 this morning -- about Draft Day in Washington's "war room" -- and we thought it was great! Think of it as a shorter, Mystics version of Under-the-Shell . . . a behind-the-scenes (mostly) unscripted look at the team and the organization. When you watch the war room reaction to San Antonio's selection of Stanford's Jayne Appel -- which left FSU's Jacinta Monroe still on the board -- you just know that what Angela told the press was true, that "50-cent" Monroe was the appel apple of her eye all along.

We expect that at Wednesday's game we'll see plenty of the minutes spread among the new players auditioning for a spot on the roster. With the very difficult assignment of trimming the team to 10 active players, evaluation of talent may take precedence over coming away with a (somewhat meaningless) pre-season win. So the BCs plan to just grab a well-balanced midday meal of popcorn and diet coke, say hey to any of our BFFs who can make it to the Phone Booth at that early hour on a workday, check out the new Mystics talent, catch our first glimpse of Cappie Pondexter in a Liberty uniform, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Go Mystics!

And a footnote: on Tuesday, May 11th, at 6 PM, the Mystics will scrimmage against the Polish National Team at St. John's High School in a game open to the public. That will give all of us a second opportunity to see the pre-season Mystics in action.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Annual Maryland Banquet, Version 2010

It took a little effort to decipher this sign, but as far as we know, all the folks planning to attend managed to find their way to the "Grandball" Room!

For the BasketCases, Maryland's season is not officially over until after the annual team banquet. Yes, we know that WNBA training camp started today, and we'll be writing about the Mystics very soon, but today was all about celebrating a group of talented and gracious young women who proudly wore the red, white and black this season, and about putting that final punctuation mark on their 2009-10 efforts.

For the first time in four years, there was no Maryland senior heading off to the WNBA. We were afraid it might make this year's version of the banquet somewhat less enjoyable, less exciting. But, as a matter of fact, that wasn't the case at all. To be sure, the banquet was different, but still great. It kind of had a family feel to it. The large --and diverse -- Terp family of players, coaches, staff, and fans who attended were there to celebrate the people who wear the uniform, not championships or draft choices. As we honored the departing seniors, what made this one different for us was that this evening's banquet was less about future basketball and more about future life.

One thing that always remains the same: some of the players (including Co-Rookies of the Year, Diandra and Tianna, above) like to WOW us with some sartorial choices we certainly never see them wear on the court. As Coach B said about the entire team, "they clean up pretty well."

Clearly, sophomore "veteran" Lynetta gets her height -- and her great smile -- from her Mom.

Coach B called each of the freshmen up to the podium one by one, noting their many rookie accomplishments. (BTW, there was no clear favorite for the annual Marissa Coleman Shortest Skirt Award . . . all in all, a pretty conservative bunch. We call it a 3-way tie.)

The sophs had their turn at the podium as well. For a change, Kim wasn't on crutches, but Yemi was!

And no banquet would be complete without the senior farewell speeches. Lori (who was voted by the coaches as Terp Player of the Year) went first and delivered a truly heartfelt and emotional speech in which she thanked everyone for making her feel so welcome at Maryland after her transfer. The standing ovation and cheers that Lori received at the end were just another indication of how much she had endeared herself to the fans and become such a valued member of the Terps program.

Lori is hoping to play some ball overseas for a bit, with medical school very likely to follow. As Coach B noted, if Lori does end up practicing medicine, she can't imagine being in better hands. (The BCs hope she'll accept Medicare.)

Lori's parents made the trip from Iowa (via Kansas City, apparently) to attend today's banquet. If you didn't get at least a little teary eyed (like everybody at our table did) when Lori literally broke down thanking her family for all of the sacrifices they've made for her . . . well, maybe next year you should attend the Duke banquet instead.

And then it was Emery's turn at the mic. Like Lori, she spread around plenty of heartfelt thanks . . . Coach B, her teammates, the fans -- and, of course, her parents, whose support has been absolutely phenomenal (as we've written about in this blog previously). But our lasting impression of Emery's speech was how polished, professional, humorous . . . and sincere it was. After witnessing her presentation, will the BCs be surprised to see Emery with a mic in her hands someday when we turn on our TV? No, to the contrary, we'll only be surprised if we don't. Like Lori, Emery has a promising post-basketball future ahead of her.

The evening concluded with a highlight film -- including plently of clips of departing seniors Lori and Emery. As we watched, we realized once again what a privilege it is for us, the fans, to see these young women arrive on campus, see them work hard at their dreams, see them develop into young adults, and, finally, see them exit, more mature and more ready to take on the world. We are reminded once again that the Maryland women's program is not just about basketball . . . it's also about people.

We thank Lori and Emery for everything they have given to Maryland and once again wish them all the very best in the future.

And now that the 2009-10 season is officially over, we can't wait for the next season to begin! Bring on 2010-11! Go Terps!

Photo Credits: DC BasketCases

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alana Beard Expected to Miss the Season!!!

Late this afternoon, the Mystics announced that "Mystics guard Alana Beard will undergo ankle arthroscopy and ankle tendon repair surgery next week. She is expected to miss the 2010 WNBA season."

First, and most important, we hope that AB's surgery is a success and that she has a full and complete recovery.

Second, ARGH!!!! What else can we say? Just when it seemed like the curse that has plagued this franchise had finally been lifted last season -- a new brain trust, steps in the right direction on the court, making the playoffs, fun for the fans -- and we have great new additions to the team for the coming season -- this happens. We are sad for Alana, sad for the team, and sad for every Mystics fan.

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Friday, April 09, 2010

Meet the Draftees

Now that the books are closed on the 2010 WNBA Draft, here's a little more infomation about the Mystics' picks:

Jacinta Monroe: the BCs are very happy about the Mystics' first round selection, as the Mystics have added talent and height in the post. It's no surprise that Florida State's success in the ACC over the past two seasons has come with Monroe as a veteran leader on that team. As Terps fans, we've seen Monroe's contributions up close and personal. Monroe is athletic and a great shot blocker (unfortunately for Maryland). Her importance to the 'Noles was underscored in their ACC Tournament quarterfinal game against Boston College -- Monroe went out with a minor ankle injury early in the game, and her team was unable to win without her. If you haven't seen Jacinta Monroe play, don't expect that at 6'5" she's a traditional low block, back-to-the-basket post. She's "slim," but a very skilled player who should help the Mystics where they need help the most. Of the Mystics' four picks yesterday, Monroe is the closest to a sure bet to make the roster.

Jenna Smith: Smith finished her career at Illinois as the record-holder in a number of important statistical categories, including scoring and rebounding. Since, as ACC fans, we admittedly aren't as familiar with Smith as we are with Jacinta Monroe, here's the scoop from the Illini site

Smith will go down as one of the best players in Illinois women's basketball history. She is a former All-American and is a three-time first team All-Big Ten selection. Her name is all over the UI records books as she Illini all-time leader in career scoring (2,160), rebounding (1,217), blocks (231), double-doubles (53), games started (221) and minutes played (4,561).

During her senior season, she averaged 18.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from three-point range and 88.4 percent from the free throw line. She broke the Big Ten single-season rebounding record with 387 boards in 2009-10 and ends her career as one of just two players in conference history to rank in the Big Ten top-10 in career points, rebounds and blocks, joining former Ohio State center Jessica Davenport in the exclusive club.

Shanavia Dowdell: A forward at Louisiana Tech, Dowdell was named the WAC Player of the Year each of the past two seasons. And who better to tell us about her than one of her own coaches (someone very familiar to Maryland fans as well), La Tech's Associate Head Coach Daron Park, who in this post-draft interview with the BCs said that:

Shanavia is a very talented player who is just now beginning to understand her ability. In many ways she reminds me of Lang with her style, ability to score and rebound. In fact many of the things we taught Shanavia were the same things we worked on with Crystal a few years ago. She has great feet, is very good scoring around bigger posts and she can score with her back to the basket or faced up. Shanavia has 3-pt range and is very good "popping" off of on-ball screens for shots. She is a wonderful person, very shy but funny once you get to know her, and is affectionately called "bean." You will have to ask her how she got that name!

Thanks Coach, we will!

Alexis Gray-Lawson: A talented guard from Cal, Gray-Lawson just led the Bears to the WNIT Championship, and is Cal's record-holder in three point baskets and their third leading scorer. Gray-Lawson was recently named the recipient of the 2010 Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, given "annually to the nation's most outstanding NCAA Division I female basketball player who stands 5'8" tall or under and attends a NCAA Division I institution." No slouch off the court, either, Gray-Lawson's dream is to attend Harvard Law School. The BCs are by no means writing off Gray-Lawson's chances in the WNBA, but we do think that, as the 30th pick overall, she has a great fallback plan!

Good luck to all the draftees!

Photo credit: Florida State University

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Breaking News: TEAM ACC adds another!

With the 6th pick in the WNBA draft, the Mystics have chosen 6'5" Post Jacinta Monroe from Florida State University.

More later....

Welcome, Jacinta!!!

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With the 14th overall pick, the Mystics have drafted 6'3" Center Jenna Smith from Illinois.

And with the 18th pick, they've selected 6'2" Forward Shanavia Dowdell from Louisiana Tech. (We will have to ask Daron Park for the scoop on her!) Finally, the Mystics have used the 30th overall pick to draft 5'8" Guard Alexis Gray-Lawson of Cal.

Welcome all!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"With the 6th pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft, the Washington Mystics select . . ."

Your guess is as good as ours -- as long as you're guessing a post player -- and there are a handful of posts who are likely to be available when Donna O puts the Mystics on the clock tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon. (Tina Charles, unfortunately, will not be one of them.) If you haven't yet had a chance to read GM Angela Taylor's assessment of these potential draft picks in our Q. and A. with Angela immediately below, you might want to do so before tomorrow's draft.

Also, don't miss Mike Fratto's pre-draft analysis here on the Mystics' web site. (If that name sounds familiar to you, yes, it's the same excellent sportswriter Mike Fratto who worked for the Washington Times before the Times got rid of its sports section. The Mystics were smart enough to hire Mike to write for them, and the BCs look forward to reading more of Mike's coverage this summer.) Katie Carrera's draft day article for the Washington Post is here.

A few questions as we await the draft . . . Will the injured Jayne Appel fall to number six? Will the Mystics pick her if she does?

All will be revealed tomorrow. . . The draft begins at 3PM ET, with the first round televised on ESPN2, and the other rounds shown on NBA TV and ESPNU. And in case you don't have a TV at work (or even if you do), the Mystics brain trust will be live blogging from their "war room" during the draft. Just click on the team's web site.

Go Mystics!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Q. and A. With Mystics GM Angela Taylor

If you're a fan of Twitter, you probably know that Mystics GM Angela Taylor, a recent addition to the Twitterverse, has quickly become an addict -- happily tweeting away morning, noon, and night. Fortunately for the BCs' readers, though, Angela was kind enough to step away from her BlackBerry for a few minutes to give us her thoughts (in more than 140 characters) on a number of timely and interesting subjects -- including the WNBA's upcoming college draft, set for next Thursday at 3 PM (in which the Mystics have the #6 overall pick, as well as picks 14, 18, and 30).

BCs: As you enter your second season as a GM, what has surprised you the most about your job? And what aspects of your job do you enjoy the most…and the least?

AT: Well, I can honestly say that not much surprises me in life. My parents always taught me to expect the unexpected and to be prepared for anything.

The absolute best part of my job is the PEOPLE. I am so blessed to work for a great organization, with individuals who work extremely hard and are passionate about what they do. Our players are simply amazing young women who bring a smile to my face every day. It is so inspiring just being around them as they follow their dream of playing professional basketball. Over the years, I have learned how important it is to value the relationships that are formed, so everyday I am grateful for the opportunity to do what I do surrounded by a wonderful group of people. At the end of the day, that’s what life is about.

The aspect of my job that I enjoy the least is unequivocally the process of trimming your roster to 11 and having to waive a player who gave it her all throughout a very competitive training camp. After having to tell a young lady, who has given it her all during training camp (and played extremely well in many cases), that the road with the Mystics had come to an end was very difficult. I had never been in a position where I had to cut/waive a player before and was not quite comfortable ruining someone’s dream (or at least putting that dream on hold for a bit). They all handled it graciously and with the utmost class, but it was important for me to let them know that it was a difficult decision and that we would do anything to help them out in their future aspirations if needed. I value the whole person when I look to bring a player in to be part of our organization, so it is imperative that we focus as much on their on-court success as on their off-court success. It is tough to look them in the eyes as they wonder if there was anything they could have done differently. But the truth is that they did everything they could, that just wasn’t enough!

BCs: Turning to the upcoming draft, with the 6th overall pick, your job this year seems a bit harder than it did last year when the Mystics picked second. What steps do you take to prepare for a draft when you don’t know precisely what most of the teams drafting ahead of you might be doing?

AT: Ha Ha…thanks for reminding me that our draft selection will be much more difficult than it was last year. It is so true though. As we scout and evaluate the top seniors for the 2010 class, we have to be very mindful that a large part of our decision on April 8th will be a “reaction” to what has happened ahead of us in the draft, whether that will be the current teams selecting a player or another team trading up in the draft. Both Coach Plank and I are the proactive types, so it is somewhat frustrating to not to be in complete control of our destiny on draft day. In preparation for that, we have been talking through every scenario with Marianne and Trudi during our draft prep meetings. You have to be prepared for anything, and with only a few minutes between picks, you must know what you will do in various situations. It should be interesting. But while it was so nice to be able to select Marissa at #2 in the 2009 draft, I think I’d prefer to not be in the top picks because that means we had a successful season the previous year!

BCs: You and Coach Plank have candidly acknowledged that the Mystics need improvement in the post. With the 6th pick, will you draft the best available post, or, assuming that the best player available at that point is not a post, will you draft her instead?

AT: We definitely would like to add a post to our roster through this year’s draft and will be looking to do that with our #6 pick if possible. However, as you stated in the previous question, so much is determined by who the teams selecting before us choose from #1 – #5. We will have the draft candidates ranked by position and ranked overall, so when it is our time to select, we will discuss the merits of drafting for need or drafting the best player on the board at that time. We have to go into the draft with an open mind, so that we don’t miss out on the opportunity to select a great player simply because we have such an obvious need. Ideally, the best player still on the board at #6 will, in fact, be a post!!! That will make the decision an easy one.

BCs: Tell us a little about the top posts who realistically might still be available at number 6, and what each would bring to the Mystics.

AT: Like we always say, that’s why we play the game, so I am going to share my thoughts on the top posts in the draft without projecting who will be there for us at #6 or not. A little positive thinking…maybe Tina Charles falls to us at #6! I can dream can’t I?

Tina Charles is a 6’4” dominant low-block player who has established herself to be not only the best post player in the 2010 WNBA Draft, but also the best player in the draft. She would provide a dynamic presence at both ends of the floor with her ability to run the floor, block shots, control the boards, score on the low block, and pass out of double teams. She also has greatly improved her face up game.

Jayne Appel is another 6’4 true low-block player who offers a team a very different presence than Charles. Appel is a rare “playmaker” from the 5 position. Her ability to pass (honed through years of playing water polo) makes her quite a unique addition to any team. She has great hands, is a force on the low block, and runs the floor better than people expect. While she isn’t a “leaper” she has amassed more career rebounds than Lisa Leslie in the Pac-10, so there’s no doubt she can be relied upon to go to the boards. Similar to Courtney Paris, she will have to add to her arsenal of moves on the low block in order to attract a double-team which will allow her to utilize her passing skills.

Alysha Clark is an undersized post at just 5’10”, but has proven over the last two years that size doesn’t matter. Similar to Langhorne, she uses a low center of gravity and a strong lower body to find position on the low block. She is a prolific scorer who has a nose for the ball and knows what to do with it when she gets it. Even when playing bigger posts. Similar to Amber Holt (drafted by CT Sun), she will have to develop a face up game and look to make the transition to the small forward position at the WNBA level, but with her work ethic and athleticism, she should be able to do that.

Jacinta Monroe is a 6’5” versatile post player who can play on the low block or face up and stretch the defense. She is very long and lanky and as a result provides a great presence on the defensive side of the floor. She is an active shot blocker, runs the floor well, rebounds, and can hit the high post jumper on occasion. As with DeWanna Bonner last year, she will have to put on some weight and get in the weight room to compete with the physical bigs in the WNBA.

Kelsey Griffin is another versatile post at 6’2". At 6’2”, she is a very skilled player who happens to be able to play the post. She changes the game at both ends of the floor and competes every second of the game. Very reminiscent of Janel McCarville, Griffin can bring the ball up to initiate the offense after grabbing a defensive rebound or create an open look for a teammate off the dribble. Scouts love the fact that she is willing to do whatever it takes to help her team win, whether that is taking a charge, getting a key rebound, hitting a high post jumper, setting a screen to get a teammate open, or defending the opponent’s best player. She is probably one of the most versatile all-around players in this year’s draft.

Chanel Mokango is another 6’5” post player who continues to improve her game after playing in a competitive conference like the SEC. She is a very long and lanky finesse post player who is very comfortable facing up and hitting threes. She runs the floor extremely well, is not afraid to back down and be physical with bigs, changes shots with her length, rebounds, and is a decent post defender. She will also have to continue to work on developing her physique.

Amanda Thompson is a 6’2” player who can play the small forward or power forward. She has a nose for the ball & continues to come up big in BIG games for the Oklahoma Sooners. Because of her experience on the perimeter in the past, she is very comfortable with the ball in her hands and can stretch the defense by shooting the three ball. Seems like she always comes up with that important rebound when her team needs it. She can post up smaller guards/posts or bring posts outside and force them to guard her off the dribble. She also provides vocal leadership and competitiveness to a roster.

BCs: Reportedly, Cappie Pondexter and Candice Dupree were both adamant that they be traded (Cappie to NY and Candice out of Chicago). As we all know, this resulted in a 3-way trade that brought Cappie to the Liberty and sent Candice to Phoenix. And it’s also been reported that Deanna Nolan has told the Tulsa Shock that she will sit out the season unless she’s traded. What are your thoughts about this “trade me or else” trend? Particularly, how do you think it impacts the WNBA, in the short term and long term?

AT: I’m not sure about the “reports,” but I do know that we rarely know all of the details in specific situations. Everyone’s situation is usually very different, so it is difficult to make a general statement regarding players asking to be traded. What I can say is that I don’t think it is a “trend.” For the most part, the players in this league are content in the situations they happen to be in and are willing to play out their careers according to the teams’ plans. I am also sympathetic to the players who for a variety of reasons may want to live and play in another market. These players spend the majority of their young lives living away from friends and family, so I can’t blame them for wanting to have some say in where they play (if it is for the right reasons). At the same time, it is difficult for a team to lose a core piece of their nucleus because there aren’t that many trades of equal value that can be made for those particular players.

In the short-term, this definitely impacts the league. I think fans in New York, Chicago, and Phoenix will be excited about the new additions to their teams and teams around the league will try to figure out how to counter those impressive moves that have been made.

Over the long-term, I don’t have a definitive answer for the impact because there are so many variables involved. Like I said, I think each instance was unique, so there is no evidence that this will encourage other players to do the same thing. The WNBA has a free-agency process which does try to foster player movement, so hopefully the system will continue to work as designed.

BCs: On a scale of 1 (highly unlikely) to 10 (practically certain), how would you rate the chances that the Mystics might be involved in a trade prior to the opening of the season?

How’s this for an answer…..5!!! Things change on a daily basis and we are constantly thinking of ways to improve our team, so we will continue to attempt to cover all of our bases through player development, free agency, the draft, and trades. It’s a game of chess, so we must always be ready to make our next move and countermove!!!

BCs: Finally, turning to the college game for a moment: the BasketCases have been told that scientists from the Hansen Experimental Physics Lab of Stanford University (known to be experimenting with gravitational quantum states of neutrons and search for short range forces) were spotted in the stands at the Xavier/Stanford regional final aiming a strange piece of equipment at Dee Dee Jernigan just as she was attempting her final two lay-ups. Would you care to comment? And, do you know if those HEPL scientists plan to attend the Final Four?

AT: That is hilarious! No comment. If that is the case, I hope that those same scientists find their way down to the Alamo City to work their magic for a 2nd (and possibly 3rd) time. I’m sure that several Cardinal Alum would be happy to pay their way to San Antonio in hopes that Tara can inspire her team on to the school’s third NCAA Championship in women’s hoops. We can use all of the help we could get. Perhaps the Stanford Tree (if not banned from the arena) will be able to work some magic as well. Go Stanford!!!!

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We know that Angela's very busy getting ready for the draft (and tweeting), so we want to say how much we appreciate that she's taken the time to stop by our blog. Thank you, Angela!

Photo Credit: DC BasketCases

Hurricane Warning

In case you've been wondering whatever happened in the WNIT since the Terps were eliminated, well . . . it's now down to two teams vying for the title.

Tomorrow, Saturday, at 2 PM ET, the University of Miami -- the only ACC team left in either of the post-season tournaments -- will take on Cal in the Championship game, which will be played in Berkeley. (Astute readers will realize that the teams will thus be playing at 11 AM local time, pretty early in the day for basketball.) The match will be televised live by CBS College Sports.

Go ACC! Go 'Canes! Beat the Golden Bears!