A Fresh Start

With many new faces on hand, the Mystics look to turn things around in 2013

After finishing 2012 in the cellar of the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, something had to change. It did. The Mystics return just four players in 2013, adding four rookies and three veterans to the roster.

Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie, Matee Ajavon, and Michelle Snow are the sole returning Mystics, offering a veteran presence for this young team.

Rookies Tayler Hill (Ohio State), Nadira McKenith (St. John’s), and Emma Meesseman (Belgium) were taken in last month’s WNBA Draft, while Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (North Carolina) was signed and added to the roster after going undrafted.

The three new veterans, Ivory Latta, Kia Vaughn, and Jessica Moore round out the 2013 Mystics roster. Last year, Latta played for the Tulsa Shock, Vaughn suited up for the New York Liberty, and Moore logged minutes for the Connecticut Sun.

The biggest change in the offseason, however, came at the head coaching position. Mike Thibault took the job after Trudi Lacey’s departure, bringing a rigid, drawn up style of play and a whole lot of opportunity. As the second-most winningest coach in WNBA history, Thibault should instill a culture of success to the organization that is desperately needed.

“It’s been great working with him,” Currie said. “I feel like I’ve become a better player already, being with him, learning how to think about the game more. He’s a great motivator, he knows what he’s doing.”

Thibault may have a winning formula for the Mystics, but the execution comes down to his players. Fortunately, all of these players have strengths that benefit the team greatly.

“Right now, we’re all still trying to find out what we want to do within coach’s system,” said Vaughn. “But I believe inside and outside we have great guard shooters and we have strong post players who make moves and create great trapping.”

So far, the Mystics have been able to execute in this new system, pulling out a road win in overtime against the Tulsa Shock in their season opener on May 27th. The team shot 46.3% in the 95-90 outcome, while posting an efficient 43.8% from the 3 point line. Ivory Latta scored a career-high 27 points against her previous team, showing she fits quite nicely in this new program.

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Latta said. “They were definitely finding me, and I was just trying to make the shots like I usually take. It felt good to go back there and get a win especially, you know, I’ve been [with Tulsa] for three years.”

Crystal Langhorne scored 16 points on 7-12 shooting and Matee Ajavon added 19 points off the bench.

Starting off the season on the right foot was of the utmost importance for Thibault and his team, setting the tone for the intensity and dedication necessary to make the next step towards the playoffs.

“1-0 is a great start, gives a good, positive vibe to everything you’re doing,” Thibault said. “It can reinforce the good stuff, and you have enough mistakes in the game to point out that ‘Hey, we can’t keep making these mistakes, too.’ So, it’s a little bit of good both ways.”

One of the most important keys to the success of this team in the coming months lies in the rookie class of Hill, McKenith, Meesseman, and Ruffin-Pratt. Their development will have to be accelerated as Coach Thibault expects them to play very important roles.

“I think, number one, they have to make an impact for us to have a decent season,” Thibault explained. “We drafted Tayler with the expectation that she would play a fair amount. Emma has probably been the biggest surprise in the sense that we thought maybe she was a year away from being a major contributor and she’s not, she’s ready to play now, and is going to get a substantial amount of minutes.”

These first-year players are more than ready to take on the challenge ahead of them and their teammates have a great deal of confidence in them. The veterans agree with Thibault; this team’s outcome lies with the rookies.

“They’re aggressive rookies, they want to be a part of this team,” said Vaughn. “We need them. It’s just point blank. It’s not waiting to see when your time is, it’s now. They just have to play basketball, and understand that it’s a different level than college, but it’s still basketball, so don’t be afraid.”

The next game on the schedule for the Mystics will be their home opener, this Sunday against the Atlanta Dream. The Dream also defeated the Tulsa Shock in their first game, by a final of 98-81.

The coaching staff will have to prepare this week for a very balanced attack from the Dream, who had five players in double-digits for points in last Saturday’s game against the Shock. Led by last year’s WNBA leading scorer, Angel McCoughtry, the Atlanta Dream will not be an easy win, but Thibault’s squad is confident.

“I mean coach gives us everything, so we’re prepared from a coach’s standpoint,” Vaughn said. “We just all have to go out and be on the same page, and fight, and play together. When there’s a will, there’s a way.”

It will also be a homecoming for former Mystic PG Jasmine Thomas, who was traded to the Dream during the off-season.

Consecutive losing seasons have taken a toll on this team, and the coaches and players are ready to change that pattern. Every Mystics huddle and timeout is broken down with one word: together. Winning this season will have to be done exactly as the team says. Together.