Life on the Road

Often times in professional sports, we forget that the athletes are also people. They are people with favorite foods, favorite stores, pet peeves, bad habits, and a love for Angry Birds. What doesn’t show up in the box scores are the personalities that the athletes possess, and it is easy to forget that the athletes are not robots, but human beings.

WashingtonMystics.com had the chance to travel with the Mystics on their most recent road trip to Connecticut and New York/New Jersey. There was full access to everything the team took part in while on the road, which allowed for exclusive coverage of the Mystics players, coaches, and team trainer.

The team had a home game on Friday night against the Liberty and then played in Connecticut the following night, so they were not able to fly up until Saturday morning. After beating the Liberty on Friday, they made the voyage to the state of Connecticut and took the hour bus ride from the airport to Mohegan Sun.

After a film session on the Connecticut Sun, the players were given some free time at the hotel which was nice because Mohegan Sun has a lot to offer. There were plenty of shops and restaurants to pick and choose from and the players were able to either rest in their rooms or go spend a few hours in the resort.

The team reconvened in the hotel lobby a few hours before game time and then made the walk to the arena, which was located inside the resort. They went through their pregame rituals and prepared for a tough Connecticut Sun team.

The game was in danger of being delayed, as two of the officials were stuck in some heavy traffic, but thankfully they arrived just in time for tip-off. The Mystics played right with the Sun up until late in the 4th quarter, but they were unable to sustain a lead and they dropped this one 82-75. There was little time to dwell on the loss, as the team bus left early the next morning. Some of the players grabbed a late dinner, while others went back to their rooms. Next stop: New York City.

The team bus departed for New York City on Sunday morning and with no game until Tuesday, the Mystics were able to spend some time in the city to go shopping and experience New York. The bus ride featured Head Coach Trudi Lacey and Assistant Coach Marianne Stanley teaming up for some intense Angry Birds action. However, it was not all fun and games as after the playing was over, Coach Lacey studied game film while Coach Stanley worked on scouting reports. They were not the only ones working, as some of the team also used the bus ride to watch game tape. A power shortage on the bus left Matee Ajavon’s DVD player powerless, but just as she does on the court, she found a way to get PoweRED UP and made the best of the situation.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature was unkind and a nasty rain fell for the majority of the time in New York. The players were still able to get some shopping in and Niketown seemed to be the store of choice for many of the Mystics. A few of them are local to the area, so they got to spend this time back at home with friends and family. Nicky Anosike is a Staten Island native while Matee Ajavon hails from Newark, so they each took this free time to go see some familiar faces.

The team then took the bus from New York to New Jersey where the team hotel was located. The bus rides usually consisted of the players listening to music, watching DVDs, reading, or conversing with each other. They discussed both basketball related topics such as how other players and teams were doing around the WNBA and life topics such as financial planning. Veteran Crystal Langhorne gave the rookies Jasmine Thomas and Victoria Dunlap some advice as to how to go about setting up their 401k’s with the team. This was great advice for two young players who are just a few months out of college.

Due to renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Liberty are now playing their home games at the Prudential Center in Newark, so the team now stays closer to the arena in New Jersey.

The hotel in New Jersey was a nice place with plenty of restaurants, shops, and a movie theatre within a few steps from the building. This made it easy for the players to go out and spend some of their downtime near the hotel. Some went shopping, some went to see movies, and some hung out in the hotel. Marissa Coleman and Crystal Langhorne gave positive reviews on the movie ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’, which was how they spent their Sunday night.

Monday featured an early morning practice for the team at the New Jersey Nets practice facility. Jasmine Thomas got PoweRED UP with a bagel and some fruit before heading over to the morning’s session. She said that breakfast was her favorite meal of the day and if practice was not so early, she would have taken the time to sit down and have a full meal. But the bagel and fruit would have to make do on this morning.

The practice was intense and the players really put in the effort to try and improve themselves. Because the team was shorthanded with staff, WashingtonMystics.com took on the role of clock operator for the duration of practice. Some of the players joked that if the clock was not run properly, there would be a bus ticket back to D.C. with my name on it; courtesy of Coach Lacey. Luckily for my sake, there were no major issues and the trip continued onward.

While the players were working hard on the court, the mood on the sidelines was jovial, as team trainer Navin Hettiarachchi played with DeMya Walker’s daughter; Zachara. As intense as the players were during practice, when the whistle blew and practice was over, the mood was always lightened by five-year old Zachara. The players always made time to play with Zachara, or Z as she is often called, and even the coaches let her take some shots on the court (of course while giving her a boost on their shoulders).

After practice, the team headed back to the hotel for a film session on the New York Liberty. They crowded into Coach Lacey’s hotel room and watched the tape. This gave them some time to scout the opponent and let them determine how they wanted to attack New York the following night. After film, the players were free to do what they pleased.

On Tuesday, another early morning film session was scheduled in Coach Lacey’s room. After this, the team took the bus ride to the Prudential Center for shootaround. When the players arrived, the lights on the court were not turned on, so the team warmed up in the dark. The only light that they had was beaming in through a few windows which made warming up an interesting experience. Thankfully, the arena management turned the lights on just in time for the actual walkthrough, so the conspiracy was over and the Mystics could get ready for the Liberty.

As she often does, Matee Ajavon had the team laughing while they warmed up in the dark as she was re-enacting plays from the previous game. Although she keeps a serious demeanor on the court, Ajavon is quite a comedian off the court and keeps smiles on many of the Mystics faces.

Tuesday afternoon was time for the team to rest before Tuesday night’s game vs. the New York Liberty. The team had to prepare to leave New Jersey for Washington, D.C. immediately after the game Tuesday, so all the players and coaches had to pack everything and load the team bus before leaving for the arena.

All of the itineraries and all of the maintenance that needed to be taken care of on the road were done by the team trainer, Navin. The equipment manager, Cassaundra Lockett, had to leave the team after their Connecticut stop, which left Navin with not only the role of keeping the players healthy, but also making sure the trip went smoothly. He did an impeccable job with everything from loading luggage to accounting for all the players every time the team made a bus trip. Navin is an expert in sports medicine, but this extra role he plays makes the Mystics extremely fortunate to have him on their staff.

Once the team arrived at the arena Tuesday night, Navin prepared the players with their usual pre-game medical needs. Again, along with this, he also worked on allotting all of the players’ requests for tickets. With many players from the area, there were quite a few envelopes to pack with tickets for the game, so WashingtonMystics.com stepped in and tried to give him a hand.

The game itself was one seen too often this season as the Mystics fought extremely hard, but lost another heartbreaker in the waning moments of the game. They grabbed their first lead of the game with just 24 seconds remaining as Matee Ajavon hit a huge three-point shot, but the Liberty answered with a big shot of their own and the Mystics fell 69-66.

As mentioned earlier, the team had to rush through their showers and got dressed immediately after the game in order to catch the last train back to Washington, D.C. They were able to do this without any problems and caught the train with a few minutes to spare.

The team arrived back in DC a little after 1:00am Wednesday morning and most of them took a shuttle bus back to Verizon Center to finish the trip. It was then time to unpack, regroup, and prepare for Minnesota on Thursday night as the season continued.

And that is life in the W.