The 2018 WNBA rookie class has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention early on this season thanks in large part to A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Mitchell and Kia Nurse putting up big numbers.
But the efforts the Washington Mystics rookie duo of Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins have displayed so far in their first professional season for the Mystics are also worth noticing.
“I am just trying to learn from the veterans in front of me and I am figuring out that it will be an ongoing learning experience for me in the WNBA,” said Hines-Allen, who so far this year is averaging 6.6 PPG and 4.8 RPG.
Through eight regular season games, the Mystics (5-4) currently sit second in the East, led by guard Kristi Toliver and forward Elena Delle Donne. The veterans have been leaders on and off the court for the Mystics rooks as they find their footing in the WNBA.
“I remember the first time [Elena] talked to Ariel and myself, and we looked at each other kind of in awe,” said Hines-Allen. “Elena came over to us to just share how excited she was for us to be on the team. And Ariel and myself looked at each other and laughed like, ‘Wow, she is really friendly.’”
For a young guard in the WNBA, it is nice to have a talented veteran to pave the way early on. Toliver has been doing just that for Atkins, who is averaging 12.5 PPG and 2.3 RPG so far this season.
“The knowledge that [Kristi] gives me on a daily basis is incredible,” Atkins said. “During film, Kristi speaks up and is always asking questions, and figuring things out. At the college level, no one really talks during film with your coaches, and at the pro level it is more discussion-based. I have enjoyed that part a lot.”
Atkins has shown that she has the capability to be a consistent scoring threat from the guard position this season, scoring in double-figures in all but two of her eight games.
Her best game came on May 30 against the Phoenix Mercury, when she scored a career-high 21 points and chipped in five assists.
Having a career night against one of the best players in WNBA history in Diana Taurasi meant a lot to Atkins, who grew up idolizing players like her. However, Atkins knows she can’t be in awe having to matchup with these players she’s admired each and every night.
“Obviously Diana is an incredible player — the most points ever from a WNBA player — and of course she was one I have always looked up to,” said Atkins. “I can’t say it is unreal, because I am here now and have to get it done. But it is definitely a dream come true to be able to play against your role models. I have to realize that I am here now and can’t be in awe, because if they catch you in awe, they will start busting you.”
First career 20-point game for rookie Ariel Atkins (@HeirTrip)!
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 31, 2018
The sports scene has the nation’s capital buzzing right now, namely for the Capitals (who share Capital One Arena with the Mystics), who are one win away from winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Atkins has been enjoying the intense D.C. sports support.
“Since we share the same arena, it has been insane,” Atkins said. “The streets are flooded in red, and I think some of them are still blocked off right now because everything that is going on. But it is so cool to see people being so passionate about the teams they love.”
The buzz should continue on throughout the WNBA season if the Mystics keep up this solid play. Having jumped to this quality start while beating talented teams in Phoenix and Minnesota along the way, it appears they have what it takes to make a run in the postseason when the time comes.
Hines-Allen has brought a relentless work ethic to the Mystics and her tough-nosed style of play seems to be rubbing off on the rest of the squad — a large reason for their early success.
“I want to continue to be a solid rebounder, and keep working to be a defensive stopper,” Hines-Allen said. “Every team needs a hustle player, playing good defense and rebounding, so that has been my mindset so far into my first season. It doesn’t take talent to work hard, it just takes will and grit, and that is what I am trying to bring.”