Mystics have to crawl before they can walk

Even with Holdsclaw, 3-27 daunting legacy

June 10, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

If the progression of a new franchise can be likened to that of a child, then the Women's National Basketball Association's Washington Mystics head into their second year of existence in much the same way a toddler approaches the world -- with much more energy than perspective.

And while most of that enthusiasm, personified in four-time college All-American Chamique Holdsclaw, is good, new coach Nancy Darsch is to be forgiven if she sees herself as a parent who is trying to teach a 2-year-old the alphabet -- an experience that can be rewarding, but also frustrating.

For instance, as the Mystics prepare for their season-opener tonight against the Charlotte Sting at the MCI Center, Darsch is attempting to install the triangle offense that was the operating system of the Chicago Bulls' six NBA titles this decade.

The Mystics, or at least what remains from last year's 3-27 debacle, are learning the offense and its intricate series of reads and cuts, but not fast enough for Darsch's taste.

"It's a good offense and it will be a good offense. But there are times when we break down.

"We're still thinking too much about what cut we're supposed to make. Our screens are sloppy or our ballhandling is sloppy," said Darsch.

"But I like the offense a lot because it's a good team offense. As long as we continue to improve our execution and we're willing to give the ball up, we're going to get high-percentage shots. We have a lot of players on our team that get in a hurry. Some of it is [a lack of] poise and maturity and we just need to get some of our key people to slow down and let the offense run."

It will take more than poise and maturity to get the team going. Despite leading the league in attendance, the 1998 Mystics were a dreadful lot on the floor, surrendering more turnovers and points than any other team in the WNBA, while scoring fewer points than all but one other team (Sacramento).

Not surprisingly, that lethal combination led to one of the worst single-season records in the history of American professional team sports, and cost two coaches, Jim Lewis and interim leader Pam Parson, their jobs.

Also, not unexpectedly, Darsch shuffled the deck substantially, keeping only five players from last year's bunch, including leading scorer Nikki McCray (17.7 ppg) and leading rebounder Alessandra Santos de Oliveira (8.1 rpg), while making the team younger. Penny Moore, a 6-foot holdover forward and local native, is the only player on the roster over 29.

The Mystics looked to bolster two of their most pressing needs -- point guard and interior depth -- with their draft, taking former American Basketball League Rookie of the Year Shalonda Enis, a 6-1 center, and Jennifer Whittle, a 6-5 Australian center, as well as point guard Andrea Nagy. At least two of the three will likely start.

Holdsclaw is the highest-profile addition. The three-time national Player of the Year, who led Tennessee to three straight NCAA titles, was the first pick in the April draft, which was no easy feat, considering the influx of talent from the now-defunct American Basketball League.

The 6-2 small forward, who actually can play any position, is expected to carry the load on offense, give the franchise star quality and possibly get last year's cellar dwellers to the six-team WNBA playoffs.

It's a tall order, but Holdsclaw is counting on carrying it out.

"When you set your own expectations, you're likely to achieve them, whereas when someone else sets expectations for you, you think, `I'm not worried what you think.' That's an attitude where you don't worry about what coach Darsch wants or even what the president wants," said Holdsclaw.

"I'm worried about what I believe in. Everybody wants something, but you have to be a realist and say, `Can we really get this accomplished?,' and I really think we can do this, make the playoffs."

That would be a mighty big step for a toddler just getting up off the ground.

WNBA schedule

Today's games

Charlotte at Washington, 7 p.m.

Cleveland at New York, 7: 30 p.m.

Houston at Orlando, 8 p.m.

Sacramento at Los Angeles, 10: 30 p.m.

Tommorow's games

No games scheduled

Saturday's games

Washington at Houston, 4 p.m.

Los Angeles at Cleveland, 7 p.m.

New York at Charlotte, 7: 30 p.m.

Detroit at Minnesota, 8 p.m.

Orlando at Utah, 9 p.m.

Phoenix at Sacramento, 10 p.m.

Sunday's games

No games scheduled

Monday's games

Detroit at Cleveland, 7 p.m.

Los Angeles at Orlando, 7: 30 p.m.

Washington at New York, 7: 30 p.m.

Utah at Minnesota, 8 p.m.

Sacramento at Phoenix, 10 p.m.

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