Period of adjustment

WNBA: Top draft pick Chamique Holdsclaw has found a faster pace in the pros and more losses than in four years in college.

August 21, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As the curtain comes down on her first WNBA season, let's just say that certain parts of the Chamique Holdsclaw story have played to mixed reviews.

On the one hand, Holdsclaw has helped lead the Washington Mystics to 12 wins -- nine more than last season -- heading into today's season finale here against the Minnesota Lynx.

On the other, the Mystics have lost more games (19) in three months than Holdsclaw lost in four years at Tennessee (16).

Sometimes, the highs and lows have come in bursts. For instance, last Saturday, Holdsclaw had 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds -- her sixth double double of the year -- in the Mystics' 55-53 win over Los Angeles.

The victory was Washington's sixth straight and capped a day in which Holds- claw was one of 10 players named to the team that is expected to form the United States squad in next year's Summer Olympics in Australia.

However, just over 24 hours later, the Mystics were eliminated from playoff contention with an 81-54 loss at Orlando.

On the plus side, Holds- claw was voted a starter to the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game in her hometown of New York.

On the minus side, Holds- claw missed the second half of the game when she broke her finger.

On the upside, Holdsclaw, the subject of a new Nike ad campaign, has brought increased attention to her sport and to herself.

But on the downside, everyone wants to know the same thing: How does it feel not to play for a winner?

"It [the professional experience] hasn't been anything surprising. That's why, when people ask me the same thing over and over, I get really frustrated, because I get tired of answering the same questions," Holds- claw said.

"No, I don't go home. I don't meditate. I don't cry. It's just handling. It's just going to make me tougher."

Holdsclaw, the two-time national collegiate Player of the Year and Sullivan Award winner as the nation's top amateur athlete, has had to learn to handle adversity in her professional life combined with heightened scrutiny of her game and her place in women's basketball.

The combination hasn't launched the reticent Holdsclaw into any tirades or soul-searching.

"I'm going to go out there and do the things that I know how to do. One thing that people don't re- alize is that I adapt to the situation. I really don't let things change me. I have to live," she said.

Going into the final game, today at 7 p.m., the 6-foot-2 forward is fifth in the league in scoring (17.5) and fourth in rebounding (8.0), and is the favorite to be named league Rookie of the Year.

The first player chosen in the May WNBA draft, Holdsclaw has been the subject of an unprecedented media blitz, or at least unprecedented for women's basketball. Features have appeared in magazines and she did a cameo on "Arli$$," an HBO sitcom.

Two of Holdsclaw's first three Mystics games were nationally televised, and anywhere women's basketball was discussed, her name was sure to come up in the conversation.

Not surprisingly, some WNBA veterans didn't take kindly to all the attention that was being lavished on the rookie, no matter how talented she is.

"There are a lot of good players out there. It's unfortunate that they don't get the attention that she's getting," said Houston forward Sheryl Swoopes. "I think they feel if they can go out, play really well and shut her down, maybe some of that attention will be directed toward them."

In midseason, Holdsclaw suffered her first serious injury since her freshman year at Tennessee, a chip fracture in the left index finger, during the first half of the All-Star Game.

The game, played at Madison Square Garden on July 14, was to be something of a triumphant homecoming for Holdsclaw, who was voted an Eastern starter.

Instead, the injury set her development back slightly.

"It could have been worse, and things like that happen. It was nothing to me. It was just my finger," Holdsclaw said. "The team just had to go on without me. I guess this just shows everybody's character."

By August, she had bounced back from the injury, averaging 20 points and 9.2 rebounds during her team's six-game winning streak.

Overall, Holdsclaw has had to make a dual adjustment to the more challenging pro game.

"Part of it certainly is mentally trying to get ready for that kind of work," said Mystics coach Nancy Darsch. "The other part is physical and being able to take care of your body and get some rest and trying not to get discouraged.

"The mental and physical overlap so much and are so intertwined that it's really a struggle. She's doing well with that. That's why it's important within a group like this and a team that people be supportive of one another. The players can see what's going on, probably quicker than we can. It's important to have teammates help you out."

In large measure, they have, both on the court and off.

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