WASHINGTON - It has gotten to the point now where Washington Mystics forward Murriel Page can't keep all of her former coaches straight.
"Let's see. There was Jim [Lewis] and Cathy [Parsont] and Nancy [Darsch] and Darrell [Walker] and now there's Marianne [Stanley]. Oh, I forgot Tom [Maher]," said Page after practice the other day.
For Page, the only remaining original player from when the WNBA granted Washington an expansion team four seasons ago, the door to the Washington coach's office has been constantly revolving.
However, as the Mystics open their fifth season tonight at MCI Center against the Orlando Miracle, the plan is for Stanley, who was an assistant last season to Maher, to bring some stability.
"In other years, coaches have come in and put in their own systems, and a lot of times, we felt like we were robots and you just kind of had to go in and play the system," said Page, a 6-foot-2 reserve forward. "Marianne has a system, but she wants us to feel free to create, and if you have a shot, she wants you to take that shot. She's not putting any limitations on anyone."
Stanley, who won three national championships as a collegiate coach at Old Dominion in the late 1970s and early '80s, is banking on being a source of consistency to a turmoil-filled franchise that stumbled to a 10-22 mark last season.
"When the coaching change was made, it was an internal change. I knew the players and the players knew me, and that can't do anything but help you," said Stanley, who was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame last month.
"With the veterans coming back, I've tried to state clearly what I want for them to do, and I think that there's a comfort level there, and there's confidence built right in automatically. They're comfortable with it and they know me and that lends itself to the chance to perform better."
Stanley's hiring was just one of a series of changes that blew through the Mystics organization, which cleaned house after last season.
Just before general manager Melissa McFerrin and Maher were forced to resign in December, McFerrin dealt guard Nikki McCray, who also had been with the Mystics since their inception, to the Indiana Fever for the fourth overall pick in the WNBA draft last month.
Though McCray's star had lost luster with some Washington fans, the trade helped speed McFerrin's departure. Team president Susan O'Malley replaced her with Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, who is serving as a paid player personnel consultant while keeping her day job in Knoxville, all with the blessing of the NCAA.
Summitt and Stanley parlayed the pick from Indiana with the Mystics' first-round selection, the third overall, and took Oklahoma guard Stacey Dales-Schuman, who led the Sooners to their first national championship game this season, and Connecticut forward Asjha Jones, a key member of the Huskies' unbeaten championship squad.
Dales-Schuman, a 6-1 Canadian native, is expected to see time at all three perimeter positions, while the 6-2 Jones will backup veteran center Vicky Bullett (Maryland). Both are expected to give the Mystics some badly needed scoring punch and defense.
The two rookies will be added to a mix that includes two second-year players - guard Coco Miller and swing player Tonya Washington - who played few minutes last season but have impressed Stanley with their off-season conditioning and improvement. Miller will likely start and trade minutes with Dales-Schuman at both shooting guard and small forward tonight, with Washington the first perimeter player off the bench.
The McCray trade clearly stamps Chamique Holdsclaw, the former league Rookie of the Year, as the dominant player and personality on the club.
Holdsclaw, who averaged a team-high 16.8 points and 8.8 rebounds a game last year, is in on the team's upheaval, moving from small forward to power forward and switching her jersey number from the familiar 23 to 1.
Holdsclaw, who labored through most of last season with an ailing foot, had a strong preseason, but was hit with tragedy this week, when her grandmother, Ruth, who raised her as a child in Queens, N.Y., died of a heart attack.
The team granted Holdsclaw leave to tend to funeral arrangements, and while the forward returned to practice Thursday, her availability for tonight's game is not known.
"She's demonstrated a lot of maturity in many ways," said Stanley. "She's in a situation where she's in one of those life challenges that is presented to you in different stages of your life. For Chamique, I think she's one who would want to play well for herself and for her family and in particular her grandmother. If anything, I think it underscores an opportunity for her to be even more outstanding, in a way that's more personal to her now."