Holdsclaw's new worldview

WNBA: Fourth-year pro Chamique Holdsclaw has led the Mystics to their best start while having an MVP-caliber season.

Pro Basketball

July 08, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It's early on a Sunday afternoon, about an hour before tip-off, and the music is already blaring in the Washington Mystics' locker room at MCI Center, just one sign things aren't the way they used to be.

The artist of someone's choosing is Eminem and the lyric that relentlessly repeats itself is "Sometimes, it feels like the world's on my shoulder." That line is ironic for star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, because she has been having her best season in four years as a pro precisely by taking the world off her shoulders.

The Mystics (12-5) have gotten off to their best start in the franchise's five-year WNBA history because Holdsclaw doesn't feel the need to do everything.

"I told myself I'm not worried about that [doing everything] anymore," Holdsclaw said. "We have a tremendous coach that is also a great personnel manager. It makes it so much easier when someone at the head of it just takes control.

"It's more worrying about how people feel. I've always been a worrier about how people feel emotionally. That's a part of growing up and being a good teammate. We're all from different walks, but we truly care about each other. That's why we've been so successful, because we've mastered that."

That theory may be tested in the near term as the Mystics, who lead the Eastern Conference, approach the All-Star break without Holdsclaw, who is sidelined with an ankle sprain.

Holdsclaw's left leg got pinned beneath Fire forward DeMya Walker as the two battled for a loose ball June 28 in the first half of a game in Portland, Ore. It was feared that Holdsclaw had torn her anterior cruciate ligament; she instead suffered a high-ankle sprain. The injury forced her to leave the game, which Washington lost, 72-66.

Holdsclaw called the sprain "day-to-day" and said it was less serious than the medial collateral ligament sprain she suffered as a freshman at Tennessee or the stress fractures in her foot that have bothered her the past two seasons and forced her to miss last year's All-Star Game.

Mystics officials, meanwhile, are taking no chances and placed Holdsclaw on the injured list before the June 30 home game against the Charlotte Sting.

After a magnetic resonance imaging test revealed no breaks but a more serious sprain that had been previously thought, the club ruled her out through this week. That means she could miss six games, including Saturday's home game against the New York Liberty on NBC.

Holdsclaw could also miss the All-Star Game on July 15 in Washington, where she was voted a starter - drawing the most votes in the Eastern Conference - for the fourth time by fans around the league, in balloting announced yesterday.

A starting All-Star nod is certainly warranted. Holdsclaw is ranked in the Top 10 in 14 categories, including leading the league in scoring and rebounding.

Her 19.9 scoring average is up 2.5 from her career average, and her 11.8 rebounding average is up three from her 8.5 career mark. After shooting a career-low 40 percent last season, Holdsclaw is connecting at a career-best 50 percent this season.

Though most around the club are squeamish about saying it, Holdsclaw, the 1999 Rookie of the Year, is having a Most Valuable Player-type season in leading the Mystics to the verge of their best record ever and first winning season.

"From what I've seen, she's having as good a year as anybody and we're more than a third of the way through," said Washington coach Marianne Stanley. "It's a great start, but it's just as important how you finish. We're off to a start that is as good as we could have hoped for, but we're not complacent, and I know that she individually is not going to get complacent."

Holdsclaw is quick to credit the presence of Stanley, who was named head coach in the off-season after being an assistant last year, as a primary influence in her improvement.

Stanley, who guided Old Dominion to three national titles, is the fourth coach Holdsclaw has played for in three-plus seasons in Washington but is the first to devise an offense to take advantage of Holdsclaw's talents. Specifically, Stanley has returned Holdsclaw, a 6-foot-2 power forward, to the position from which she dominated women's college basketball, winning two national Player of the Year awards and leading the Lady Vols to three national championships.

"I'm not taking as many shots as I have in the past, but I'm able to get open easier," Holdsclaw said. "I'm involved in the flow of the game a lot more. My rebounding has helped us in terms of the transition game. I'm able to get it out quick and really get our running game going. I don't feel like I'm exerting as much energy as when I played the 3 [small forward], because having to run out on the perimeter and play perimeter defense is a different thing. But I'm able to focus my attention on what I do well."

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