New Mystic: `I'm always going to be Alana'

Beard's natural drive should lift WNBA team

May 22, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - With Alana Beard, it's all in the eyes.

Literally.

The "it" is a variety of things, from a wicked sense of humor to a fierce sense of determination by the Washington Mystics' top choice and the second overall pick in last month's WNBA draft.

Mostly, the "it" in Beard's eyes - usually as wide as saucers, especially during an exhibition game when she played for a time with one contact lens in her mouth and the other on the floor - is the kind of confidence that comes from knowing who you are and what you can do.

"I'm just Alana," Beard said. "I'm not going to be anyone else. I'm always going to be Alana. You can ask anyone who has known me. Alana has always been Alana. It's natural. I'm going to do whatever I have to do to help my team, whether it's being vocal or playing defense or scoring a bucket. I'm going to do whatever I have to do to help my team."

So far, heading into the season opener tonight against the Charlotte Sting at MCI Center, that has been a little bit of everything, from hitting the outside jumper to tough defense on the perimeter to running the offense in crunch time.

Beard is expected to do all that and more as the most talked-about Mystics addition since Chamique Holdsclaw in 1999.

With Beard, the reigning collegiate National Player of the Year, as a complement to Holdsclaw, along with the addition of a solid low-post threat in former Cleveland center Chasity Melvin, the Mystics have a solid chance to reach the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, where four of seven teams qualify for the postseason.

But it's the 5-foot-11 Beard, the three-time Duke All-America guard and the only player - male or female - in Atlantic Coast Conference history to record more than 2,500 points, 700 rebounds, 500 assists and 400 steals in a career, who is the center of attention.

"It [Beard's addition] has allowed us to become more versatile," said Holdsclaw, the WNBA's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder last season.

"It's allowed us to extend our defense. We have somebody on the perimeter that can get after people and really pressure the basketball and get steals and get easy baskets and create easy plays on the offensive end, so that really helps the flow of our game."

Though Beard is thought to be a solid running mate for Holdsclaw, the Shreveport, La., native hasn't been shy about taking a leading role with the Mystics, who limped to a 9-25 mark last year after getting to within a game of the league championship series in 2002.

And she doesn't shy from comparisons to Phoenix Mercury rookie Diana Taurasi, the first overall pick. Taurasi and Beard have been anointed as the prizes of a remarkable rookie WNBA class.

While many have conceded the Rookie of the Year trophy to Taurasi, who won three titles at Connecticut and two National Player of the Year awards, none of them checked with Beard.

"Do I want to be Rookie of the Year? Definitely," said Beard. "That's definitely a goal of mine. But I'm going to play within our team concept."

If two moments from the preseason are valid indicators, Beard has a chance for the rookie award. In one, Charlotte center Tammy Sutton-Brown, an All-Star two years ago, was looking at an apparently wide-open layup.

Beard, however, slid in from the weak side and blocked Sutton-Brown's shot, despite giving up six inches in height. Then, as Sutton-Brown slipped to the floor, Beard stood over her and looked down with a sneer.

The next week, in the team's first exhibition game against Indiana, new Washington coach Michael Adams elected to have Beard handle the ball in the final 20 seconds with the score tied. Beard dribbled to the top of the key and passed to the left wing to Holdsclaw, but the ball ticked off the forward's hands.

Indiana scored on the ensuing play and the Mystics lost, but Adams was heartened that his rookie wanted the ball in a tense situation, albeit in the preseason.

"I'm confident in her, whether she's a rookie or not," said Adams, a former Washington Bullet. "I put her in that position because it's a learning experience.

"Whether she gets the job done or not, she's going to have the ball at the end of the game, either she or Chamique. They are going to have the ball and they're going to be able to create for themselves or for other players."

Said Beard: "It [the play] meant a lot. It just shows that he's got a lot of confidence, not just in me but in anybody on this team. The ball could have been in anybody's hands. It was all a learning experience.

"I feel comfortable with the ball in my hand. I've been in situations like this before. I've been playing basketball for eight or nine years now. If I'm not comfortable with the ball in my hands now, I don't know when I'm going to be."

Indeed, if there is any fear in Beard's eyes, chances are no one, including Beard herself, will see it.

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