Revamped Mystics remain cautiously optimistic

Revamped Mystics remain cautiously optimistic
May 14, 2013, 8:00 pm
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In any sport, training camp is all about looking at the bright side. No matter the previous doom and gloom, the sun is out and far from setting on the upcoming campaigns. Entering each of the past two seasons, the Mystics have been no exception to talking a hopeful game before playing any of them.

The worst two-year stretch in franchise history followed. Even after several significant changes this offseason, it's no wonder some of the holdovers are resistant to openly talking about the promise of another year.

"We do this every year," forward Monique Currie said. "We have our media day. We're optimistic about our season. We say great things, but at this point, we just have to go out there and prove things."

In 2010, the team did exactly that by winning the WNBA's Eastern Conference regular season. Unable to keep the core together, personnel and coaching changes followed -- as did a 6-28 season. Unbelievably in 2012, Washington was not even that successful, finishing 5-29.

"That's a complete high to a complete low over three seasons, which is a hard feeling because you saw the potential that was there," Currie said. The D.C. area native has been with the team since 2007. "It can drop like that within a season. I really think I can say it can't get any worse than it did last year."

Leading scorer Crystal Langhorne backed her teammate's frustration.

"It was rough," Langhorne said. "We had some changes. We lost some guards and had two terrible years."

Of course, at this time of the season, hope can stay buried for only so long.

"It can change again," Langhorne said.

Change has already come in waves as the franchise brought in Mike Thibault to serve as both coach and general manager. The former Connecticut Sun coach and the second-winningest coach in WNBA history replaced Trudi Lacey, who spent the past two seasons in both roles. That's change even the most discouraged player can believe in - and one a team that ranked last in the league in scoring and near the bottom in several other categories required.

"We have a new coach, a proven winner," said Currie, one of only five players remaining from last season's roster. "You can check his record. We all know the success that he's had. Already I can feel the difference. I can see the difference. People are locked in and focused, really buying into what he's trying to instill into this organization."

The roster stands at 13, including six rookies, following the first wave of cuts. Two more must go before the season opener at Tulsa on May 27. The first of two exhibition games comes Wednesday as Washington hosts the Brazil National team at 11:30 a.m.

Dismissed by the Sun in November after reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the fifth time in 10 seasons, the 62-year-old Thibault is quickly working on establishing a high-energy program, one that pushes the ball on the court and positively pushes the players off it.  

Talking about a get-up-and go-approach is one thing. Having those with the needed vigor is another. The hope is drafting perimeter threat Tayler Hill from Ohio State, trading for assertive center Kia Vaughn and adding spirited free agent point guard Ivory Latta to the Langhorne-Currie led mix does that.  Latta, a six-year veteran with 3-point touch and a pass-first mentality, gives Washington its first legitimate floor leader since the team traded Lindsay Harding following the 2010 campaign.

"You have to find people used to doing it, who want to do it, who will push their teammates to do with them," Thibault said. "I think you have people here who want to do that, but it can't just be four people. We need eight, nine, 10 people capable of doing that. I think we're headed in that direction. How fast it gels, I'm not sure, but I'm pleased with what I've seen."

Good to hear, coach. Nobody wants to endure a third straight demoralizing campaign.

"You can be the most confident player in the world, but when you continue to lose and lose and lose, it can get to you," Currie said. "It wears on you, it wears on you mentally, it wears on you physically... I feel like a lot of people didn't think we could win. That shows. Your teammates can feel that, people can see that. We weren't able to get things done the way we wanted too last year."

That was then. No matter the previous pain, new coach and new players in a new year leads to renewed optimism. Some things never change.

"It looks good, it feels good," Currie said a few days into training camp. "I'm hoping it will continue to feel that way."