Hill climbs into Mystics initial starting lineup

Hill climbs into Mystics initial starting lineup
May 26, 2013, 8:45 pm
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No matter the level, Mystics rookie Tayler Hill cannot recall ever not starting a basketball game.

"Not in college, not in high school," said Hill, selected by Washington's new coach and general manager Mike Thibault with the fourth overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft. "In eighth grade, I started playing varsity. My dad was my AAU coach so I've never experienced coming off the bench.

The start of the talented perimeter threat's WNBA career will be no exception.

Before Friday's practice Thibault informed Hill, one of four rookies and seven newcomers on the Mystics' 11-player roster, of his plans for the wing guard to be part of the starting lineup. Washington opens the regular season Monday on the road against the Tulsa Shock (0-1).

"Long term for our success, she needs to be a part of it," Thibault said of the Ohio State product, who led the Big 10 in scoring as a senior with 21.1 points. The 5-foot-10 Hill also earned all-defensive time conference honors for a third time.

"We're going to throw her into the fire, make her learn on the run," Thibault continued. "I told her 'study opponents, get tendencies down. Get a book on everybody.' Start seeing what kind of an impact she can make. Concentrate on the defensive end and the offensive side will take care of itself."

It hasn't quite yet; Hill went 0-for-9 from the field with six turnovers on May 18 in the Mystics 74-57 exhibition game loss to Minnesota. However three days prior she went 4 of 6 with two 3-pointers for 12 points in a win over the Brazilian national team.

"The physical part," Hill said when asked about the biggest adjustments from the college game. "That and the game is played a little quicker."

The offensive end is where the Mystics need help after averaging a league-low 68.6 points last season. Then again, after a 5-29 record last season and 11 wins combined over the last two years, clearly help was needed everywhere.

Not only has Thibault overhauled the roster, but virtually every aspect of the Mystics game plan on both ends of the court. Not having point guard Ivory Latta (calf) available for a week including both exhibition games and guard Matee Ajavon for a chunk of training camp due to overseas playing commitments did not help, but Thibault is not displeased with the progress.

"(We) struggled to score in exhibition games partly because we turned it over, partly of it because we put some new stuff in, partly because we were trying to put some new stuff in - and mainly because we didn't have Ivory out there. We're playing catch up in that regard," Thibault said.

"I'm happy for the most part with how they've picked things up considering for most of them it's new or at least different than what they've been used to it. We're getting there."

Latta, signed as a free agent after three seasons with the Shock, has returned to practice and will join Hill in the starting backcourt. Leading returning scorer and rebounder Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie and Kia Vaughn comprise the frontcourt. Ajavon, who started 55 games for Washington over the last two seasons, will backup Hill and Latta while Michelle Snow serves as the primary interior reserve.

"Didn't really like the idea of four rookies coming off the bench," Thibault said. "Matee can be a candidate for sixth-man of the year because she can play the point and the two, will give us energy when she comes in."

Thibault also said rookie Belgium forward Emma Meesseman and guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt will be part of the primary rotation. Point guard Nadirah McKenith, one of Washington's second round picks along with Meesseman, also made the final roster along with veteran forward.

"For a coach it's a little bit scary sometimes to open the season with four rookies," Thibault said. "They've all proven they can play. They're talented. We're going to need them to play well to make progress. The four each have something that they bring to the table that we need."

Considering Hill made more than two 3-point field goals per game last season and Washington clanked from distance with regularity, it's rather obvious what the Mystics need from her.

"I'm excited for the first game," said Hill, who will make her WNBA debut against the player drafted directly in front of her, Skylar Diggins.

Along with Brittney Griner and Elena Della Donne, Diggins is part of the ballyhooed trio of rookies the league has promoted repeatedly for months. In her first game, a 98-81 loss at Atlanta on Saturday, the point guard scored 15 points on 4 of 13 shooting.

The hype gap between the Mystics' first rounder and the others is considerably wider, but Hill is not wasting her time worrying about making the trio a quartet. Her mind is elsewhere.

"Just trying to get myself mentally ready more than anything," Hill said. "I think the mental part is the part where most people don't know how to adjust."

At least we know she won't have to make any adjustments when it comes to starting, no matter the level.

Notes: The Shock finished 9-25 last season. The teams split the two-game season series, each winning on their home court.