Washington Mystics open WNBA season with many new faces


Kara Lawson, a D.C. area native, adds a veteran presence to the youthful Mystics. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

As a member of the Washington Mystics for the past seven years, Monique Currie had grown accustomed to playing with longtime teammate Crystal Langhorne as well as other regulars such as Matee Ajavon, Jasmine Thomas and Michelle Snow.

When the starting forward walked into the locker room for the first time at the start of this season’s training camp in late April, none of those familiar faces was there to greet the 2010 all-star. Currie instead had become the only Mystics player remaining from the previous regime as Mike Thibault, the team’s second-year coach and general manager, continues to reshape the franchise.

“It’s been interesting,” Currie said of the roster overhaul. “It’s been different, a lot of young players. I’m excited, though. Looking forward to working with these new people here and seeing how things turn out.”

Significant turnover since the end of the 2012 season leaves Washington among the most youthful teams in the WNBA. Heading into Friday night’s opener against the league champion Minnesota Lynx at Verizon Center, Currie, point guard Ivory Latta and center Kia Vaughn are the only Mystics regulars from last year’s roster with more than two years in the WNBA.

“If it were an 82-game season, I wouldn’t be as nervous because we’re really young,” Thibault said. “We’re going to be one of the two or three youngest teams in the league, and in a 34-game season, you don’t have a lot of room for error. Probably the good part is there are a couple other teams in our conference going through the same thing.”

Washington became considerably younger with the departure of Langhorne, a fixture in the starting lineup and the face of the franchise since the Mystics selected the all-American from Maryland No. 6 overall in the 2008 WNBA draft.

In a draft-night deal this offseason, Thibault sent the forward-center to Seattle in exchange for forward Tianna Hawkins and the No. 7 pick, which he used to select Connecticut’s Bria Hartley. Hawkins comes back to the area after spending her rookie season with the Storm. The first-team all-ACC forward at Maryland is from Clinton and attended Riverdale Baptist High School.

“I was really looking forward to being drafted here [last year], but it didn’t go down that way,” said Hawkins, who is the third-leading rebounder in Maryland history. “Just to be here this year is great.”

Hawkins started the first two games of the preseason, averaging 14 points and five rebounds, while Vaughn and second-year forward Emma Meesseman were playing overseas. In the Mystics’ final preseason game, a 76-69 loss to the Chicago Sky at the University of Delaware on Tuesday night, Hawkins came off the bench.

So too did 6-foot-5 center Stefanie Dolson, who Thibault selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the April 14 draft. The national defensive player of the year helped the Huskies win consecutive national championships and reach the Final Four in each of her four seasons. She and Hartley were roommates for three years in college.

Dolson and Hawkins will be asked in part to recoup the rebounding void left following the Langhorne trade. Langhorne led the Mystics in rebounding (7.6 per game) last season and was sixth in the league.

In a move to stabilize a relatively green roster, Thibault added veteran guard and Olympian Kara Lawson, formerly of the Connecticut Sun, during the offseason as part of a three-way trade that also involved the Atlanta Dream. The native of the D.C. area is entering her 12th season in the WNBA and playing for her third team.

Lawson started each of the Mystics’ three preseason games, and her comfort level at either guard position makes her that much more valuable in a back court that beyond her and Latta lacks extensive experience.

“There are certain teams in the league that have continuity. We’re not one of them, and that’s okay” Lawson said. “You want to be playing well at the end of the year.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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