Three weeks ago, Stefanie Dolson was raising the NCAA women’s basketball national championship trophy in Nashville after helping undefeated Connecticut win the title for a record ninth time and for the second consecutive season.
Roughly a week later, the national defensive player of the year was among a dozen players invited to the WNBA draft at Mohegan Sun resort and casino less than an hour from Connecticut’s campus in Storrs. That night, the Washington Mystics made Dolson the No. 6 overall pick.
Then last week, the 6-foot-5 center showed off her dance moves on “The Tonight Show” after challenging host Jimmy Fallon to a dance-off. Fallon introduced Dolson to the audience early in the broadcast, and the two danced into a commercial break.
Dolson’s whirlwind April finally is beginning to settle down as she acclimates to the District and her new teammates. Among the first steps was participating in media day Monday afternoon at Verizon Center.
“I think that was awesome,” Mystics forward Monique Currie said of Dolson’s performance on “The Tonight Show.” “It was great exposure. Good to see her out there. I was very happy that she had rhythm because I didn’t know if she would or not.”
What Mike Thibault, the Mystics’ coach and general manager, was certain of when he drafted Dolson was her basketball smarts during her time with the Huskies, who advanced to the Final Four in each of the last four seasons. Dolson started more games than any player in Connecticut history and finished her career fourth in field goal percentage and fifth in rebounding.
At least equally significant for Thibault was the Huskies’ 144-11 record with Dolson. That winning pedigree had been largely missing from the Mystics’ roster before Thibault assumed coaching and player acquisition and evaluation duties last season, and the three-time WNBA coach of the year moved swiftly on draft night to add another Huskies starter in guard Bria Hartley.
Washington acquired Hartley in a trade after the Seattle Storm selected the guard at No. 7. As part of the deal, the Mystics also got former Maryland forward Tianna Hawkins from the Storm in exchange for longtime forward Crystal Langhorne, who was part of the Terrapins’ 2005-06 NCAA title team and had become the most recognized member of the Mystics over six seasons.
“They’re used to winning,” Thibault said of Dolson and Hartley, roommates for three years at Connecticut. “They haven’t lost too many games in their lifetime, so that’ll be a great thing. The funny part is that there’s a little bit of a converse to that though in that they’ve never played in very many close games. It seems like in every game in our league, you’re down to the wire most nights, so that’s going to be an actual big adjustment.”
With Dolson and Hawkins joining veteran post players such as centers Kia Vaughn and Michelle Snow, Thibault said he envisions any number of combinations in the front court that figure to provide the Mystics with a physically superior presence inside as well as an infusion of energy.
Last season the Mystics ranked fourth in rebounding differential during the regular season (plus-1.1 per game), but fell to seventh among eight teams in the playoffs (minus-8.7). Washington made its first playoff appearance since 2010 after completing the regular season with more than twice as many victories as in the previous two seasons combined.
“For me and Bria, we know how to win, we know how to be competitive,” Dolson said. “We’re just going to come out, bring a lot of energy to the team and show them what we can do.”