The Washington Mystics slowly are coming together. Forward Asjha Jones, the second of their two top-four overall picks in the WNBA draft last season, reported for practice yesterday after five months with a Russian team and will play tonight against the Cleveland Rockers at MCI Center in the final preseason game.
Point guard Annie Burgess is expected to arrive today, after her season with a French team ended, but not to play tonight. Team officials are not certain when guard Zuzana Zirkova will report. Rookie guards Trish Juhline, a third-round draftee from Villanova, and Kristeena Alexander of George Washington were cut yesterday.
Coach Marianne Stanley's efforts to evaluate her roster depth will determine who plays the most tonight as the Mystics prepare for the final cuts before the regular season opener May 23, on the road against the Charlotte Sting. That means less time for some regulars, although Stanley would not say which ones.
Stanley wants improvement in nearly all phases of the offense and the transition defense after a six-point victory on the road over the Minnesota Lynx on Friday. She said most of the changes in the offense from last season would not be implemented until everyone is available.
"I like our attitude," Stanley said. "Our players care about their jobs and each other. I'd be real concerned [about the offense, which shot just 32 percent against the Lynx] if we didn't have real good scoring opportunities. We had lots of 'em. And I know that the shooting itself will improve."
Stanley noticed some of the players unsure of jobs pressing against Minnesota.
"I told them at halftime: 'You need to get out of your own way a little bit, you're trying so hard it's too hard. Just relax and play.' That's not easy."
Jones hopes for more consistency this season. As a rookie last season, she played 30 minutes or more in two games and played as few as five in others. Her averages of 6.5 points and 2.8 rebounds were seventh and sixth respectively among league rookies.
"The experience [in Russia] was good for me, being on my own, trying to grow up and mature," she said. "There were two or three blacks on the team, and we were the only black people in the town [of Samara, about a two-hour flight east of Moscow]. People would stare at you . . . there were 18-hour train trips for games."
Practices for the Russian team were not close to as intense as those Jones had experienced over four college seasons at Connecticut and one with the Mystics under Stanley.
"We tried to get [the coaches] to run us more," Jones said.
"That's crazy. How do you beg to run more?"
Mystics Notes: Tickets for tonight's game will be half price, with seats ranging from $5 to $25. . . . The 5 p.m.-6 p.m. portion of the Wednesday practice at MCI Center will be open to the public.