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Mystics Select LSU's Johnson In First Round of WNBA Draft

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page E01

In the Washington Mystics' seven-year history, no position has been weaker than point guard. The Mystics finally addressed that deficiency yesterday when they selected Temeka Johnson of Louisiana State with the sixth overall pick of the WNBA draft.

"She brings a lot of things that you really look for in a point guard," Washington General Manager Linda Hargrove said. "I think she's the consummate point guard."

_____Mystics Picks_____

1. TEMEKA JOHNSON

(LSU, Point Guard)

2. ERICA SMITH-TAYLOR

(Louisiana Tech, Guard)

3. TASHIA MOREHEAD

(Florida, Forward)

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When new WNBA commissioner Donna Orender announced the selection, Johnson -- one of the players invited to Secaucus, N.J., for the draft -- hugged her college coach, Pokey Chatman, before posing with a Mystics jersey.

"I just was anxious like everybody else," said Johnson, a 5-foot-3 Louisiana native. "I heard Washington wanted me. They have me now."

Washington also selected 5-10 guard Erica Smith-Taylor of Louisiana Tech in the second round (19th overall) and 5-11 forward Tashia Morehead of the University of Florida in the third round (32nd overall).

There were not a lot of surprises in this draft. The Charlotte Sting chose Janel McCarville, a 6-2 all-American out of Minnesota, with the top pick. McCarville should bolster a front court that lost free agent forward Charlotte Smith-Taylor, who signed with Washington on Wednesday.

"She brings it every night," Charlotte Coach and General Manager Trudi Lacey said. "She's very consistent. . . . She makes people around her look good."

Tan White, a 5-7 guard from Mississippi State who led Division I in scoring last season, went to the Indiana Fever with the second pick. Sandora Irvin, a 6-3 forward from Texas Christian and the niece of former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, was selected third by the Phoenix Mercury. The San Antonio Silver Stars took Kansas State's Kendra Wecker, and the Houston Comets went with a local player, Houston's Sancho Lyttle.

With the dearth of talent in this year's draft, it seemed unlikely that most teams would make a significant improvement with their picks. Washington might be the exception. By taking Johnson, the Mystics now have the strong, athletic playmaker they have been lacking.

Washington's past point guards have been serviceable at best. The first to play the position for the Mystics, Nikki McCray, was a converted shooting guard. Andrea Nagy, who held the position for two years, and Annie Burgess, who had a three-year tenure, were solid but not very athletic. Last year, Alana Beard, a shooting guard, ran the offense most of the season.

Johnson is a true point guard who knows who needs the ball and where to get it to them. She is at her best running the fast break, delivering the perfect pass that leads to the easy basket. She averaged 7.7 assists and 10.4 points last season. Johnson also is a vocal leader who is not afraid to confront teammates.

Johnson's height might be her only shortcoming, but it doesn't bother Hargrove.

"I'd much rather have a short, strong player than have a tall player that gets pushed around," Hargrove said.

Johnson dismisses the talk that she is too short to play professionally. "The size of my heart adds a couple of inches," she said.

Mystics player personnel consultant and Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is very familiar with Johnson, having faced the Lady Tigers in numerous Southeastern Conference battles. Summitt was not in Washington for the draft because she was recruiting, but did participate by phone.

"She has great respect for Temeka Johnson's game, having played against her all these years," Hargrove said.

Smith-Taylor was at her parents' home in Wheatley, Ark., frantically trying to order NBA TV from a satellite company so she could watch the second and third rounds of the draft, when she learned Washington had picked her.

"My family was screaming, jumping up and down," Smith-Taylor said. "It was crazy."

Smith-Taylor was the Western Athletic Conference preseason player of the year, but missed half of last season because she was pregnant with her daughter, Nia Jay Taylor. After she gave birth on Dec. 14, Smith-Taylor returned to practice five weeks later and played in her first game Jan. 22. She appeared in 16 games, averaging 11.2 points and 4.1 rebounds.

"It's been a process" getting back into shape, Smith-Taylor said. "I'm going to get there. I'm still working out with a personal trainer. It's been a big transition."

Mystics Notes: Washington has re-signed free agent point guard Tamicha Jackson. Jackson started 12 games last season, averaging 16.2 minutes per game. . . . Hargrove said the Mystics will sign another free agent guard next week. . . . Asked how the coaching search was proceeding, Hargrove said, "We're probably farther along than most people think we are."


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