Familiar Face Returns to D.C. With Shock

The Mystics have yet to win in three games under Jessie Kenlaw, left, but the interim coach has a roster missing top post threat Taj McWilliams-Franklin.
The Mystics have yet to win in three games under Jessie Kenlaw, left, but the interim coach has a roster missing top post threat Taj McWilliams-Franklin. (By Luis Alvarez -- Associated Press)
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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 2008

When Taj McWilliams-Franklin was traded on Aug. 11, the Washington Mystics sought to ease concerns that the team had sacrificed its present to place a larger bet on its future. From the top of the organization down, people said they believed this team could make the playoffs.

In the three games and three losses since the WNBA resumed its regular season, that optimism has plummeted. Now, the playoffs appear to be a pipe dream. At four games back with five games remaining, mathematical elimination from the race is just a formality. "Time has run out," guard Alana Beard said after Tuesday's 79-68 loss to Indiana.

The Mystics (10-19) will try to end their four-game losing streak tonight at 6 p.m. against Detroit at Verizon Center, and McWilliams-Franklin will return. But the 10-year veteran will be across the floor with the Shock, the second-place team in the Eastern Conference, in the complete opposite position of where Washington finds itself.

The trade to Detroit was surprising, McWilliams-Franklin said during a telephone interview this week, adding that she's glad to be in Detroit more so for the support than anything else.

"It's exciting to have other veterans around," said McWilliams-Franklin, who turns 38 next month. She often provided leadership for her young teammates, both in 2007 with Los Angeles and this season with Washington. "I definitely loved my time with the Mystics, but there were some days I wanted somebody to come in and help," she said. "I love being a mom . . . I'm always a mom, but some days I just need a break and for somebody else to take care of the kids. Sometimes I was just overwhelmed by everyone's issues; as a player I had my own."

Although she was in only her first season with the Mystics after being acquired from Los Angeles in a trade for DeLisha Milton-Jones in May, McWilliams took the losses personally. She'd stay up until 3 a.m. searching for pointers to give out in practice, for ways the team could improve. But while the power forward is having one of her best years -- 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game -- the rest of the team struggled to find consistency.

Don't misunderstand McWilliams-Franklin, though. "Those girls play extremely hard," she said when asked what could help the Mystics improve. "Teams get some good breaks and some bad breaks, but I know there has to be more overall changes in everybody's mentality."

McWilliams-Franklin continued her dependable ways in Detroit, where she averaged 13 points and nine rebounds in her first two games. When she missed four layups in overtime against Chicago this past week and blamed herself for the Shock's 82-81 loss, her teammates told her not to worry about it.

"It's refreshing that it's a team thing," McWilliams-Franklin said. "Now, I've got somebody who can pick me up, too."

She has signed a one-year contract with Detroit for the 2009 season, and said if her legs hold up through the overseas season she'd love to play with Cheryl Ford, who is out for the year following knee surgery.

The last time these two teams met, the Shock (18-12) doled out a 99-62 shellacking that resulted in the firing of Tree Rollins as Washington's head coach. The Mystics have mixed feelings about this game. They're all looking forward to seeing McWilliams-Franklin again but know how much this game means for their morale now.

Against Detroit, "we did not compete as a team," center Nakia Sanford said. "We just didn't show up. I think it's important that we come out and show that we're serious about this even though we haven't done as well."

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