As training camp opens, Washington Mystics prepare for life without Alana Beard

"It's an opportunity that's presented itself and I'm going to step up," said Marissa Coleman, left. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 2010

For the past two months as Alana Beard and Marissa Coleman worked out in preparation for the upcoming WNBA season, the veteran would tell the youngster that she shouldn't be shy anymore: She is no longer a rookie and it is time for her to elevate her presence as a member of the Washington Mystics.

As training camp opens Sunday at Verizon Center, Coleman won't be the only young player taking on additional responsibility as the Mystics begin to assemble a team that for the first time since 2003 won't have Beard on the floor.

"I would love to have Alana there obviously but it's an opportunity that's presented itself and I'm going to step up to the best of my ability," Coleman said. "I think we'll all have to."

Beard, Washington's franchise player, underwent successful surgery on her left ankle on Tuesday and is expected to miss the 2010 season. Beard will remain with the team as she rehabilitates, but the Mystics must find a way to make up for her scoring (a team-high 15.9 points per game in 2009), defensive prowess (team-high 72 steals) and her fiery on-court leadership.

Further complicating things is that the WNBA no longer has an inactive or injured-reserve list, simply 11 active roster spots per team, meaning Beard will remain on the active roster despite the injury. That gives Washington 10 open positions to fill by the regular season opener on May 15.

"We just have to get the best mix of players," Coach Julie Plank said. "It may not always be the shooters, the pure defenders, but it's going to be who complements each other and has a lot of versatility. The returnees will have to be better. The rookies will have to keep improving. Everyone's going to have to pick it up, and I think our players are willing to do that."

Washington's depth at guard and small forward should help soften the blow of Beard's absence. Free agent signee Katie Smith injects additional leadership and scoring to a group of key returning players, including speedsters Lindsey Harding and Matee Ajavon along with versatile swing players Coleman and Monique Currie. Kristen Mann and Kristin Haynie, whom Washington acquired as part of the Sacramento dispersal draft, could also fit into the mix.

The chance for additional responsibility is exciting for Coleman as she enters her second professional season, recovered from the ankle injury that disrupted her rookie campaign. She returned from her European team early to prepare for the new season, and she feels the poise that made her a dynamic presence at Maryland has returned.

"Looking back on last season, I didn't handle a lot of things the way that I normally would. The injury kind of messed with me a little," said Coleman. "Being here, working out with Alana, feeding off her energy and seeing how hard she works has really helped me get a lot of my confidence back."

Meanwhile third-year forward Crystal Langhorne will try to lead a renaissance in the post, where there should be a strong competition for roster spots between rookies Jacinta Monroe, Jenna Smith, Shanavia Dowdell and a host of returning players. But it will be Langhorne, who emerged as a cornerstone for the Mystics in her second season, with an opportunity to embrace an even larger role helping to mentor the rookies while improving her own game.

"We all know that although Alana's going to be here . . . the players on the floor will need to spark each other. We'll all have to be ready for new roles," said Langhorne, who averaged 17.1 points and nine rebounds per game for Rivas (Spain) during the 2010 EuroLeague season. "I've been working on a few parts of my game, trying to get my right-hand shots a little bit better and my ballhandling to cut down on turnovers, and I'm excited to just have a chance to get better this year."

Mystics notes: Several players will not be in attendance on the opening day of training camp because their seasons overseas have not yet concluded. They are: Harding (Lithuania), Ajavon (Turkey), Currie (Russia), Chasity Melvin (Turkey), Mann (Lithuania), Lauren Ervin (Turkey) and Carla Thomas (Croatia). The WNBA stipulates that Washington can have a maximum of 15 players on a training camp roster on any given day. The Mystics must trim their roster to a final 11 players by May 14.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company