The return of Nikki McCray and Chamique Holdsclaw to their collegiate home court, the University of Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena, has made the Washington Mystics' exhibition game tonight more than a standard neutral-site preseason game.
McCray was asked to sing the national anthem before the game -- a request she politely declined -- and Holdsclaw will be honored at the naming of a street for her.
But while McCray and Holdsclaw will be trying to respond with a good show, their main focus will be on helping the Mystics improve as they head into the final week of preseason play. They will have a tough opponent in the Houston Comets, who have won both WNBA championships.
"I think it's going to be great," said McCray, who led the Mystics in scoring last season at 17.7 points per game. "But we also want to win."
McCray had a good experience during her last game at Tennessee. As a member of the U.S. women's national team, her fiance proposed to her at midcourt.
The game also could be a homecoming for Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch, who spent seven seasons (1978 to 1985) as a Lady Vols assistant coach. But Darsch's mother died this week, and it is uncertain whether she will make the trip.
The game likely will center mainly on Holdsclaw, the top pick in last month's WNBA draft and the all-time leading scorer in Tennessee history -- male or female. Chamique Holdsclaw Drive, a road near the arena, will be dedicated before the game, which is being played in conjunction with this week's opening of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt, who coached McCray and Holdsclaw, will be among the first inductees this weekend.
The Mystics, who beat the Utah Starzz in their only previous exhibition game this spring, are preparing to make the cuts that will get them to the league's 11-player limit. But they also will be trying to beat the Comets. McCray and Holdsclaw will attempt to out-duel Houston's trio of stars -- guard Sheryl Swoopes, center Tina Thompson and two-time WNBA most valuable player Cynthia Cooper.
"I love the matchup," Comets Coach Van Chancellor said. "Look at all the talent: Holdsclaw, Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson and McCray. Fans may be getting a preview of future Hall of Famers."
CAPTION: Mystics' Chamique Holdsclaw plays an exhibition at Tennessee, where she won three NCAA championships.