Veteran center Valerie Still, acquired by the Washington Mystics on Wednesday to give the team depth, came to practice yesterday as a great player under repair. She's 38 years old, runs on a creaky right knee recovering from October surgery, and needs a week or two to get into shape.
But she's still the two-time MVP of the now-defunct ABL champion Columbus Quest. She has played basketball all her life, and Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said that not only can Still help young center Alessandra Santos de Oliveira develop, Still can still play.
"She's still got great skills," Darsch said. "She was a star in the ABL. She was a star overseas. She was Ms. Basketball there."
Darsch doesn't expect Still to play tonight when Washington (2-7) takes on Sacramento (6-3) at MCI Center, but Darsch knows that Still will be on the court soon. Darsch is banking on Still's experience to help the Mystics. To make room for Still, the team released 26-year-old forward Jennifer Whittle.
Still had the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee repaired in October and that probably is the main reason she wasn't selected in May's WNBA draft. After all she had accomplished, this wasn't the way she wanted her career to end.
Still was raised by an alcoholic father in Camden, N.J., and she had a blood disorder that limited her physical activity. Nonetheless, she played basketball well enough to become the leading scorer in the University of Kentucky's history, men or women.
She played 14 years overseas, won two championships in the ABL, and when the league folded, she figured her number would be called quickly to help a WNBA team.
But no one called on draft day. No one offered a free agent contract.
Still vented her frustration in a first-person column in the New York Times, but she got no response from teams. She started teaching basketball to girls at her Valerie Still Foundation clinics in Columbus. But then about a week ago, the Mystics called. Still dropped everything.
"It was a risk, but here I am," Still said. "My knee is the biggest worry. Can I still play? I've got more to lose here than anything else."
Forward Murriel Page said the Mystics will gain from Still's experience.
"There's no question she's going to help the team, no question," Page said. "She's going to have to learn the offense, but she'll get it."
After months of rehabilitating the knee, Still is not in the best of shape.
"You know, if I don't play [tonight], it'll be okay," she said. "I'll be perfectly happy if the team is doing well and I'm cheering from the sidelines."