Coco Miller could handle scoring fewer points. She could even deal with losing some minutes, so long as it would help her Washington Mystics win.
But when Miller lost her starting spot June 2, forcing her to come off the bench for the first time in 60 games, she called her sister sounding like she was about to cry.
"It was a really tough time for her," said Kelly Miller, Coco's twin and a starting guard for the Indiana Fever. "She'd worked so hard for that spot, and she didn't want to lose it."
It marked the low point in a low season for Miller, who in nine months dropped from 19th-leading scorer in the WNBA (12.5 points) to ninth-leading scorer on the Mystics (4.3 points). In addition to losing her starting spot, Miller's lost minutes, confidence and her trademark jump shot.
She'll try to emerge from her early-season slump tonight, when the Mystics (3-5) play the San Antonio Silver Stars (3-7) at MCI Center. Washington aims to win two games in a row for the first time this season, while San Antonio will try to end a six-game losing streak.
"If I worry about not starting, not playing well or anything else, that will affect the way I play," Miller said. "So I've just got to put it out of my head. That's all I can really do. I just try not to think about it."
That's no easy task, considering Miller's struggles are so difficult to explain. The guard shot better than 70 percent in the preseason, prompting Coach Michael Adams to praise her jump shot as one of the best in the women's game. Teammates guessed Miller would be the Mystics' second option, behind Chamique Holdsclaw. "She's probably our best shooter," forward Chasity Melvin said, "and maybe our best ballhandler, too."
But in the Mystics' first three games, Miller scored just eight total points on 4-of-13 shooting. She pushed the ball too quickly up court, passed up open shots and struggled to defend larger opponents.
During the next day's practice, Adams experimented with another starting lineup, one that included guard Aiysha Smith and not Miller. He went with the same lineup June 2 against Detroit.
"We need her coming off the bench," Adams said. "It's a different place for her, but I know she can adjust."
Adams means that he wants Miller to do all the things she used to do last season: control the pace of the offense, play pesky defense and, most of all, shoot.
In practice, Miller's teammates gawk at her outside shot. During a shoot-around Tuesday, Miller made five three-pointers in a row, causing a few teammates to stop shooting and watch.
In games, though, Miller is more apt to pass on open looks. She has yet to make a three-pointer this season. Last year, she made 32.
"I'm working on getting my confidence back," Miller said. "My focus is on taking better shots. It's a little bit tougher to get into a rhythm when you're coming off the bench. But I'll get my chances."
The Mystics use their reserves as often as any team in the WNBA. In Sunday's win over the New York Liberty, the Mystics' reserves outscored New York's, 32-9. Miller played 24 minutes, more than she had in some games she started, and scored eight points.
Since her demotion from starter, Miller has talked to her sister about twice a day. Kelly Miller spent most of three years on the bench before earning a starting spot this season, and she averages 13 points.
Her advice is simple.
"Coco just has to stay focused and patient," Kelly said. "And she needs to take advantage of the playing time that she gets. If she does that, she'll get back in the starting lineup before long."