In two months, Michael Adams has learned how to run an intense practice without relying on a scrimmage. He's refined his pregame speeches, studied WNBA defenses and grown to enjoy bantering with officials.

But the Washington Mystics first-year coach's crash course in guiding a team is over now. Adams is beginning to rely less on his mentors -- assistant coach Linda Hargrove and player personnel consultant Pat Summitt -- and more on himself.

On the brink of back-to-back games tonight and Thursday, Adams feels ready to make a big step in his coaching career: He'll stop focusing on learning the game and instead concentrate on teaching it.

"I've learned a lot in the short amount of time," said Adams, whose 6-8 team hosts the Seattle Storm (10-4) tonight at MCI Center before traveling to play the New York Liberty on Thursday. "It's been a lot to take in, but I'd say my first stretch as head coach has been a success."

The Mystics seem to agree. For the most part, players think Adams has thrived in his first year as head coach, even though his team has not. The Mystics' mediocre record reflects a sloppy, inconsistent offense players swear is not the fault of their coach.

"He draws things up perfectly, but we usually just mess it all up," guard Tamicha Jackson said. "He's done an awesome job."

He's the ultimate player's coach: boisterous and fun in practice; gentle and forgiving during games. When a player makes a mistake, Adams usually prefers to whisper or curse under his breathe rather than admonish.

Even after miserable games, he spins a positive postgame speech. When the Mystics lost at Connecticut on June 20, 75-65, Adams commended his team for its solid second-half effort. "He's almost nurturing," Summitt said. "He's not the kind of coach that's going to kick the water cooler."

Summitt and Hargrove have been most impressed, though, with Adams's ability to draw up offensive plays. He grabs his dry-erase board during every timeout so he can demonstrate something to his team. He has used timeouts to sculpt two last-minute plays this season that yielded wins.

"He knows what will work and what won't," Hargrove said. "He still relies on me a little bit with the defense, but he has a fantastic offensive mind. He's doing some wonderful things for us."

Question is, will they help the Mystics make a run at the playoffs during the second half of the season?

"I've been learning, so maybe the team kind of suffers during that," Adams said. "But I won't need to learn quite as much anymore. I'm an improved coach, and hopefully some of that rubs off on this team."

"I've learned a lot in the short amount of time," said first-year head coach Michael Adams, whose Mystics are 6-8 as the WNBA's midseason nears.