With 11 days left until their regular season opener, the Washington Mystics were back in the gym Wednesday afternoon less than 24 hours after defeating the Indiana Fever, 87-67, in their preseason opener in Indianapolis.
Coach Mike Thibault spent the final portion of practice on the main court at Verizon Center working on end-of-game situations. In one drill, prized offseason acquisition Elena Delle Donne stepped into the passing lane for a steal to preserve a lead. Moments later rookie Shatori Walker-Kimbrough did the same.
It’s a play the No. 6 pick in this year’s draft made time and again while at Maryland, where she completed her career this past season as the school’s fourth all-time scorer. The guard-forward also developed into a responsible defender, leading the Terrapins in steals as a senior.
Walker-Kimbrough finished with 12 points in 20 minutes in Tuesday’s exhibition, logging the most playing time among the starters at a venue where she shined in college. As a junior, Walker-Kimbrough was named most outstanding player in helping the Terrapins win the Big Ten tournament title at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I’m not going to lie. I was a little nervous,” Walker-Kimbrough said of her professional debut. “It’s so crazy just being out there actually going against a different team. It’s like so surreal to me, but it went great. I thought we played really good as a team.”
Honing team chemistry has been a priority during training camp given the many newcomers to the club. Just two starters against the Fever were with Washington last season, and among the seven reserves who played, only forwards Tianna Hawkins and Ally Malott have experience in a Mystics uniform.
Thibault held out starting guard Tayler Hill because of a sore ankle, and backup point guard Ivory Latta did not play while she rests her surgically repaired knee. Also missing from the lineup were Emma Meesseman and Kristi Toliver, both starters who have yet to come back from playing overseas.
Meesseman and Toliver are expected back next week, but not in time for the final preseason game Monday night against the Minnesota Lynx at Verizon Center.
“I thought it was good just to get out there against a different team,” said forward Asia Taylor, who came off the bench to lead Washington with 13 points against the Fever. “I liked our energy we came out with. I liked that coach put us out there with different lineups and different matchups, and I got to play a bunch of different positions, which was good for me to just kind of get out there and put everything together we’ve been doing in practice.”
The next few days of practice are set to include, among other assignments, installing more offensive sets, Thibault indicated. The Mystics are somewhat limited in what they can do in that regard in part because of the absence of Toliver, the starting point guard.
Still, getting Delle Donne more comfortable within the offense remains an ongoing process, with the next step scripting plays designed especially for the 2015 WNBA MVP. Delle Donne joined the Mystics in a blockbuster offseason trade with the Chicago Sky in which Thibault, also the general manager, dealt the No. 2 overall pick this year, center Stefanie Dolson and guard Kahleah Copper in exchange for the then-restricted free agent.
Delle Donne had 12 points, three assists and two rebounds in 17 minutes against the Fever while frequently matched against forward Candice Dupree, a five-time all-star.
“We aren’t running that many plays right now, and we’re certainly not running plays designed for individuals at the moment,” Thibault said. “She had a good flow [against Indiana]. The goal is to play her between 15 and 18 minutes and kind of get her out there particularly when they had Dupree and those guys on the court. I thought it was a good start.”