Josh Allen remembers driving into Louisville as a freshman and seeing billboards with his older sister’s face on it. As little brothers do, he let out a sigh and thought, “Oh, Lord.”

There was Myisha Hines-Allen, again setting the athletic standard for the younger sibling with some pretty big athletic chops himself. Allen, who would go on to become the No. 7 pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2019 NFL draft, always has followed in his sister’s footsteps, per se. Before she was drafted by the Washington Mystics in 2018, Hines-Allen was a McDonald’s all-American in high school and starred at Louisville. Allen remembers watching her get picked in the second round and thinking, ‘Now I’ve got to go higher.’ While she was having success at Louisville, he was determined to shine at the University of Kentucky.

“I was definitely hating a little bit,” Allen said. “Then I thought about it: ‘You know what, let’s take over Kentucky. She’ll take over her part of Kentucky, and I’ll take over my part of Kentucky, and [we’ll] just run the whole state.’ That was really my motive.”

The siblings are closer than ever now that both are older and professional athletes, though Hines-Allen is still setting the tone. She won a championship last summer and is in the running to be named the WNBA’s most improved player in her third season; her 16.7 points per game rank ninth in the league, and her 8.7 rebounds rank fifth. Allen made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and was recently named a captain of the Jaguars.

Allen prefers the term breakout over most improved because he has seen this from his sister before. The WNBA portion of her breakout truly began in South Korea this past winter. Hines-Allen was headed over to play offseason ball, but she still had reservations after she heard some horror stories from other players.

The transition was not easy. As a member of Bucheon KEB Hana Bank, Hines-Allen was in an unusual situation. She almost didn’t make it through the first month and a half, with life nothing but basketball 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The basketball complex housed everything, so they lived, ate and worked out in the same facility, lifting weights everyday and practicing three to four times a day. This was all foreign, literally, to the then-23-year-old.

The environment was grueling physically, and then there was the culture shock. Players had to bow to coaches and ask permission to leave the campus. The youngest in the room was required to bow and greet the oldest. She couldn’t have her hands in her pockets. Hines-Allen was unsure about it before some late-night conversations with Mystics teammate Ariel Atkins helped get her mind right. She began meditating 20 to 30 minutes a day on her balcony and vocalizing why she was there and what she was thankful for. Hines-Allen focused on her breathing and reminded herself that this was an opportunity basketball players around the world would love to have.

Once Hines-Allen was in a good mental space, the basketball growth followed.

“I promise you, that was the best basketball I’ve played in my entire life,” Hines-Allen said. “Like, ever since I picked up [a] basketball. I knew that coming into this season, once we found out we would have a bubble, I was like, this is perfect. It’s South Korea all over again. I’ll be just focused on basketball. There’s no outside distractions. It’s legit just basketball for me.”

In South Korea, she focused on her post moves and conditioning because the club used her primarily down low. The improved footwork has been obvious during the WNBA season; she has created space with a variety of fadeaways, step-backs and up-and-under moves. Hines-Allen also improved her ballhandling and three-point shooting (40.4 percent) to become a threat from every area of the floor. She’s still an undersized power forward at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, but the array of skills and quickness allow her to take on any opponent.

The league was put on notice when she had 24 points and 10 rebounds on opening night. Then there was the career-high 35 points and 12 rebounds against the Wings less than a month later. With the season on the line and the Mystics needing a win to move into a tie for the final playoff spot on Thursday, Hines-Allen poured in 30 points, including back-to-back three-pointers with under 90 seconds left, to lead Washington to an 80-72 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

All of this is from someone who averaged 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in 7.8 minutes last season. No other player in the league has made such statistical jumps, though Sun forward Brionna Jones, Dream wing Betnijah Laney and Sky wing Kahleah Copper are also in the running for the most improved award.

Mystics General Manager/Coach Mike Thibault had been campaigning for Hines-Allen, but he took it to another level after her spectacular performance Thursday.

“I think the conversation should change to whether she should be considered an all-league player this summer,” Thibault said. “I’m dead serious about that because she has stepped up against the biggest and best teams and matched them toe-to-toe and outplayed a bunch of them.

“You’re talking about somebody who’s an undersized post player who’s learned to be a ballhandler, a three-point shooter, a post-up player. That’s pretty versatile to do all of those things in the course of a year. … It was hard for her to sit last year behind all those great players. She was relishing the opportunity to get minutes this summer and prove that she can be a factor for us in the future.”

Minnesota Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve let out a flustered shrug after Hines-Allen went for 26 points and nine rebounds in a win against her team Tuesday. “Hines-Allen’s had a hell of a year,” she said. “She did it to us today.”

Hines-Allen’s role this season has been clear from early on: The Mystics needed her to be one of the top scoring options without Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders. That role has only expanded throughout this season. Hines-Allen has one of the most upbeat personalities on the team and always seems to have a smile on her face, but there remains a healthy amount of paranoia about the future. She loves to win, and the Mystics are expected to be a title contender in 2021, but her role will change when Delle Donne, Charles and Sanders return. Hines-Allen knew she should play the best basketball of her career, but this still has been a bit of a surprise.

“Wow, like, I'm capable of doing it,” Hines-Allen said. “It's one thing just to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can play in this league.’ But to actually compete and play in the league, it's like surreal to me.

“It would be an honor to win that award. It just shows for me, and I think for a lot of players, that … everyone’s timing is different. … Just be patient. Wait your turn. It may not be your turn this year, next year or whatever the case may be, but if you continue to get better, then people are going to see what you were doing when the lights weren’t on and you weren’t playing.”

The Mystics wrap up the regular season with two games this weekend that will determine whether the defending champs make the postseason. Hines-Allen is on the verge of locking up the award and finishing her season on the same weekend that her brother begins his with the NFL’s return. She may watch him a little, but she’s not a fan of football. That may have begun when she was the only girl on the Pop Warner team with her two brothers. The two disagree on how long she lasted, but it took one hit for her to decide it wasn’t for her.

“I wish I was the one that hit her,” Allen jokingly muttered in true little-brother form.

Years later, the sibling rivalry still bubbles, and Hines-Allen is still setting the tone to a degree. Her brother was the higher draft pick, but he doesn’t have a championship ring. Both had interviews set up at the same time recently, when big sister called to straighten things out. The two disagree on how the agreement was reached, but Hines-Allen got the original time, and Allen was pushed back a half-hour.

“Had to big-sister him right quick,” she said.

“She was kind of mean. I’m not going to lie to you,” Allen said, describing his big sister growing up. “I love her to death. I love her to death. I love her to death. She’s not mean no more.”

The rest of the WNBA may see it another way as i. It finally has found out just how mean the typically effervescent Hines-Allen can be.

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