As the Washington Mystics rolled to a 92-74 win over the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday, rookie Evina Westbrook waited for her chance.
“People would die for opportunities like I have,” Westbrook said during pregame warmups.
Taken in the second round of the 2022 WNBA draft by the Seattle Storm, Westbrook played decently in the preseason, but she was still waived before opening night because of limited roster spots — an issue that has taken center stage as the league considers expansion.
Westbrook was quickly picked up by the Minnesota Lynx but didn’t receive much playing time, averaging 2.6 points in 12.4 minutes per game. On June 24, with the league’s guaranteed contract deadline approaching, Westbrook was waived again.
“Twenty-four hours after I was waived from Minnesota, my agent got a call from [Mystics Coach Mike Thibault], saying they were interested in signing me to a seven-day [contract],” Westbrook said. “… Twenty-four hours after that, I flew out.”
Still a rookie but already on her third team, Westbrook knows there are just 144 roster spots in the WNBA, and it takes a lot to earn one of those, especially on a permanent basis. But she also knows that, for the time being, she’s still here — and any chance she has is something she can’t take for granted.
“My brother is a really big advocate for me, and he’s been like, ‘You’re still in the league.’ This is an amazing blessing,” Westbrook said after practice Friday.
To her credit, Westbrook was active in that 11-minute opportunity, scoring three points and notching three assists and a steal while also committing three personal fouls and two turnovers.
While her first shot with the Mystics might have been an air-balled corner three, she drilled one a minute later for her only basket of the game.
“That felt good, like I’m shooting it again,” Westbrook said of her missed shot. “And my teammates knew that. So the second one, for it to go in and [seeing] my teammates’ reaction, it gave me a sense of confidence.”
Coming to Washington on such short notice, Westbrook not only had to learn a new system — one that emphasizes flow, movement and aggression over designed plays — but also unlearn most of the two systems she has played in.
But first she had to pause and process the emotions that came with being waived from Minnesota, a place where Westbrook envisioned herself settling in.
“I gave myself the night to be sad and be upset,” Westbrook said. “The next day … I was going to use everything that I felt and add that to my game. It’s adding fuel to that fire.”
And to hear her coaches and teammates tell it, that fuel has helped her adapt to her new surroundings quickly.
Though Thibault couldn’t attend her first practice, his assistants raved over how rapidly she picked up the system, something he later noticed during the Atlanta game. And after the win, her teammates had nothing but praise.
“She’s great,” all-star guard Ariel Atkins said, later quipping through laughter, “We have thrown a lot at her.”
“The energy she brings to the defensive end — she picked things up so quickly,” Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added. “She looks comfortable out there.”
But no matter how comfortable Westbrook looks — or how well she performs — she’s playing with one large caveat: She’s allowed a maximum of three seven-day contracts.
Thibault said the Mystics are likely to offer her multiple seven-days, but after three, they must either sign her to a guaranteed contract for the rest of the season or cut her loose. When asked whether he would be open to signing someone permanently or just wanted to keep the spot open for flexibility, Thibault waffled.
“There’s not an easy answer to your question other than she’s got a chance to get paid as a pro player for a couple more weeks and try to make an impression,” he said.
After being waived twice, Westbrook knows that basketball is business. Thibault said the decision of whether Westbrook stays or goes might not be about her at all.
All Westbrook can do is continue to improve and work hard — and hope that the gears of fate turn in her favor.
“I know I can give so much more, and I try to do that,” Westbrook said. “It’s just me telling myself: ‘Evina, you’re a dog. Play like that.’ ”