Sound asleep in Hungary, where she was playing EuroLeague basketball during the WNBA offseason, Tianna Hawkins received a phone call from a friend during the April 14 WNBA draft informing the District native she had been traded from the Seattle Storm to the Washington Mystics.
At first Hawkins was in disbelief, thinking the call might be a prank. But the 6-foot-3 power forward soon learned she in fact would be coming back to her home town as part of trade in which Washington dealt Crystal Langhorne to the Storm in exchange for the third-leading rebounder in Maryland history along with the No. 7 pick, which the Mystics used on Connecticut's Bria Hartley.
Hawkins since has been settling into the Mystics' starting lineup without a hitch, including scoring a team-high 18 points in Wednesday’s 81-80 preseason victory over the Indiana Fever at Verizon Center. Thirteen of those points came in the second half, when Washington erased a 15-point deficit with eight minutes left in regulation and won with a pair of free throws from rookie forward Kayla Thornton with less than a second to play.
Rookie forward Jelena Milovanovic scored 13 of her 15 points in the final five minutes, and the Mystics withstood a 41-24 rebounding deficit to stay undefeated in the preseason. Washington (2-0) has one preseason game remaining before opening the regular season at home May 16 against the reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.
“I’m ecstatic,” Hawkins said. “I’m so happy to be home, to play in front of some great fans, and most importantly my family.”
Hawkins is shooting 83 percent (10 of 12) in the preaseason, continuing the efficiency from college that vaulted her to No. 1 in the country in field goal percentage as junior. Hawkins was named first-team ACC as a senior after averaging 18 points and 9.7 rebounds.
Further underscoring how much more comfortable Hawkins is back in familiar surroundings, Hawkins’ five rebounds per game during this preseason are more than double her average in Seattle as a rookie. Her minutes per game are up considerably as well, with the Mystics in need of rebounding production after the departure of Langhorne, the former all-time leading rebounder at Maryland who led Washington in that category least season.
“Tianna was better in the second half,” Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said. “She struggled early but got herself going in the second half. She got some offensive boards and ran the floor.”
At Maryland, Hawkins forged a reputation across the ACC as a tenacious rebounder who was at her best as play became more physical. In her junior season, Hawkins set the program record with 24 rebounds in a game and helped the Terrapins win a record 10th ACC tournament championship.
Seattle made Hawkins the No. 6 overall pick in last year’s WNBA draft, but she averaged less than 10 minutes per game while adjusting not only to the pace and physical demands of the professional level but also living away from home for the first time in her life.
“It’s a lot faster, and you just have to be patient,” Hawkins said of the transition from college to pro. “You just have to work hard every day and just be patient and allow the game to come to you.”