Expansion Mystics put optimism on display Top drat picks Page, Williams key to success; Women's Pro Basketball


Is the future now, or is it on layaway?

The answer to that question will soon become apparent to those watching the Washington Mystics try to achieve success as an expansion team in the Women's NBA.

Those with leanings toward the present are without a reliable gauge of the team's abilities after its two exhibition games.

Optimists will point to the team's effort May 31, when four Mystics scored in double figures on the way to a 68-57 win over the New York Liberty, the league's runner-up last season. And they did it without guard Nikki McCray and center Alessandra Santos de Oliveira, both playing overseas at the World Championships.

At the same time, pessimists received vindication Sunday when the Liberty smashed the Mystics by 29 points at the MCI Center, forcing 20 first-half turnovers.

As could be expected, Mystics coach Jim Lewis offered a mixed analysis of the team's hopes in its first year of existence, beginning tonight against the Charlotte Sting at the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum.

"There's no question that we have challenges ahead from the nature of starting a franchise," Lewis said. "At the same time, this is basketball, something that these players have done all of their lives, and the style of play is one that we find is appealing to them."

While the team waits for the newcomers to integrate themselves into the system, Lewis believes that he has reasons for optimism, beginning with the club's first two draft picks, Murriel Page and Rita Williams.

Page, a Kodak All-American from Florida, is a wiry yet strong 6-foot-2 forward on whom the Mystics will depend for scoring both inside and outside. Though she was quiet during Sunday's loss, she scored 17 points in the game against New York.

In addition to her scoring, Lewis also expressed pleasure in the passing ability and work ethic of Page.

"She is all that we thought she would be," Lewis said. "We are very thorough in our evaluation, and everything that we learned about her work ethic is evident in what we've seen. She played 39 minutes [against New York]; I was sweating, and she looked like she could play two more games."

The case of Williams is more complicated. New York's all-star point guard, Teresa Weatherspoon, outplayed her, and in the second game, reserve guard Conquese Washington got into the act. Williams handed out three assists in those two games while committing seven turnovers.

Benefit of the doubt comes when you consider that Williams was able to provide some defensive presence during the exhibition season, collecting seven steals, and that she played a leadership role at Connecticut, one of the top collegiate programs in America.

"I think Rita Williams is going to be a special point guard," Lewis said after the loss. "They took her out of the game with some denial of the entry passes and we had some people handling the ball where it was obviously not the best situation. Other people have to help in that situation."

Aside from Page, Williams, McCray and Santos de Oliveira, the other player in the starting lineup is most likely to be Deborah Carter, an expansion draft pickup from Utah who led the Mystics in scoring during the preseason (13.5 points) and pulled down 4.5 rebounds.

Even with McCray, the rival American Basketball League's Most Valuable Player during the 1996-97 season, and Santos de Oliveira, who had 12 points and nine rebounds for Brazil against the U.S. in the World Championships last week, the team doesn't have a single dependable scorer.

But that is fine with Lewis and the Mystics, who hope to subvert their opponents by spreading the point totals around.

"We don't have one player who can score 40 points per night," said Mystics center Heidi Burge, comparing the team to the Los Angeles Sparks for whom she played last season. "We're going to have to work together to make things work -- and that's what we had in New York last week, a great chemistry that we've seen plenty of times. Getting the right person the ball at the right time so they can make a basket."

Pub Date: 6/11/98

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad