Friends forever, but foes on court

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- When Laura Harper finished practice Monday with the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs, Crystal Langhorne dropped by Verizon Center to pick her up, and the two former Maryland frontcourt mates hit the town.

And when the Washington Mystics go west in a couple of weeks, Harper expects to meet Langhorne at the airport, if need be, and they'll take in the sights of Northern California together.


But when the Mystics and Monarchs met here Wednesday night - the first time the pair had faced each other professionally - friendship went right out the window.

"It was weird," said Langhorne, laughing. "She pushed me in my back once and I fell. She pushed me hard, and I was thinking, 'That's dirty, Harp.' I'm going to tell her later."


While Langhorne has had the benefit of being surrounded by friends and the Maryland women's basketball family by playing just down the road from the College Park campus, last week was the first chance Harper had to come home.

"It felt like it went like this," Harper said, snapping her fingers. "I'm probably going to be pretty sad [the next day]. I wouldn't give away these two days for anything. It's probably been the highlight of my season in terms of being comfortable and being happy."

While Langhorne is averaging fewer than 10 minutes in Washington's first eight games, Harper - taken 10th overall in the April draft, four slots behind Langhorne - has carved out a nice niche in Sacramento.

The Monarchs (4-4), who have just two players on the roster with more than five years of WNBA experience, have embraced Harper's height (6 feet 4) and athleticism.

"There's no telling how good she can be," Sacramento coach Jenny Boucek said. "She's a very developable player, and it's not just because she's raw talentwise and has a lot of upside in her physical skills, but she's so hungry to be good and has so much passion and fearlessness."

The Monarchs have also been impressed with Harper's energy, enthusiasm and willingness to mix it up inside.

"Sometimes, post players are not super vocal. They're not used to it," said Monarchs point guard Ticha Penicheiro, who, at 33, is the oldest player on the roster.

"But from Day One, I could tell that she's not the shy type, and that's good. This is a young team this year, and we welcome everybody to put their two cents in and to talk and to be themselves. She has done that. Her personality totally comes out at times. She's very funny, and we enjoy having her here."


Many of Harper's former teammates, who shared in the joy of the 2006 national championship, turned out to root for Langhorne and Harper, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

The Maryland players - most of whom wore T-shirts with "Harp" on one side and "Lang" on the other - cheered for Langhorne, who posted career highs with 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. They also applauded Harper, who had six points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 19 minutes but whose team got the 79-76 victory.

Sitting along the baseline, flanked by her husband and members of her coaching staff, looking every bit the part of the proud mother, was Maryland coach Brenda Frese, watching two of her most celebrated alumnae face each other at the highest level.

"They're both playing great," Frese said. "That's what I was hoping, that they would both come here and play with a lot of energy. Obviously, we want them both to be winners in this game, and they are."

With the pace of the WNBA schedule, Harper had just enough time to mark the win before it was off to Minnesota for the next night's game.

But basketball isn't all business, at least not always, and Harper stole a few moments to savor the friendship of an old teammate, not to mention to put in a few good words on her behalf.


"I love Lang like a sister," Harper said. "I want her to do well, and when she was doing well, I was like, 'OK, Lang.' I want her to play more. They don't play her enough. It makes me mad. [Washington coach] Tree Rollins needs to put her in the game. Put that in the paper."