In 2019, the Mystics brought home the first championship in franchise history. With their dominance that season, it appeared that we were witnessing the possible emergence of a dynasty. Then 2020 hit. With several players opting out of the bubble for differing reasons, the Mystics repeat campaign was compromised from the beginning. Then to make things even more interesting for Coach Thibault and company, they also had to deal with a slew of injuries. But now with the band back together, and adding a future Hall-of-Famer to the mix, the Mystics are ready to reclaim their spot at the top of the league.
I would imagine the feeling is similar to what the Seattle Storm went through. In 2018, the Storm were top dogs. Then in 2019, they had to go to war without Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. Then, they came back with a vengeance the following season. I’m pretty sure the Mystics feel Seattle was just keeping their championship seat warm for them in 2020, while they had some players tending to their personal health and others changing the world. But now back at full strength, they are primed and ready to drop some more confetti come season’s end.
Coach T, Ariel Atkins and Shavonte Zellous addressed the media after practice on Sunday and talked about what the restart of the season has been like since training camp kicked off last week. One thing Coach Thibault touched on was the point guard situation. I’m sure he sleeps better at night now that Natasha Cloud is back. Leilani Mitchell and Kiara Leslie can also help ease the burden in that area as well. He also pointed out how Myisha Hines-Allen facilitated the offense at times in the bubble. A big part of the Mystic’s success during their championship run was versatility and contributions from top to bottom. It looks like this team has the depth to replicate that.
Ariel Atkins was next up and she got into how the team was dealing with getting used to each other. She said they were still trying to figure each other out, which is to be expected. But she is excited to get things going. Atkins said the upcoming exhibition games will really give her a glimpse into how her teammates will react when things go live. How a player responds in practice and in real time can be extremely different. She said she wants to see how they collectively respond to adversity, how they communicate when someone makes a mistake, how they handle imperfect referees. None of those things can be simulated and seeing them play out organically will give a clear picture of what to expect when the season starts.
I asked Ariel about her experience in the bubble last year, having been thrust into a leadership role due to the roster shortages. She said it definitely forced her to grow up fast. She also stated that she was thankful for the experience. It helped her realize some things about herself and also showed her where she could improve individually as player. This will be Atkins fourth year in the league but you almost have to count her experience in dog years because she’s been around the block a few times already in her short professional career. Ariel also touched on a few teammates. She spoke about getting Natasha Cloud back in the fold and also about adding Tina Charles.
She said Tasha hasn’t missed a beat. She’s in great shape, fast as ever, and that jump shot she added during their championship season is still money. When talking about Tina Charles, the word that consistently rang out was intensity. Ariel said Tina brings game-like ferocity to practice. And that’s what’s needed to achieve the ultimate goal. Pretty much the only jewel that’s missing from Charles’ WNBA crown is a championship. And the squad is rallying around her to get that feather in her cap. Shavonte Zellous also talked about what Charles brings to the team. She warned anyone sleeping on Tina to beware. She’s added some handles to her game to go along with her bruising post game and rebounding prowess so whatever version you had of Tina Charles in your mind, you’re going to have to throw away because the mainframe has been upgraded.
Zellous also spoke about the challenge to implement things due to the lack of practice players. She said Coach Thibault has been great with making adjustments and also getting players adequate rest. Going into the season healthy is a huge priority for the Mystics. After going through the gauntlet last season, they want to make sure they can head into the regular season with everyone able to go.
There are a lot of reasons for the Mystics to be amped heading into this season. It’s the 25th anniversary of the W, new threads, and they’ve got the full squad back ready to go to battle. No one’s said it out loud but I’m sure they feel like they were just renting the championship out for a year. By the looks of it, it seems like the lease is up and the Mystics are prepping to evict the previous tenants.