The Washington Mystics have some unfinished business in 2019.
After coming up short in its first-ever WNBA Finals appearance last summer against the Seattle Storm, Washington has adopted a pickup ball mantra for the upcoming season: “run it back.”
“We’re in a situation we wanted to be in last year, but unfortunately got swept,” guard Natasha Cloud, entering her fifth season with the Mystics, said Monday during the team’s media day at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in southeast D.C. “I think we’re ready to take that next step. … We’re ready to run it back and get this championship back here to D.C.”
The Mystics should be in good shape to make that happen, with last year’s starting five of Cloud, Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Toliver, Ariel Atkins and LaToya Sanders all returning.
Emma Messeeman, who averaged 14 points and nearly six rebounds per game in 2017, returns after a year away from her native Belgium. The 6-foot-4 forward should help clog the paint along with Delle Donne, who stands 6-foot-5.
The Mystics will be without two D.C.-area natives, however. Monique Currie announced in February her retirement after 13 seasons to work at Nike’s headquarters in Portland, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt left the same month in free agency to sign with the Los Angeles Sparks.
Washington’s top draft pick, Kiara Leslie from North Carolina State, is expected to sit with an injury when the season begins May 25 at the Phoenix Mercury.
The home opener on June 1 against the Atlanta Dream will be the Mystics’ first game inside the new Entertainment and Sports Arena in southeast D.C. after sharing Capital One Arena with the Washington Wizards since the team’s inaugural year in 1998.
“The atmosphere in here is going to be great,” said head coach and general manager Mike Thibault. “We haven’t really had at Capital One a homecourt advantage that some teams in our league have. Now, we can have the fans on top of us and try to intimidate the opponents a little bit.
“That newness coming off like a run we had feels like there’s an added boost to everything we do this year,” he said.
As for what the players did in the offseason, most played overseas, worked out, or in Toliver’s case, helped with player development as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards.
“Being on the sidelines is a completely different vantage point and, for me, it was just an opportunity to learn,” said Toliver, 32, one of three former University of Maryland players on the Mystics roster. “I’m excited to share all the things that I’ve learned. There’s no point in having those experiences if you’re not willing to share them with your teammates.”
Delle Donne said she didn’t think Toliver’s basketball IQ could get any higher, “but it did” from her offseason experience.