A few hours after practice and one day before Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, four Washington Mystics players and their head coach hosted a youth basketball clinic Tuesday in D.C.
Prior to the players interacting with about 50 youth at Charles Hart Middle School in southeast D.C., Mystics guard Natasha Cloud asked them to sing “Happy Birthday” to teammate LaToya Sanders.
“We’re very excited to be with you today … to get through this camp [and] get to learn some basketball skills and have fun,” said Cloud, chosen at the unofficial spokeswoman for the team at clinic.
The other Mystics players in attendance, Kristi Toliver and Ariel Atkins, helped conduct shooting, defense and other drills.
They also chatted, laughed and distributed mouthguards and two tickets for each youth for Wednesday’s Game 3 against the Seattle Storm at Eagle Bank Arena on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
“Seeing them made me happy and nervous at the same time,” said Semaj Williams, 13, an eighth-grader who plays basketball. “They’re professionals. I want to be as good as them.”
Toliver, a former All-American point guard and NCAA champion at the University of Maryland, said participating in such events is “bigger than basketball.”
“Kids are the future and that’s what’s most important,” she said. “It’s good to have this moment.”
Toliver and her teammates will get down to serious business Wednesday to stave off elimination, down 0-2 against the Seattle Storm.
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said the team’s in a familiar spot they faced within the last several weeks.
The Mystics won a single-elimination Aug. 23 in a 32-blowout blowout victory against the Los Angeles Spark.
Washington faced a season-ending contest Sept. 2 in Game 4 in the semifinals with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, playing through a bone bruise against the Atlanta Dream. Two days later, the Mystics reached the WNBA Finals with a Game 5 road victory in Atlanta.
One aspect Washington wants to change Wednesday is its 3-point shooting after a 0-for-16 performance in Game 2 against Seattle.
During the regular season, Washington ranked fifth in the league at nearly 35 percent. However, Seattle ranked number one and has the league’s most valuable player in Breanna Stewart.
“Now we’re home, we should be more relaxed,” Thibault said. “Usually, we make threes in our sleep. I was shocked when I saw the box score. We’ll get back to who we are.”