Mystics

Why Mystics guard Natasha Cloud is taking time off during the height of her career

Why Mystics guard Natasha Cloud is taking time off during the height of her career

Natasha Cloud is not playing basketball this season. 

It's not because the coronavirus prevented the WNBA from returning. It's not because she is fearful of her health during the WNBA's aberrant season.

Natasha Cloud is not playing basketball this season because she is staying true to who she is as a person.

Natasha Cloud is proving that what is going on right now is bigger than basketball for her. 

“This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career but I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season,” Cloud said in a statement on Monday. “There are a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete. I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.”

Cloud joins a now growing list of athletes that are putting their careers in the backseat for activism. 

Former MVP Maya Moore, one of the biggest stars in the sport - who announced she wasn't going to play this year back in January - is sitting out her second straight season to fight for criminal justice reform. Atlanta's Renee Montgomery said last week that she will not join her teammates down in Brandenton, Fla for the season to focus on social justice

More will likely join them before the June 25 deadline to decide to play. For years, the WNBA players have been at the front lines speaking out against injustices and making an impact off the floor.

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Massive protests across the country from the death of George Floyd have sparked several players' advocacy while the start of the season was paused. They've been leading marches (Cloud helping organize the one in D.C.), partaking in protests and are involved in huge issues regarding their communities like never before. 

Going to a 'bubble' to play ball would physically remove Cloud and others from that fight for reform. It would halt any momentum they have gained. She couldn't be leading the charge and have the same impact as they would at home. 

"For some players, they feel that if they go back and play, it's going to distract them or they're not going to be able to give 100% of themselves to the game," Naismith Hall of Famer and WNBA Champion Sheryl Swoopes told ESPN's Outside the Lines.

"The time for us could not be bigger, more important and an opportunity for us to really speak up and make a difference and say 'we want to be a part of the change.'"

And by abstaining from an unprecedented season, Cloud is truly staying true to herself. She doesn't have the financial backing that an NBA player would by missing a season. Her $117,000 salary is less than a quarter of the NBA minimum.

She's using her platform to try and make a difference, as she has her entire career.

Cloud took part in a media blackout in 2016 for the WNBA to support their players and their advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement. She also spearheaded a media blackout last year in the Mystics locker room to address gun reform following gun violence at a nearby school. She wrote an essay in the Player's Tribune calling for other athletes to speak out on racism just last month.

Her mind is not on basketball - she said so herself at the D.C. march last week. 

Cloud is focused on bigger things and right now, basketball can wait. 

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Mystics sign rookie Stella Johnson through an emergency medical hardship waiver

Mystics sign rookie Stella Johnson through an emergency medical hardship waiver

The Washington Mystics announced the signing of rookie guard Stella Johnson on Thursday after the team fell below a 10-player roster threshold of active players.

Due to an injury to Aerial Powers that has already forced her to miss two games, the Mystics were down to only nine active players able to play in the WNBA bubble. The WNBA granted the Mystics an emergency hardship waiver as Powers' injury is expected to last a significant amount of time. 

Washington needed the waiver to add to its roster as the team was up against the salary cap limits with Tina Charles opting out of the season and Elena Delle Donne recovering from her back procedure in D.C. Both are receiving max contracts. 

RELATED: MYISHA HINES-ALLEN IS SEIZING HER MOMENT

Fortunately, Johnson is a player that has already been in the Bradenton, Fla within the confines of the bubble and is immediately eligible to play. The 29th pick of the 2020 draft by Phoenix Mercury played four games with the Chicago Sky. Johnson was waived by the team on August 12 and remained on the IMG Academy campus. Unlike signing players who are outside of the bubble, the 5-foot-10 guard does not have to go through another quarantine period. 

Johnson played only six minutes in her four appearances while only recording one shot. 

She a product of Rider University and the only player from the school to be drafted into the WNBA. With the Broncs, she became the program's all-time leading scorer while earning honors as an All-American. 

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Myisha Hines-Allen has been waiting for her moment, now she's seizing the opportunity

Myisha Hines-Allen has been waiting for her moment, now she's seizing the opportunity

A year ago Myisha Hines-Allen's best opportunity to get time on the court was in the Washington Mystics practice gym. But only after the team's official practice. Behind the likes of Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders there was little opportunity for the third-year pro to get reps in.

For games, Hines-Allen's time was mostly reserved for sitting on the bench. She would watch Sanders size up and position her body against post players much larger than herself. She would study how Meesseman moves the ball as a forward with a ton of attention directed on her.

The 24-year-old was doing what she could to stay ready and work on her development in any way she could. She was biding her time until she got her chance.

And in 2020 that chance has been presented to her. 

Through seven games, Myisha Hines-Allen is leading the way for a Mystics' offense missing several key pieces from last year's championship team.  On opening night she made a statement. With a career-high 24 points, Hines-Allen led Washington to a dominating win over the Indiana Fever. Her explosive breakthrough took the eyes of many as she was named the WNBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

As the season has continued, she has emerged as one of Washington's top-scoring threats with 15.6 points and is nearly averaging a double-double with 8.7 rebounds. 

All that time waiting finally paid off. 

"I think the biggest thing was when I was sitting on the bench last two years, I wasn't just sulking and being mad 'Oh why am I not playing and this and that.' I was continuing to get better, look at the people in front of me," Hines-Allen said after the first game of the season. "What are they doing well, how do they defend, how do they get their open shots? It's like all leading up to this point right now where I've worked so hard for."

RELATED: EMMA MEESSEMAN FINALLY FINDS HER STROKE IN A LOSS

While many may be surprised by the rapid pace Hines-Allen has started the season with, the rest of the team is not. She's been a well-kept secret buried down the depth chart that was bound to break loose at some point. 

"And I think, that's the biggest thing. If I would have been, you know mad, angry, those two years that I wasn't playing when we have great players in front of me playing, then this moment right here wouldn't have mattered to me at all," Hines-Allen said. "But it matters most because I took everything that every post players were giving me, even the guards for telling me what to do, you know, so it all leads up to this moment. It makes it even more special just because they're not here - those players that were helping me out."

Hines-Allen is a team-first competitor and has played well in the chances she has gotten at practices. Teammates knew this was going to be Hines-Allen's year to prove her value in the league. 

"I feel like if you know, you know, right," Aerial Powers told reporters after the win over Indiana. "The girls who have been on our team, that see Myisha compete every day in practice, they know what she has. We knew she had it in her, she just hadn't had the opportunity given the amazing players before her. But now she has that opportunity and she's taking full advantage."

Since being drafted by Washington in 2018 in the second round, Hines-Allen has remained on the roster. That is not necessarily an easy feat for the Louisville product in today's WNBA. Having only 12 teams means roster spots are hard to come by and a franchise can quickly run out of space with so many developed stars in the league.

Typically, second-round picks have trouble making it. The most notable are Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky, Jessica Breland on the Phoenix Mercury, and fellow Mystics teammates Natasha Cloud and Meeseman.

Her first year, Hines-Allen saw a decent amount of playing time for a rookie with injuries and Meesseman taking a year off from the WNBA. Last year she averaged less than eight minutes a game, the fewest among those in the regular rotation. 

Still, head coach and general manager Mike Thibault has raved about the ability of Hines-Allen since he drafted her. She's a dynamic forward who is quick and can score at all three levels. Her ball-handling is great for her size, but positionally she provides such a big mismatch on the offensive end. She has the strength of a post player, but the speed and agility of a guard. Thibault's go-to player comparison for her is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green. 

But when you have superstars in a two-time WNBA MVP and a Finals MVP who play in similar roles in an offense, how can you justify squeezing room for a player without those accolades into a rotation? You can't. 

"I thought that this (year) was a great opportunity for her," Thibault said. "I mean she just got stuck in a tough position last year with so many great post players. And she knew that when Tina (Charles) probably wasn't going to play or Elena wasn't going to play, this was a great opportunity for her to make a statement about her game, and where she is and how she can help this team, and she's obviously lived up to it. She's worked hard. In the offseason, in her game overseas and it's paid off."

Growth and development have come with limited reps and opportunities even in workouts for Hines-Allen. She's realizing this unique season has created not only a moment where she can showcase her abilities but a place where she can fully hone her craft and establish herself as a star in the league.

Game plans are now around her. Practice time has drastically changed. It was something that she frankly wasn't accustomed to in the first game when Thibault had to pull her out because she was winded. 

"I feel like for me, personally, I can grow a lot more," Hines-Allen said. "So, I think, me being on the court now it's definitely helping me because it's showing me things that I'm good at, things I still need to work on too. So just being on the court whether it's in practice, or actually in the game, the confidence in the things where I'm like actually watching film. Because before I was watching film on other players or in the game I was looking at [Sanders] most of the time. Now I can actually see myself, where, like I need to be more often or oh I could have done this differently."

With that evolution also brings a renowned confidence.  At this rate, Hines-Allen is going to continue to get better night-in and night-out. She hasn't wavered yet from her big opening night performance with three additional games of 16-plus points. No one has seen how much she can actually succeed with this much playing time since she was in college. For her, the next step forward is to just continue doing what she is doing. 

"This is a great feeling. I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't shocked, surprised, none of that," Hines-Allen said. "I'm super happy with myself and how I played, but again I wouldn't be able to do what I was doing if it wasn't for my teammates giving me that support."

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