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Mystics players look for improved WNBA travel, calling current plan 'trash'

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Mystics players look for improved WNBA travel, calling current plan 'trash'

Picture LeBron James or Steph Curry boarding a plane and squeezing their legs into a coach seat the day before a road game. 

It doesn’t happen.

But for the Washington Mystics and WNBA players, it’s part of their weekly routine.

“It’s trash,” Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud said.

Earlier this week, Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa documented the team’s travel woes in a Twitter thread. It took her team 24 hours to get home.

“Where do you see that in the NBA?” Cloud said. “I know they play a lot of games, but we’re doing the same thing in a short amount of time in three and a half, four months. So it would make the biggest difference for us.”

The travel inconveniences happen all too often.

Forward Tianna Hawkins said before the third game of the season against the Connecticut Sun, both the teams' original and back-up planes to New York had technical problems, and they were delayed four to five hours.

The same thing happened last season. The Mystics needed a redeye flight from Las Vegas to Seattle, but the first trip was delayed, so the team missed its connecting flight and ended up stuck in Chicago. 

“It’s hectic,” Hawkins said. “We go to the airport like ‘alright, I hope we don’t get a delay today.’ But we know that something’s gonna happen.”

Players said their travel experiences in college were better than they are in the WNBA. Now, road games present an unexpected hurdle for the professionals who want to play the highest level of their sport.

“It’s sad because I feel like the college days are better,” guard Shey Peddy said. “We had private planes. I don’t remember our flights being canceled at all. So it kinda feels like a step back when it should be a step forward.”

Cloud said there’s no reason the WNBA shouldn’t be chartering. Her alma mater, St. Joseph’s (PA) – “a mid-major with not a lot of money” could afford to charter.

But those private jets? They’re considered an unfair competitive advantage, according to the current collective bargaining agreement.

“It’s an unfair advantage for [Mystics forward] Elena Delle Donne, who’s 6-foot-5, to have to sit in economy in the middle seat of an aisle and then go perform,” Cloud said. “You expect us to perform, we expect to be able to have our bodies healthy and not lock up on planes.”

Because commercial travel is undependable, Mystics players have abundant advice for rookies on travel days: wear compression leggings, bring a gallon of water, keep electronics charged, pack a book and stock up on snacks and sandwiches – because “airport food is expensive, everybody knows that,” as Peddy puts it.

Cloud advises sneaking into a more spacious exit row.

But, changes could be on the way. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association will opt out of the current CBA after the 2019 season. The players hope to receive higher salaries and more accommodating travel schedules.

“I think we deserve it,” Peddy said. “I think if some of the [NBA] G-league players have [private jets], we should have that. Hopefully that’s a priority.”

Guard Kristi Toliver, playing in her 10th season, isn’t as optimistic.

“It is what it is, but it’s not changing soon,” Toliver said. “I would prefer to get paid more money than worry about travel.”

But still, when the schedule gets tough, she tells herself to keep her head up.

“Think gratitude. You get to play the game that you love.”

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What to know about the Washington Mystics season opener

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What to know about the Washington Mystics season opener

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but were swept by the Seattle Storm in the championship series.

Elle Delle Donne -- who was recently named in WNBA.com's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP -- is back for her third season in Washington.

Though she is out for the opener, Delle Donne believes the team is ready to make another run at the title thanks to the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

Earlier Friday, the Mystics announced their final 12-woman roster for the 2019 season. Delle Donne and guard Kristi Toliver headline a team that includes nine returners from the 2018 team, as well as Meesseman, who played for the Mystics from 2013-17 but sat out in 2018 to focus on playing for the Belgian national team. The final roster spots went to WNBA rookies Kiara Leslie and Kim Mestdagh.

According to ESPN, the Mystics, Los Angeles Sparks and Las Vegas Aces are the favorites to win the championship this season.

The WNBA's 23rd season kicks of Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET when the Atlanta Dream host the Dallas Wings.

MYSTICS VS. SUN HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Mystics vs. Connecticut Sun, Regular Season Game 1

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

Live Stream: You can live stream on WNBA's League Pass website by signing up for a free trial

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.

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2019 WNBA Draft: Mystics select NC State's Kiara Leslie

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2019 WNBA Draft: Mystics select NC State's Kiara Leslie

NEW YORK (AP) -- Jackie Young said it was a dream come true to be taken first in the WNBA draft.

The Notre Dame guard, who decided to enter the draft early and skip her senior season, was selected No. 1 by the Las Vegas Aces on Wednesday night.

"Since I was a little girl I always wanted to play in the WNBA and now I have my chance," she said.

She's the second Irish player to be drafted first after entering early joining Jewell Loyd, who had the honor in 2015.

It's the third consecutive year the Aces have had the No. 1 pick. They took Kelsey Plum in 2017 when the franchise was still in San Antonio. The Aces then drafted A'ja Wilson last season with the No. 1 pick when the franchise moved to Las Vegas.

Young wasn't thrilled that she didn't have much time to make her decision after the Irish lost the championship game Sunday night to Baylor. She had 24 hours to decide whether she wanted to turn pro or go back to play for the Irish.

"It was definitely a hard process for me," Young said. "I had to sit down, talk to my family, talk to Coach (Muffet) McGraw and make the best decision for me."

Young was the first of five Notre Dame players to be drafted. Arike Ogunbowale went fifth to Dallas. Brianna Turner went 11th to the Atlanta Dream. She was later traded to the Phoenix Mercury for Marie Gulich. Jessica Shepard was taken 16th by the Minnesota Lynx. Marina Mabrey was the fifth Notre Dame player to go, drafted 19th by the Los Angeles Sparks.

"It's a historic moment for our program," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "We've had a lot of accomplishments, but this one stands alone. It's probably something that will never happen again. Because of the injury to Bri and Jess coming in, it's atypical of having that kind of class. But it's incredible what they accomplished."

Tennessee is the only school to have that occur with college players, in 2008. Candace Parker was taken first. Alexis Hornbuckle was drafted fourth. Shannon Bobbitt and Nicky Anosike went back-to-back in the second round and Alberta Auguste was taken in the third round.

Asia Durr went second to the New York Liberty. The Louisville guard, who was a two-time AP All-American, was the No. 2 scorer in school history. The Indiana Fever then took Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan at No. 3. Chicago drafted a UConn player for the second consecutive season taking Katie Lou Samuelson fourth reconnecting her with former Huskies teammate Gabby Williams.

Another UConn player went sixth with Napheesa Collier headed to Minnesota. She could provide some help for the Lynx, who will be missing Maya Moore for the season as she sits out to focus more on things other than basketball. The Lynx had a busy draft taking Shepard and Cierra Dillon of Buffalo in the second round. They also traded Natisha Hiedeman, whom they drafted 16th to Connecticut for Lexie Brown. They drafted Kenisha Bell of Minnesota in the third round.

The Los Angeles Sparks took Baylor center Kalani Brown seventh. It's been a whirlwind 72 hours for the 6-foot-7 center as she helped Baylor win a national championship on Sunday.

Australian Alanna Smith, who helped Stanford win the Pac-12 Tournament title was drafted eighth by Phoenix. The Mercury are coached by fellow Aussie Sandy Brondello. Kristine Anigwe went ninth to Connecticut. The Cal center, who led the nation in rebounding, was the national defensive player of the year. Washington took Kiara Leslie with the 10th pick and Ezi Magbegor closed out the opening round by going to defending champion Seattle.

Chinese sensation Han Xu was drafted 14th by the New York Liberty. The 6-foot-9 center became the first Chinese player drafted since 1997. There was some talk that Han wouldn't be able to play this summer as she would have to compete for the Chinese national team. She said that she expected to play for New York this summer.

The WNBA season opens on May 24th with training camps opening up a few weeks earlier.