Mystics hope familiarity results in an early edge

/ by Tyler Byrum
Presented By Sandy Spring Bank

WASHINGTON -- Dynasties in sports are rare. Salary caps, free agency, drafts all make the task of winning multiple championships in a short period of time seem like something that you would on read in a piece of folklore.

Regardless, every team attempts to become a dynasty. With the Toronto Raptors being the recent exception in the NBA, teams don't just shake hands and then part ways. If you did it once, who's to say mostly the same group of individuals can't run it back once more. 

That didn't happen for the Washington Mystics when they won the championship in 2019. It wasn't because of the salary cap or losing players to free agency or even the draft class upending the hierarchy of the league. Nearly everything was out of the team's control. Which is now when the Mystics start the 2022 season, they'll enter it with a fresh confidence and half of their roster looking for another chance to make a second title run that wasn't feasible the past two seasons.

Eleven players make up the Mystics opening night roster. Six of those 11 played on the championship team. That's the same amount that returned to compete in the 2020 'wubble' season (mind you those six did not include their two most important players Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud). Last season there were only five representatives from that 2019 group.

This is the greatest opportunity the franchise has to 'defend' their title with a roster made up of those pieces.

"It feels great. This is like our first real training camp in a few years," Myisha Hines-Allen told NBC Sports Washington. "Most of the people here- and to be honest, like there's probably two people that have been in training camp that I did not know before. So the people that [head coach Mike Thibault] brought in, our teammates, I've known everyone already, so it kind of feels good. I'm not having to like introduce yourself all over and go through, 'like, what do you like to do?' Like you know, so it's good chemistry too."


Bringing back members of that championship team was part of Thibault's 'reset' he wanted to orchestrate this past offseason. Technically, you could say it started last year when Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was brought back on a seven-day contract in early July. Eventually, she was re-signed for the season.

Hines-Allen was then inked to a multi-year deal in February. Tianna Hawkins was one of the first signees of the free agency period.

And, of course, it helps that your franchise superstar Elena Delle Donne is also expected to play for the full season, even with rest days.

"The biggest thing was kind of a reset of our locker room and just getting a group of people together that we'd come to work, we'd have joy every day, we would have empathy for one another and we'd want to compete every single day together and do it for the person next to you," Delle Donne said on media day. "That's what made 2019 so special and it's something that we kind of got away from. So I do feel that in this group, I feel it every time we're together, like we find so much joy in one another and we enjoy competing too."

There's a notable difference at training camp in particular. Whereas last year there was a rotating door of new players seemingly every two weeks, everyone in D.C. knows the system the Mystics employ. 

At camp, they were able to hit the ground running.

"(This camp is) a lot better because you're not having to re-teach everything all the time," Thibault told the media on Monday. "The veterans are helping the new ones get through and the coaches don't have to say everything all the time. You got six people who - or seven people - that know what we're doing every day and that makes a big difference."

And that seventh person he's referencing is two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark who has been engrained in the intricacies of this team since she signed before the 2021 season.

Right now Clark is still in the midst of her comeback that caused her to miss all of last year, but she's not far off from a return. That doesn't mean, though, she's not familiar with most of the players on the roster.


"I actually said to AC the other day, I was like, 'I didn't know how much I needed you to join my life and now that you're here, like we're forever,'" Delle Donne said. "She's like- we're like peanut butter and jelly, she's just the perfect piece that I've needed. And yes, through this offseason and what we've both gone through with big surgeries and trying to figure out our bodies and having days where we're frustrated or days where things are going well, but having each other to support one another and know like we're both going through kind of the same thing has been huge."

The schedule sets up real nice for a hot start and a morale boost in the first two weeks of the year. Two of their first six games are against fellow lottery teams from this past draft. Two other teams (Las Vegas and Minnesota) are each missing an important contributor from last year's team. The remaining two games are against Dallas Wings who exited the 2021 playoffs in the first round.

"Especially in this league, the more familiarity you have with your teammates the better, because training camps and things are so quick, because games happen so quickly," Clark told NBC Sports Washington. "When you have a bond or when you're familiar with your teammates, it does give you an edge, That's why you see the teams that have their core for years why they're able to start out and be clicking and flowing as well as they do because they've already had that kind of built up."

Washington will be looking to flow in their first game on Friday, May 6 against the Fever (7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington). If they do jump out of the gates fast, Washington roster make-up will surely be turning some heads.