Bouncing back is the main theme of the Washington Mystics’ upcoming season. After securing the franchise’s first WNBA Championship a few months before the pandemic, things haven’t exactly gone their way. But with star player Elena Delle Donne finally healthy, a crop of new additions, the No. 1 overall draft pick, and Mike Thibault — the league’s all-time most wins coach — redemption awaits.
“We have put ourselves back into that group of teams that have the ability to compete for a championship,” Thibault told reporters on February 2. “The other part of it is you have to enjoy going to work every day. Our team is about that. Our organization is about that. And I think our fans and city appreciate that effort.”
After two seasons where the team went a combined 21-33, the plan is to get back to the sweet spot they were in pre-pandemic. Vital to that mission is a now-healthy Delle Donne, who’s only played in three games since the 2019 championship season.
“Being able to even play in those games [last season], was a huge plus for me,” the two-time league MVP said. “Since then I have been going to work every single day. Working on my movements, getting so much stronger on the court. I’m back. I haven’t had pain in months now, thank goodness. I feel like I’m moving like my younger self, but better and more efficient.”
Delle Donne made waves last year after her first two games back. She was playing great, despite being on a minutes restriction and not having played in 20-plus months. In her third game, she only lasted 12 minutes before her back injury flared up and forced her out for the rest of the season.
“I’m so excited to get this season started,” she added. “We’ve got an awesome bunch, and to do it pain free is what I’m most excited about.”
The “bunch” Delle Donne is referring to features plenty of familiar faces, like all-star Ariel Atkins and point guard Natasha Cloud, as well as a few new, but still very familiar faces. Three of the free agent signings were actually on the 2019 championship team: Myisha Hines-Allen, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
In addition to the core of players with championship experience, the Mystics also signed all-star and Virginia native Elizabeth Williams, and Megan Gustafson, the 2019 AP Player of the Year in college.
“Elena reached out,” Williams noted, “and that was really meaningful for me.”
“We’re welcoming back several players to our team and a newcomer that’s going to make a huge impact,” Thibault said. “We needed to reset, not rebuild. And we’re on our way to doing that.”
Next up will be the 2022 WNBA Draft in April, for which the Mystics defied odds to earn the No. 1 overall pick. For what it’s worth, ESPN projected Washington taking Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard first in their mock draft.
Mystics’ training camp comes after the draft in late April, followed by the season opener on May 6 at home against the Indiana Fever. This will be the team’s 25th anniversary season.
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