With several new players suiting up for the Washington Mystics on Wednesday, there was a different energy around the team — one that had been lacking in recent games. The additions of Jacki Gemelos, Stella Johnson and Sug Sutton helped lift the Mystics over the Dream.
When asked about the Atlanta game, forward Emma Meesseman said, “we really had some good energy from the new players so we just have to keep going with that energy and realize what we can do better and that’s what’s happening right now.”
And it wasn’t just Meesseman who noted a different vibe. “I think just when you bring anybody new in that has high energy — and I’ll add Jacki to that too, even though she didn’t make shots — I think those three being really hungry and wanting to establish themselves in a good way I think that gets everybody fired up,” said Mystics General Manager Head Coach Mike Thibault. “It helps to get that infusion of new energy and some offensive firepower.”
And the new energy extends off the court as well. Starting guard Ariel Atkins noted the challenges of playing in the bubble and what the new additions have brought to the locker room. “It’s been hard to be here in the bubble,” she said. “Just mentally, physically and emotionally, so to have some new blood gave us some energy and remind us that this is bigger than us and to understand that we are a unit and it felt good to have some new energy.”
This “new energy” was vital in last Wednesday’s win against Atlanta. Each member of the starting rotation scored north of 10 points, with Johnson putting up a team-high 25. What makes the rookie’s career-high even more impressive is the lack of practice time she’s had with the team.
“Today (Thursday) was actually the first practice that we really got to practice together so it’s a little bit like the beginning of the season, but so far it’s going great,” said Meesseman. “They [Gemelos, Johnson and Sutton] fit right in our system. It’s just up to us now to keep building that chemistry.
If the Mystics can score 98 points and if Johnson can put up 25, imagine what this team will be able to do with several full practices to improve rhythm and flow. Thibault equally emphasized the importance of getting the team together in the gym. “Sug’s had no practices with us until today (Thursday), same with Jacki,” he said. “Today (Thursday) we were actually able to work on stuff live and that really helps. It gets everybody going.”
Along with Johnson, Myisha Hines-Allen was also buoyed by a new energy against Atlanta. The third-year pro from Louisville put up 23 points and was dominant in the paint and fluid from three. As an integral member of the team, the Mystics’ play has usually reflected that of Hines-Allen.
“She [Hines-Allen] really had a great night,” said Meesseman. She’s fast, she’s super strong and she can shoot, she can really do everything. She’s a great player and we need that from her in a lot of games, if not in every game.”
And energy doesn’t necessarily mean recklessness. What made Hines-Allen so difficult to stop against the Dream was her control. “I thought she played very calm on offense,” said Thibault. “She didn’t allow the game to speed her up. She made good decisions. She was comfortable shooting her three and made good passing decisions.”
Energy on the court. Energy off the court. And most importantly, the strength of being a team. Gemelos, Johnson and Sutton all bring an acute awareness of the larger issues gripping the nation. With the WNBA bringing awareness to racial injustice in the country, the new additions have also brought their voices to the team.
Atkins, who was teammates with Sutton at Texas, talked about what her addition to the team meant. “This is a very unique situation. I think it will help her grow not only as a player but as a person given the circumstance of everything that is going on around us. WNBA players are trying to find their voice in social justice that is going on. I think her being a part of that is huge, coming straight out of college.”
On the topic of social justice, Atkins continued to say “it’s embedded in everything that we do, being that our league is close to 80-percent black women. Them coming in, they’re watching it, they knew what was going on. Two of the players have already been here, so they understand everything that is going on.”