It has been one of the best seasons in Washington Mystics history. Playing with enthusiasm and intensity, they’re headed for the WNBA playoffs for only the fourth time in the team’s nine-year history.
Led by All-Star Alana Beard and Olympian DeLisha Milton-Jones (who will also be teammates at the World Championships in September), the Mystics compiled a regular season record of 18 – 16. Their playoff schedule begins at the Verizon Center this Friday vs. the Connecticut Sun.
Also on the roster is talented rookie Nikki Blue, 22, who played her collegiate ball at UCLA. She survived the intense challenge of training camp to earn her spot on the roster.
“Training camp was tough,” Blue said. “Each day, you didn’t know whether the general manager [Linda Hargrove] was going to call you into her office and let you know that they had cut you. Everybody was fighting for their positions. There were three point guards fighting for one spot. They had experience, but I had youth. I had to go out there and do my best, try hard.”
Her effort got her the spot behind starting point guard Nikki Teasley. After a lifetime of being a starter, the 5-foot-8 Blue has had to learn how to be prepared to come off the bench. During the regular season, she saw action in 23 games, averaging 7.3 minutes. In the final regular season game, she played nearly 19 minutes, scored nine points and added three assists.
“As a rookie, you can take it one of two ways — you can be mad about it or you can say, ‘I’m going to take this as a learning experience,’” Blue said. “Being a rookie in this league is about opportunities. When you get your opportunity, you have to show what you’re made of. But it has been a tough, tough adjustment going from playing 38 minutes a game in college to sometimes not playing at all in a game.
“Some teams need role players,” she added. “That’s the type of team I’m on now. We have stars. We have Alana Beard, Nikki Teasley and DeLisha Milton-Jones. I’ve accepted that. I know they have paid their dues. I’m going to pay my dues and wait.”
Each day playing for Mystics Head Coach Richie Adubato, a master of Xs and Os, has provided an opportunity to learn about nuances of the game and what it takes to make it in the pros. “It’s been great watching and learning the game,” Blue said. “I want to be a coach some day, and I will try to put some of his tips into my coaching experience.”
A history major at UCLA, Blue’s current surroundings have also provided a perfect environment to further her education away from the basketball court. She’s visited the national monuments, and cites the Lincoln Memorial as her favorite. She promises to go to Arlington Cemetery before going back to UCLA this fall to finish her final two classes.
Then Blue will head overseas to gain more playing experience. As a native Californian, it will be one step further away from home.
She said living in Arlington and playing in Washington, D.C. has been a valuable step in her maturation process. Throughout her career, her family has been a fixture in the stands every game. This summer she’s learned to stand on her own and take care of herself.
She describes her mother, Sabrina Hunter, as her hero. Now, a close second is Mystics owner Sheila Johnson, who has had the team to her Salamander Ranch in Middleburg, Va.
“Ms. Sheila Johnson is an incredible woman,” said Blue. “I can’t even express how happy I am to be on her team. She’s a role model for someone like me. I strive. I want to be just like her. She’s awesome.
“I’m blessed to be on a team that made it to the playoffs,” she added. “I’m happy to be on a team with a bunch of classy young ladies who care about me and have welcomed me to Washington and made this experience a great one.”