Mike Thibault
Mike Thibault Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Last week, when the Washington Mystics traded their first overall selection to the Atlanta Dream for the third and 14th picks in the 2022 WNBA Draft and the right to swap first-round picks in the 2023 draft, the Mystics’ front office reasoned that the team would be receiving a better value in this year’s draft. On Monday night, Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault held firm to that belief. He was adamant the Mystics got the players they wanted in Shakira Austin and Christyn Williams.

“No question we got what we wanted,” Thibault told reporters after the draft. “That has been clearly defined to us tonight … This was not one of those situations where we traded down and took a lesser player. We had a player [in Austin] that’s capable of being the first pick also. And so I think that’s the starting point for us is that we felt we got a player who was capable of being the first pick and then got an added bonus and got another player [in Williams].”

Austin, a 6-foot-5 center, grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, graduated from Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, and played two seasons at Maryland before transferring to the University of Mississippi. At Ole Miss, Austin averaged 16.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 49.1 percent from the field. Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard out of the University of Connecticut, helped lead the Huskies to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament championship game against the University of South Carolina earlier this month.

The Mystics immediately add depth with these players.

“I feel like I got lucky,” Austin told reporters after being drafted. “To be in a position to learn from vets and people who you just look up to as role players, it’s just an amazing feeling. I feel like this opportunity is going to bring the best out of me, and I’m ready to just start a career in D.C., back home. It’s just an honor.”

The Mystics finished the 2021 season 12-20 and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Several key players, including Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud, and Myisha Hines-Allen, dealt with injuries that kept them out of games. Alysha Clark, whom the Mystics signed in early 2021, missed the season due to a Lisfranc injury in her right foot that required surgery. After the season ended, Thibault told reporters the team was “not in rebuild mode, but we’re in a reset button mode. We need to reset our culture and how we go about things, and we need to redevelop an identity.”

That won’t be the case this season.

“We’re gonna compete for a championship mode,” Thibault said Monday night.

He went on to explain that he is confident of that because of the free agent signings of forward-center Elizabeth Williams, guard Rui Machida, and forward Tiana Hawkins, and also the return of players such as Delle Donne, Clark, and Hines-Allen.

“I thought we lost a little bit of the edge that we had in 2019 over the last year and a half, partly because people weren’t there, partly because we had just kind of a different set of personalities,” Thibault said. “You go on the road, and expect to kind of [have] team bonding and things but one of the best team bonders on our team, or the two best maybe on our team, are Elena and Alysha, and they aren’t with you. And so not just are you missing them on the court, but you’re missing them off the court.”

Thibault told reporters Delle Donne and Cloud planned to contact the rookies to welcome them on draft night, another sign to the coach that the team’s culture is starting off on the right foot this season. And though the rookies have the skills to be able to contribute right away, Thibault doesn’t expect either of them to be in the team’s top eight or nine rotation of players this season. He joked Monday that he hopes both Austin and Williams can “clap really well on the bench and cheer for those players that are starting ahead of them.” Not putting pressure on the young players to start and play major minutes can ultimately be beneficial to both the team and the players, he believes.

“I’m ready to fill whatever roles that I need to or whatever the team needs in order for us to win,” Williams said.