By Charles Hallman
Wearing a visitors’ uniform in her hometown is nothing new for Tayler Hill. Although she wore the Washington Mystics’ red road colors in the August 8 game against Minnesota, the host crowd warmly greeted the Minneapolis South and Ohio State graduate as she entered the contest near the three-minute mark left in the opening quarter.
“The [Minnesota] fans never boo me,” says Hill. “I’ve always have been on opposite teams, and they still support me.”
The last time she talked with the MSR was a few hours after the Mystics selected her with their top pick (fourth overall) back in April. “We joked about it that she was the first draft of the other draft,” says Mystics Coach Mike Thibault on the Hill selection after the top three overall picks.
“Most of the rookies other than [Chicago’s Elena] Delle Donne have gone through a huge transition,” says Thibault. “There are big players every night in our league, and that was an adjustment for [Hill]. I told her if you just play good defense every night and pass the ball, the offensive part will come as you figure the league out.
“The other part is [that] I thought she put a ton of pressure on herself when she came in,” continues the coach. “We told her to relax — to turn this franchise around is not a one or two-person thing.”
Now past halfway through her first season, Hill is fifth among rookies in assists, sixth in scoring and eighth in minutes played per game. “I’m playing against the best players night in, night out. It can only get better,” she surmises. “It has been a dream of mine to play in the WNBA.”
Hill didn’t have much time to spend while visiting. “I was just with family,” she reports. “We went to my grandma’s house, had dinner as a family, and [saw] my friends. That was just about it.”
Laying it on the line
After being selected 11th overall in the 2007 WNBA Draft, Ivory Latta’s career pretty much resembled the WKRP in Cincinnati theme song: She’s bounced around, up and down as a pro.
“I finally have a coach who believes in me,” notes the 5’-6” point guard, now in her sixth year but her first in Washington, who signed her in February as a free agent after three
seasons with Tulsa, the team that originally drafted her when the Shock was in Detroit. After her rookie campaign, she was acquired by Atlanta and played there two seasons.
“I try to make the best out of every opportunity,” she says, “because I knew God had a plan for me. He [Thibault] wants me to succeed in this league as a point guard. It was like that in Carolina.” (Latta played at North Carolina.)
“What this team needed was a high-energy player,” notes Thibault, also in his first season in Washington. “I thought we needed a vocal leader with the ball in her hands.”
That type of confidence has translated into perhaps her best season ever, despite Latta last summer setting career highs in shooting, points and rebounds. She played in her first All-Star game last month and led the East in scoring as a reserve.
“I saw her get better the last three years,” adds Thibault. “When she first came into the league, she wasn’t ready.”
She also leads the team in scoring and assists, and in two wins over Washington this year, Latta scored 24 points in each contest.
“I lay it on the line every single night,” concludes the guard. “I’m very fortunate to be here.”
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