April 21, 2022 

What Christyn Williams’ injury means for the 2022 Mystics

Williams to miss season; Katie Benzan signed

Last September, Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault called the 2021 season the most injury-riddled he’s had in 50 years of coaching. Unfortunately, the ghosts of seasons past have haunted the opening days of Mystics training camp.

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Anticipated starters Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark are still working their way back from injuries that cost them all but 52 minutes of the 2021 season, and on Wednesday, the team announced that rookie Christyn Williams will miss the entire 2022 season with a knee injury that will require surgery.

“You guys need a [sic] exorcism,” someone told the Mystics on Twitter. “This is not cool two years in a row.”

Williams, a soon-to-be UConn graduate, was the No. 14 pick in the draft less than two weeks ago, and she was expected to add depth to a Mystics team that has championship aspirations. The two-time All-Big East First Team selection and 2022 Ann Meyers Drysdale National Shooting Guard of the Year averaged 14.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 33.8 minutes per game as a senior for the Huskies.

“I’m super excited,” Williams told reporters on Monday before her first WNBA practice. “I’m a rookie, so I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m just happy to be here and along for the ride.”

Williams suffered no major injuries in college and missed only four games in as many seasons, but her first professional season ended essentially before it began. The injury occurred in one of the Mystics’ first two practices, based on reporting by ESPN’s Alexa Philippou and the timing of the Mystics’ announcement.

“We are heartbroken for Christyn and will miss her greatly,” Thibault said in the team’s announcement. “She was off to a terrific start in training camp, and I know she will work diligently to make a comeback next season. She will have our full support and all of our resources during her rehab. She is part of the Mystics family.”

The UConn women’s basketball program also rallied behind Williams, writing on Twitter and Instagram, “We’re absolutely gutted for Christyn. We’ve got your back through your recovery – we know you’ll come back stronger than ever.” Sophomore Paige Bueckers tweeted, “Comeback story is going to be CRAZY,” followed by praying and fingers crossed emojis.

“God got me. Love y’all,” Williams replied to UConn’s Instagram post.

UConn guard Christyn Williams (left) defends South Carolina guard Zia Cooke in a game at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina, on Feb. 10, 2020. (Photo credit: Mitchell Northam)

Williams’ injury leaves the Mystics in an interesting spot when it comes to depth, which was a persistent problem last season amid all the injuries but something that the Mystics focused on in the offseason and considered a strength entering the 2022 season. Thibault said immediately after the draft that Williams, like fellow rookie Shakira Austin, would likely begin the season behind more established players on the depth chart. That’s because the Mystics are deep at guard and on the wing: The probable starting backcourt includes three All-Defensive players in Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins and Clark, and Japanese Olympian Rui Machida and 2019 WNBA champion Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are expected to contribute off the bench.

In that sense, the plan could stay largely the same: Williams watches and learns from the sideline and doesn’t contribute on the court. But giving Williams one of just 11 roster spots carries significant risk, especially if Delle Donne and/or Clark aren’t 100% by the start of the season.

“Obviously [injuries have] been such a big thing hanging over our head,” Thibault said on Monday before Williams’ injury. “When you’ve had key players for two years now [out] with injuries and illnesses and everything else, it takes a toll, both physically for your team and mentally on everybody else.”

“We still have a lot to manage as we get into the season with those who have been hurt,” he added, revealing that Delle Donne and Clark were only participating in about two-thirds of practice to open training camp and are unlikely to play in the team’s first exhibition game against Atlanta on April 24.

Given the Mystics’ ghosts of injuries past, then, Thibault might have to cut Williams to ensure he has enough healthy players, as much as he seemed loath to do that in his statement on Wednesday. That could open up a roster spot for a guard such as Lee-Seul Kang—another 2020 Olympian, playing for South Korea—or allow Thibault to keep an extra frontcourt player such as Erica McCall or Megan Gustafson, both of whom are returners from 2021. He has not been afraid to deploy bigger lineups in his career, and with Delle Donne and Clark’s health uncertain, it may make sense to tilt the roster toward frontcourt depth.

In the short term, the Mystics also announced on Wednesday that they had signed guard Katie Benzan to a training camp contract, presumably to replace Williams in camp. Benzan went undrafted this year after playing three seasons at Harvard from 2016-19 and two seasons as a graduate transfer at Maryland from 2020-22. She holds the Harvard record for made 3-pointers—287, on 39.5% shooting—and the Maryland record for career 3-point shooting percentage at 47.4%. But she likely has only an outside shot to make the final roster, given that she wasn’t one of the team’s initial invites to training camp.

The Mystics will forge ahead with training camp in the wake of Williams’ injury, with their first exhibition game mere days away. But ahead of the next practice, they may also want to cleanse the Entertainment and Sports Arena with sage, sprinkle it with salt or, failing that, sign a Ghostbuster to a training camp contract.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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