Reporting David Elfin
When Crystal Langhorne, an All-American forward from Willingboro, N.J., committed to play basketball at Maryland in 2003, Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs had yet to return to the Redskins, Alex Ovechkin was playing amateur hockey in Moscow, the Wizards had yet to acquire Antawn Jamison, and the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos.
Just about everything has changed in Washington sports since Langhorne debuted with the Terps in November 2004. That’s when Sean Taylor and Chris Cooley were the Redskins’ top rookies, the Capitals were locked out along with the rest of the NHL, the Nats had announced they were ending the 33 baseball-less years in the nation’s capital, and the Wizards were headed to the franchise’s first playoff berth in eight years.
Taylor’s murder was nearly six years ago. Cooley’s NFL career is seemingly history. The Caps have endured another lockout. The Nats have a five-year-old stadium and a division title. The Wizards have changed coaches three times and turned over their entire roster.
However, Langhorne, now in her sixth season with the WNBA’s Mystics, remains. So it’s appropriate that she wears No. 1.
“That makes me feel old,” Langhorne said, laughing, knowing that she won’t turn 27 until October. “I’ve been in the area forever.”
Unlike Ovechkin, who arrived in Washington as a draft pick, Langhorne chose to come to the area, picking Maryland’s rebuilding program over those from powerhouse Connecticut, Florida and Virginia because of coach Brenda Frese.
“I really believed in coach B’s vision,” said Langhorne, the first male or female player in Maryland history to score 2,000 points and pull down 1,000 rebounds. “She had changed Minnesota around and I felt she could do the same at Maryland. Plus the school had great academics and a great social life.”
Langhorne helped fulfill Frese’s vision, helping lead the Terps to the NCAA title as a sophomore in 2006. Drafted by the Mystics with the sixth selection in the 2008 draft, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Langhorne came off the bench as a rookie but has been a starter ever since.
“My first year was really hard because I had to change my game to play better at this level,” Langhorne said. “I had to shoot more from the outside. When I started doing that, I was more confident.”
Indeed, Langhorne was voted the WNBA’s Most Improved Player in 2009. However, that improvement wasn’t reflected in her team’s performance. Washington reached postseason in just three of Langhorne’s five full years and has yet to win a playoff game. She has endured four coaching changes and a similar number of switches of general managers.
“You’re kind of rebuilding every year and once you start rebuilding, it’s not going to happen right away,” Langhorne said. “I guess I’m still here because I can adjust to change.”
Evidently. Her statistics for this season – 30.2 minutes, .570 shooting percentage, 6.7 rebounds per game, 13.7 points per game — are remarkably similar to her career averages – 29.1, .568, 7.1, 13.1.
“My coaches have always talked about my consistency, that I never get too high and I never get too low,” Langhorne said. “I pride myself on being consistent.”
That’s not the adjective that describes this year’s Mystics, who raced off to a 4-1 start, lost five straight and have since won two in a row at home heading into tonight’s game at Chicago. At 6-6, Washington has already matched or surpassed its victory totals of the past two years.
“We started the season with a different mentality because [coach Mike Thibault, who became the WBNA’s all-time victory leader this past Saturday] told us to forget about the past,” Langhorne said. “We added some key pieces which helped. Our West Coast trip was pretty tough, but the way we played [in our first game back home] against Tulsa showed what we can do. Every player’s goal is to win a championship so I’m going to try to ride this thing out for a while.”
While Langhorne has endured so many losses in a Washington uniform, she has experienced team success as a pro. Like a majority of WNBA players, she spends the offseasons playing in Europe. This spring, she won the FIBA Euro Cup championship as a member of Dynamo Moscow, a team run by Ovechkin’s mother, Tatyana and also starring Langhorne’s Maryland teammate Kristi Tolliver.
“I only know a few words in Russian, but my [native] teammates helped us order food and things like that,” said Langhorne, who has also played for teams in Lithuania and Spain and will head to Turkey in October. “The money’s better overseas and we have a great time. I’ve gotten to see so many countries.”
But as the Mystics, who are 4-2 at Verizon Center and 2-4 on the road, can attest, there’s no place like home. Especially for Langhorne, Washington’s longest-tenured athlete.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin