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Alana Beard focused on life and WNBA

Alana Beard can tell you the date she last played a competitive basketball game: Dec. 22, 2009, in Poland. She can recite exactly what kind of rehab she did for her injured ankle, and for how many hours a day during the nearly 17 months since her last competition.

For that matter, she could probably tell you precisely how much her last grocery bill was, because that's how her mind works. Beard is about the details, about making things add up.

She likes to mentor younger players -- she has plenty of opportunity for that with the Washington Mystics and with youth teams she sponsors in Maryland and her home state of Louisiana -- but she has no plans to coach. She intends to be a business owner someday, and she's not waiting to figure that out when basketball is over.

Beard turns 29 on Saturday, and if her ankle is able to hold up, she'll continue in her sport for a while. However, she's not going to be caught by surprise when basketball is over for her. She's planning ahead while keeping her connections strong to the past and with those who've aided her from her days as a shy kid out of Louisiana, to becoming a program legend at Duke.

"From October to the beginning of January, I did an internship with the CEO of Jamba Juice in San Francisco," Beard said of her activity over the past several months. "First I'd drive to do my rehab at 6 a.m. every morning, then go to work.

"Then I spent six weeks at Duke, just getting back to what I know with some of the people who helped me so much when I was there. And I spent a week at Texas with the [former Duke] coaches. Gail Goestenkors, Gale Valley, Shaeeta Williams, they are my family; they watched me grow. Do you remember my freshman year? I barely spoke. They are a huge piece of the woman I've grown to be."

For Beard, coming back to the sport at the level she wants to be at is still a process. Members of the U.S national team and hopeful prospects just concluded a training camp this week in Las Vegas, and there was a time when Beard would have been in that group. But right now, she's just trying to return to something close to the player who averaged 16.2 points during her first six WNBA seasons.

"I have to continue to figure out what works and what doesn't," Beard said. "Like, can I go four or five days straight and feel OK? Or if I go five days, then do I have to take off two days?

"I see progress. My movement on the court, my jumping, my speed was different even three weeks ago. I'm not saying I'm going to be 100 percent when this season starts. But I feel it coming back now."

Beard had dealt with several ankle injuries over the years, and suffered another near the end of the 2009 WNBA season. Then she was sidelined while playing overseas in December 2009. She figured she could make it back for the WNBA last summer, but hurt her left ankle once more in April 2010.

"I think it was just one too many ankle sprains," Beard said. "I was working out individually with Julie [Plank, the former Mystics coach]. The trainer and I treated it like a normal sprain, and about a week later I was back on the court. But then I went to sprint, and it was like the most unbearable pain I've ever felt.

"We went and got an MRI, and it was a torn posterior tibial tendon. I didn't rupture it, but it was still a tear, which is pretty severe."

Indeed, as that tendon is one of the major supporting structures of the foot. It's the kind of injury that can end careers. For Beard, who's also had hamstring and shoulder injuries during her WNBA career but still played throughout six full seasons, this was the greatest physical challenge she's faced.

However, she didn't let it get her down emotionally. The Mystics ended up winning the Eastern Conference last season, and she did what she could to aid that accomplishment.

"I couldn't play, so there was nothing I could do about that," she said. "I focused on other things to put my mind in a good place. It was hard sitting on the bench, but I wanted to help my teammates out as much as I could. I tried to give to them, and I was happy with how their season turned out.

"I felt like their growth was going to help my return be easier. I want to play like I've always played, but at the same time, I know that we have a better core now."

In particular, Beard took Marissa Coleman under her wing. She also encouraged Coleman's former Maryland teammate Crystal Langhorne, along with Rutgers graduate Matee Ajavon. Beard saw a lot of things she liked with the development of the team.

Of course, since this is the Mystics we're talking about, there was still drama and upheaval despite the success of last season. Plank and general manager Angela Taylor departed in apparent disagreement with the franchise, and Trudi Lacey came in to take over both roles.

Beard's former Duke teammate, Monique Currie, suffered an ACL injury in January and is out for this WNBA season. Currie had one of her best pro seasons last year, averaging 14.1 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Then it became known that guards Lindsey Harding and Katie Smith both wanted to leave D.C. Lacey made trades that accommodated their wishes but also got the Mystics talent in return.

Harding went to Atlanta for rookie center Ta'Shia Phillips and veteran guard Kelly Miller, along with an exchange of 2012 draft picks. Smith and second-year player Jacinta Monroe went to Seattle, with rookie Jasmine Thomas and a 2012 pick coming to Washington.

The Mystics also traded with Minnesota to get post player Nicky Anosike, adding to Washington's young and dynamic interior game.

Are there still a lot of question marks for Washington, especially in regard to point guard? Yes. But Beard is looking at it all positively, which is probably the best way to deal with things for someone who's spent seven years in the Mystics organization.

"I roll with the punches," Beard said, frankly. "Obviously, yeah, I've had six coaches in seven seasons. So … I adjust. In some ways, I've become numb to it.

"If you want to win championships, I do think you have to build some stability. I hope with Trudi coming in, that's going to be the start of our stability. I love what she's about and what she's done so far."

We've heard this before in regard to the Mystics, and it's easy -- actually, it's almost required -- to be cynical about this organization. But the moves Lacey has made, so far, actually all seem to be for the best.

"I'm excited about this team. It's the first time we've had a frontcourt like we have this year," Beard said. "A lot of people may not expect us to be good, but we have a lot of hard-working players. It makes me think all the work I've been putting in is not going to waste, because I know my teammates are working just as hard. And that we're going to have a special season this year."

Beard is still hoping for a chance at a WNBA championship. But that's not all she thinks about in terms of what she's getting from being in the league. She's told younger players such as Coleman and Ajavon to become involved with youth teams as a way to not just help the kids, but to keep growing themselves.

"These young girls want people to look up to," Beard said. "It's not just about lending your name, but really being involved with these kids -- teaching them they can get to where you are if they work hard and try to take advantage of your opportunities."

And, of course, showing them how to take the ups and downs without getting too up or too down.

"I love it when kids or younger players come up to me," Beard said, "and they say, 'How do you do this or that?' It really puts a smile on my face."