YORK — All eyes were on Ivory Latta when the WNBA Washington Mystics opened a new season against the Tulsa Shock in a nationally televised Memorial Day game.
The former York Comprehensive High School star and all-time career scoring leader in South Carolina was signed by the Mystics as a free agent by Washington head coach Mike Thibault.
Against Tulsa, where she played the past three years and led the team in scoring last season, Latta scored a career-high 27 points.
Her two free throws with 16.2 seconds left in overtime sealed the win, with the Mystics prevailing 95-90.
YCHS coaching legend Arsonia Stroud — who elevated the flamboyant point guard to varsity status after several “breakout” games with the York seventh-grade team — was Latta’s mentor during a six-year tenure with the varsity Lady Cougars.
Stroud, who coaches the eighth-grade girls’ team at York Middle School, understands what Latta is all about, on and off the court.
“Ivory gives and gives and gives,” the veteran coach said of Latta’s penchant for reaching out to those in dire need and supporting worthy causes. “There’s a lot more to Ivory than her clothing and shoe line.
“People need to know that side of Ivory; it’s her roots.”
Stroud referred to Latta’s work ethic during a storied high school career.
“Ivory has God-given talent and her work ethic is second to none,” Stroud said. “She trains harder than any athlete I’ve coached. She has paid the price to be where she is today.”
Tulsa paid the price for allowing Latta to slip from its grasp in the season-opening loss to the Mystics. There was a sequence with the game on the line where Latta converted a 4-point play and followed with another 3-point shot from beyond the arc.
Thibault believes Latta is the ideal player to take advantage of rule changes that have pushed the WNBA’s three-point line back from 20 feet, 6.25 inches to the international standard of 22 feet, 1.75 inches.
The 5-fooot-6 bundle of energy didn’t disappoint in the season opener, nailing crucial shots from 3-point land. Latta, 28, has become the face of a Mystics team striving for identity after last year’s disappointing season.
During her college career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Latta was a playmaker in the mold of Allen Iverson. With her speed, three-point range and infectious persona, she became a national icon and a Sports Center favorite.
Latta guided the tradition-rich Tar Heels to the first of two consecutive Final Fours in 2006, joining future Mystics teammates Crystal Langhorne (Maryland) and Monique Currie (Duke).
But in a loss to the Terrapins in the national semifinals, Latta injured her knee, dropping her to No. 11 in the 2007 WNBA draft.
After her rookie season she was traded from Detroit to Atlanta, then released before the start of the 2009 season. She was re-signed in July only to be released again in March 2010.
Next came a three-year tenure with the Tulsa Shock before landing in Washington, D.C., a major market that was appealing to the YCHS grad.
The Mystics fell to the Atlanta Dream 73-63 in Sunday’s home opener.
Latta made her presence felt despite the loss, scoring 14 points and dishing out seven assists.
The Mystics travel to Connecticut Friday for a 7 p.m. game and return home Saturday to face Minnesota in a 7 p.m. matchup.
All Mystics home games will be televised by the Monumental Network for D.C. area viewers.
Latta fans in York and surrounding areas can go to www.washingtonmystics.com for information about Ivory and the Mystics team.