Shakira Austin was ESPN's No. 4 overall prospect coming out of Riverdale Baptist High School. She spent her first two college seasons at the University of Maryland, breaking the school's single-season blocks record with 89, making the 2019 All-Big Ten Freshman team, 2019 All-Big Ten Defensive team, and 2020 Second Team All-Big Ten. Austin then decided to leave this stacked Maryland team and transfer to Ole Miss, which brought on questions and doubts from many, including her father who wanted her to stay in a big market. The risk paid off, with Austin leading Ole Miss back to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 seasons. She was named First Team All-SEC twice during her time here and was the only player in the conference to finish the regular season within the top 15 in the SEC in field goal percentage, scoring, blocks, rebounding, steals, and free throw shooting.
Austin had the opportunity to return home to the DMV when she was selected third overall by the Washington Mystics. The Mystics initially had the number one pick in the draft but traded to acquire the third and 14th pick. This was a controversial move causing debate about if it was a good decision to give up the potential to draft a player like Rhyne Howard or NaLyssa Smith. Once again, Austin has silenced people’s concerns, fitting in perfectly to the team and leading all rookies with a +/- of 3.86. Her contributions have been crucial to the fifth-seeded Mystics with two-time MVP Elena Delle-Donne in and out of the lineup. Ariel Atkins praised how Austin's stepped up for them, saying that the team wouldn’t be where they are without her. Initially only starting on Delle-Donne's rest days, Austin's incredible performances have earned her a steady spot in the starting lineup. "I think this was from day one the best opportunity for me," said Austin on falling to the Mystics in the draft. "For them to trust me with a role like I have just, you know, just felt great."
What stands out most about Austin’s game is her defense, with Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault deeming her a lock for the All-Defensive team in her future. She brings incredible energy, hustling night in and night out to be disruptive. “That’s what gets me hype,” she said about getting big defensive plays. She has had 25 games of 5+ rebounds, the most of any rookie this year.
Rui Machida played for Japan in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, winning silver in 2020. She caught the eyes of many when she set an Olympic record of 18 assists in the semi-final win against France. However, Thibault and the Mystics had been scouting her for years prior, and the time finally came to be able to sign her for the 2022 season.
"She is one of the most dynamic point guards in the world and perfectly fits our style of play,” said Thibault. “She pushes the tempo offensively and creates great opportunities for her teammates both in transition and in the half court." Despite the language barrier, Machida was quick to learn plays, being described as a "sponge" by teammates Elizabeth Williams and Delle-Donne. "Rui just shows up every single day, she's here super early, she's always here late working on her game," said Delle-Donne. "I can't imagine what it would feel like to not know the language and then have to play point guard, but Rui does it and does it so well." She is currently averaging 2.41 assists in 12 and a half minutes played per game.
It’s clear with the way players light up each time they are asked about her, that Machida has been quickly embraced and had her impact felt in D.C. "My favorite thing about Rui is that no matter what she comes in with a smile on her face," said Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Williams added that Machida's energy is "infectious." The Mystics held Japanese Heritage day on July 17th where the team sported exclusive Machida-themed T-Shirts. The only player not in one was Machida herself, saying she "couldn't wear that" but was happy to see her teammates doing so. "I didn't want to take her shirt off today," laughed Walker-Kimbrough during postgame media. "Being able to celebrate her, I'm proud of it and proud to wear her shirt during warm-ups."
It's clear that Machida has become a fan favorite as well. At any game, whether home or away, you're sure to see fans there specifically for her, taking their cameras out each time she steps onto the court and holding up posters to show their support. In the Mystics' recent game against the Las Vegas Aces, "Rui" chants broke out at Entertainment and Sports Arena as she made a layup to end the third quarter.
Guard Evina Westbrook grew up around the game of basketball, with her father coaching and brother playing. She played as the only girl on a local boys AAU team up until high school when she played for the South Salem High School girls varsity team. She led the team to back-to-back state titles and was named a Naismith All-American, McDonald's All-American, and a two-time Gatorade Oregon Girls Player of the Year. Westbrook spent her first two college seasons at the University of Tennessee before transferring to the University of Connecticut, saying that "off-the-court stuff" needed to be handled at Tennessee. In her senior year at UConn, she averaged 9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, and was named to the 2022 BIG EAST All-Tournament Team.
She was drafted 21st overall by the Seattle Storm but was waived before the start of the regular season. Westbrook then played 14 games for the Minnesota Lynx before heading to the Washington Mystics, who signed her to a rest-of-season contract. She's had little playing time here so far, but she certainly made it count during the Mystics' most recent game against the Chicago Sky where she scored a career-high 10 points in eight minutes.