The Quiet Intensity of Alana Beard
Beard’s humble confidence has Mystics on the rise.
by Ben York
It feels odd to say Alana Beard is one of the most underrated players in the WNBA today.
She’s been selected to the All-Star team four times and named to the WNBA All-Defensive Team four times. At Duke, Beard was the first women’s player to have her number retired, their first National Player of the Year, and the first woman ever to win the John R. Wooden Trophy, State Farm Wade Trophy, and the Naismith Player of the Year Award in the same year. In the 2009 WNBA season alone, Beard set single-game career highs in points (31), field goals made (12), free-throws made (11), rebounds (9), assists (8), and minutes played (42).
And yet, incredibly, she still is undervalued for being one of the best (and most complete) players in the league.
The reason? Her unselfish attitude and attention-deflecting demeanor.
Make no mistake about it, Beard is as intense as they come; she just doesn’t always make it known to the outside world or verbalize it like college rival, Diana Taurasi. Instead, Beard summons a quiet strength to lead the Mystics year after year.
Alana is somewhat hesitant and shy to talk about herself and her impact on the game. It’s just not her style. She’d rather talk about facets of her game she can improve or the areas the Mystics need her to get better at. Although she is well known as someone who takes as much pride in her defense as she does her offense, Beard is never content with her accomplishments to date.
“I have so much more that I can improve upon,” Beard said. “I love my jumper but I will shoot the three if you give it to me. But I know I need to become more consistent as a spot up shooter. The other thing I’m working on is a bank shot and a go-to move. I study Jamal Crawford and Dwyane Wade when they have those one-two steps, but they’re changing direction at the same time. I also study Kobe [Bryant]. I try to add something every year.”
Since entering the WNBA in 2004, Beard has emerged as a clear leader for the Mystics. However, what separates her from other captains is her constant desire to get better and lead by example. She’s without a doubt a “walk-the-walk” type of person who comes to work early and leaves late. It’s all part of a goal to become the most complete player in the game. Still, it’s not necessarily an individual aspiration or something that Alana can do on her own –she values what each and every teammate brings to the table.
“Being a complete player year in and year out is what I prepare myself for,” Beard said. “It definitely stems from me becoming a player who is more familiar with the game but I think the most important thing is we had players who came in and made the game so much easier. Crystal Langhorne had a great year and when we brought in Lindsey Harding, the game becomes pretty easy with a point guard like her.”
Beard has shown an ability to play virtually any position on the court. That versatility has isn’t anything new to Beard; it’s the type of player she’s always been.
“That’s what I work on and it’s part of my foundation,” said Beard. “I started in high school and had a coach that stressed the importance of both defense and offense. It’s important for me not to be a one-dimensional player. I can play the 1, 2, 3, and if you want to put me at the 4 I can do that too. It’s very, very important to me to be a complete player.”
Perhaps what is most amazing about Beard is her durability. In six years in the WNBA, she’s never played less than 30 games in a season and was hard pressed to think of any games she missed at Duke. Part of being a leader is playing through some of the nagging injuries she’s had and you’ll never hear Alana complaining about having to continually shoulder such a big load.
“That’s one area I need to get better at,” Beard said. “I’ll push through any injury. If I can still walk and jog I’m going to be out there on the court. It’s just the person I am. But I need to get better at learning my body and not pushing through some of the more serious injuries.”
She was even voted by her teammates (actually, every single one of them) as the player who spends the most time in the training room getting worked on. Again, it’s part of that humble confidence that Alana has combined with the desire to set a high standard of excellence for her teammates. If Alana is working that hard, that type of mentality will undoubtedly filter throughout the rest of the team.
“I’m always in the training room with the trainer working on something on my body,” Beard said. “I want to be 100 percent at all times, even without rest. So I’m always in there getting treatment whether it’s ultrasound, ice, whatever it may be. When the girls come to practice in the morning I’m already there getting my treatment on the table.”
In 2009, the Mystics finished with a 16-18 record and made the playoffs against the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Though it was a short series for Washington (Indiana advanced in two games) the Mystics learned a lot from the experience to help the young team compete in the future. Each game of the series was hard fought and affirmed the Mystics belief that if they play how they are capable of, they can become an elite team in the WNBA.
“We learned that we can play with any team in this league,” Beard said. “Indiana was in the Finals and could’ve easily won that series too. But we don’t want to just compete, we want to beat teams and I think we’re working towards that as a whole. Angela Taylor and Julie Plank have done an unbelievable job of bringing everything together and getting the most out of every single player. This is the first time I’ve been a part of this since I’ve been with the Mystics where the standards are so high you don’t have any other choice but to rise to the occasion and get better.”
In spite of falling short of her goal as a player to win a WNBA Championship, Beard acknowledged the importance of 2009 for the WNBA. After six seasons in the league, Alana sees an encouraging trend in terms of reaching a level of respect for what she and her fellow WNBA players do for women across the globe.
“I honestly do think it was a turning point,” Beard said. “You see more and more articles written about the WNBA and that we are turning a corner. 2009 was just an unbelievable season. There is a lot of parity between in the league and any team can beat another team on a given night. Usually I never watch the Finals but I watched them in 2009 and they gave us what a lot of people want to see. It’s a great sign.”
Not surprisingly, Beard has no intentions or desires of being known as the greatest player of all time. That type of individual recognition isn’t as important to her as being known for having uncompromising work ethic. She’d rather be respected and appreciated as a person who gave their all on the court and was an even better human being off the court.
“I’m the type of person that I like to do things for people and it’s not to get an award or recognition,” Beard said. “I’m the type of person that I just like to stay in the background. I’m shy and low-key but everything I do for others comes from my heart. I have three AAU teams here in D.C. and two teams in Shreveport, Louisiana. I like to give what I didn’t have growing up; I didn’t have the opportunity to be on an AAU team and get noticed by colleges. I just happened to get noticed by a few teams. I want to give back and give girls an outlet to showcase their talent.”
Beard is an invaluable asset to the Mystics organization and for the WNBA as a whole. The example she sets on a daily basis for others is what the league prides itself on. Beard has worked for everything she’s attained and has no intentions of slowing down.
“Its cliché, but I just want to be known as a hard worker and that I didn’t back down from anyone,” Beard said. “I may not achieve every goal I set for myself, but I worked my butt off to know that it at least would be possible. I come in the gym every day and try and set the tone. I give everything I have on the court and never want to take a day off of practice, games, any of it. That’s what is most important to me.”