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Washington's Ivory is more precious than Gold

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It's no secret that Ivory Latta plays the game of basketball with passion, but it's her combination of passion and strategy that will help make the Mystics a WNBA Finals contender.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Washington, D.C. -- Any women's basketball fan will be familiar with the play of the Washington Mystics Ivory Latta. The 5'6" point guard is one of the most impassioned players in the league. Even before her WNBA days, she was one of the most passionate players in college basketball while at the University of North Carolina.

Latta has faced her share of adversities, whether it be injury or not always being guaranteed a spot in the starting five. However, it's clear that she appreciates any role that she is given on this Mystics team, and makes the most of it when her number is called.

As Sunday's game against Atlanta started, Latta gave fist bumps to everyone before making her way out to center court. To watch Latta play is like watching a concentrated ball of energy.

She beats everyone down the court on defense. She gets most excited on offense, not for herself, but for her teammates. During Sunday's loss to the Dream, Kia Vaughn had a key and-one lay-in. Her most enthusiastic teammate was without a doubt, Latta.

While it's clear that Latta plays with passion, there is also a level-headedness about her that can only come from eight years as a WNBA veteran. While she does get fired up playing defense or after hitting a crucial shot, she also is, of course, a key leader while on the court.

Latta calls out the Mystics' defensive schemes. She directs other players while on offense and moves smartly without the ball. And she helps inspire other players while at the same time knowing when to calm them down.

For example, on Sunday, her teammate Tierra Ruffin-Pratt got a bit heated, Latta pulled her aside and prevented any potential scuffle that could have been brewing. That's not to say that Latta herself doesn't play with personality.

In a game against Chicago on August 23rd, Latta nailed a three-pointer in front of the Chicago bench, held her follow through, and stared down the bench before running back on defense.

Latta says, though, that finding the balance between playing passionately and keeping a level head is just something that has been ingrained in her, and it's all she has ever really known.

"You just got to; this is how I've been playing my whole life," she said. "You just got to. And my love for the game is extremely high, sometimes honestly I don't even know how I do it either but I just find a way. I find a way."

And it's clear that while Latta expects a lot from herself, her head coach, Mike Thibault, expects just as much, especially during playoffs.

"I'm expecting her to be great because we need her to be great," Thibault said after the loss to Atlanta on Sunday. "She hates to lose; she's high energy. For us, during this rough stretch that we've had these past couple of weeks, I've thought she's been our most consistent player. And particularly with Kara [Lawson]'s injury we've really had to lean on her a lot.

"We're gonna need that going into the playoffs. ... her shooting and her assists and her energy."

While Latta is obviously focused on her own play and leading her team, she did have some wishes about the locker room sentiment that she hopes to establish in D.C.

"You've gotta lock in. You've gotta be locked in at all times. Play calling, defensive schemes, just simple things. Out of bounds plays, what certain players do ... you've just gotta lock in. It's the playoffs, baby."

Latta doesn't just play hard; she plays smart—, and that is what sets her apart as a top player in the league, and what makes her an integral part of the Mystics roster. With Latta at the helm, Washington may be able to put together an unforgettable playoff run. And it's clear from talking to her that she could not be more excited about Washington's upcoming opportunity.

"Going to the playoffs is what I call the money time. You have to get ready. It's an exciting time. We worked hard to get in this position, but we're not going to get complacent just making the playoffs. So we gotta stay focused, and they're a great team so we just gotta be ready...We're happy man. It's a great time," Latta told reporters while flashing her signature grin.

It's clear that Latta means what she says. Despite a disappointing end to the regular season, she will no doubt be ready to go come Friday night.