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Mohegan — The second half was about to begin at Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game, and Ivory Latta was standing in front of the East bench, waving her arms and cajoling the crowd to cheer.
Late in the third quarter, Latta responded to a 3-pointer by the West's Maya Moore with one of her own, prompting her to hop up-and-down as she backpedaled down the court.
"This is how I've always been," Latta beamed. "I've always had a lot of energy."
Latta may not have been a familiar name for the casual fan before this season, but the point guard has changed both the Washington Mystics and the Eastern Conference culture.
Sure, Saturday's game belonged to Los Angeles' Candace Parker and the West All-Stars, who beat the East 102-98 before a sellout crowd of 9,323 at Mohegan Sun Arena. Parker had a game-high 23 points with 11 rebounds to earned MVP honors.
But no one had more fun than Latta. She and Chicago's Epiphanny Prince each scored a team-high 15 points for the East, and Latta did it with a perpetual and infectious smile.
Connecticut's Tina Charles (10 points, seven rebounds) and Allison Hightower (six points, four assists) also played for the East.
Latta, generously listed at 5-foot-6, has somehow managed to squeeze a 7-foot-4 personality into her frame. She went spastic during Friday's East practice after making a halfcourt shot to beat her teammates for a $100 prize. She's one part effervescent, one part human superball, and one part stone-cold shooter.
Latta has found a new WNBA home in Washington after bouncing around with three teams in her first six seasons, and she's helped the Mystics to a 9-9 record at the break.
A .500 record isn't cause for a parade, but it's a big deal in Washington, which won a combined 11 games over the previous two years.
"She's a great point guard," Washington's Crystal Langhorne, a fellow all-star, said. "We needed scoring, and that's what she does. She's given us a huge boost to the organization."
Latta has averaged 14.6 points this season. She's also among the 10 leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point shooting (40.2-percent).
"She has a very big personality," Langhorne said. "She's a good person. She's cool and a lot of fun to be around."
East coach Lin Dunn, who coached Indiana to the 2012 WNBA title, said, "Her energy is contagious. I think she's been a real key factor, actually two factors (for Washington). Them hiring Mike Thibault, who's such a great coach, and then him adding Latta to that team.
"There's no doubt she's the floor leader. She's probably the leader on-and-off the court with her energy. And she is a damn good ballplayer. She's really good in the pick-and-roll, the pick-and-pop. And if you back off her a step, she knocks down a three."
It wasn't easy for Latta in the beginning. She played for two of the worst teams in WNBA history - the 2008 Atlanta Dream (4-30), and the 2011 Tulsa Shock (3-31). She was cut by Atlanta before the 2010 season, was invited to Tulsa's training camp, but wasn't signed until midway through that year.
"It's been a rocky road, but at the same time, I didn't give up," Latta said. "I kept my faith in God. I just worked hard, and I made a lot of sacrifices. And all of the sudden, it seems like my whole life turned around in one year. A lot of things starting going well for me (this season)."
And she won $100 this weekend, too.
"I haven't done anything with it yet," Latta said with a laugh. "But I will do something with it (Saturday night)."
News and notes
• Former UConn stars Diana Taurasi and Moore (14 points, five rebounds) both started for the West. Lindsay Whalen, who played her first six seasons with Connecticut before being traded to Minnesota, scored eight. … It was announced at halftime that Dunn would enter the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame next June. "I'm absolutely thrilled," Dunn said. "Some of my very close personal friends and colleagues are already in. … To have the chance to join them is a real high point of my career." Dunn will be joined by Michelle Edwards, Mimi Griffin, Yolanda Griffith, Jasmina Perazik and Charlotte West.