A year ago, the Washington Mystics were swept in the WNBA Finals by the Seattle Storm.
With Storm stars Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart both out the entire season with major injuries, the Mystics are poised to finish the job when this year’s postseason begins Sept. 11.
Though she’s not yet the face of the franchise, Mystics guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough remains a fan favorite, primarily because of her sterling career at nearby University of Maryland in College Park, where she led the Terrapins to two Final Four appearances, a combined 127-17 record and six Big Ten regular-season and conference tournament championships.
Her college dominance led to the Mystics selecting her sixth overall in the 2017 WNBA draft. And with the leadership of WNBA All-Star guard Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics now have high hopes of winning this year’s title.
When asked how a six-foot slightly-built young lady learned high-level basketball skills in her hometown of Aliquippa, Pa. — where football rules — Walker-Kimbrough, 24, vividly recalls her mother reciting a story about her toddler girl wearing a dress, dribbling a basketball outside of church on Sunday mornings.
“I’ve always enjoyed the game, since age 3, and mostly played with the best boys in my neighborhood to hone my skills,” she said.
The hoop court dubbed “the dump,” on Griffith Street behind her Mount Vernon public housing community, is where she earned her stripes and a toughness that has propelled her. She also plays in Budapest during the off-season.
Aliquippa, a Pittsburgh suburb that birthed gridiron greats Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Ty Law and Darrelle Revis, is a high school football hotbed, yet Walker-Kimbrough bucked the trend as the top female athlete from the small, steel-city town known as “The ‘Quips.” She starred at track, volleyball and hoops at neighboring Hopewell High School. Hopewell and Aliquippa share neighboring school district borders within the Mount Vernon apartments.
She credits good genes, family and civic pride as characteristics that have ignited her success.
“My mother [Andrea Kimbrough] is my biggest hero,” she said. “She sacrificed to make sure I was always at practice, and so much more.”
Her father, Vance Walker, is a former star Aliquippa athlete. Her uncle, Craedel Kimbrough, owns a workout facility in Aliquippa and her mother’s uncle, the late Mike Kimbrough, was the heralded blocking fullback for Dorsett at her alma mater Hopewell.
In the Mystics locker room, she reflected on her good fortune.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” she said. “I look to my right and I see [Delle Donne], the best player in the WNBA, and I play for the best team in the league. It’s very surreal.”
The slight, 5-11, 140-pounder admits larger-sized opponents often try to intimidate her, “but I use my speed, quickness and intellect to counteract.”
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault looks to Walker-Kimbrough as a reliable leader off the bench, especially after an early-season injury to starting guard Kristi Toliver.
Walker-Kimbrough also credits fellow Pittsburgh-area native and WNBA veteran Trina Wright, who attended West Mifflin High and was likewise a Big Ten star at Penn State.
“We’re from different eras, but we’re aware of one another,” Walker-Kimbrough said.
In advising young women athletes from the DMV, Pennsylvania and other regions, Walker-Kimbrough quickly states, “Dream big, keep working hard — and consistently keep grinding.”