McCoughtry is living the Dream as a star in WNBA, Europe

Baltimore's McCoughtry a star in WNBA, Europe

February 14, 2010|By Ken Murray |

After 12 hours in the air, after starting in Slovakia and passing through Prague and Amsterdam, and after waking up at 4 a.m., Angel McCoughtry could be excused for not knowing exactly where she was Friday.

She had spent most of a day traveling to Dallas to represent the WNBA in this weekend's NBA All-Star festivities, one of 13 players from the women's league chosen to join the elite of pro basketball. It was an honor bestowed upon the Baltimore native after just one season with the Atlanta Dream, that following a dream career at the University of Louisville.

Know this, though: McCoughtry is in the big time now, and no amount of sleep deprivation could deny that fact. When she awoke Friday, she knew she had come a long way from her Northwood neighborhood roots in Baltimore. There was no need to pinch herself for a reality check.

"No, because I worked too hard for this," she said by cell phone.

McCoughtry, 23, adapted smoothly to life as a pro after setting scoring and rebounding records at Louisville and carrying the Cardinals to the NCAA championship game. She even enjoys the lifestyle of world traveler while playing for Slovakia's Dobri Anjeli team.

"I love it," she said. "I feel like Michael Jackson. It's a lot of fun. It's great to see different coaches and learn from them, so I can come back and tell my younger sisters what to expect. It's a great experience, especially at a young age."

McCoughtry will hustle through a whirlwind weekend in Dallas. She started Friday by participating in the NBA Community Caravan, a program that sent some 1,500 members of both leagues across North Texas to create or refurbish playgrounds, schools and homes. She later played in an All-Star celebrity game Friday.

On Saturday, after a newsmaker breakfast with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, McCoughtry was scheduled to visit with Make-A-Wish children at Reunion Arena. She then competed in the Haier Shooting Stars event in the evening, teaming with current Atlanta Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson and former Hawks All-Star Steve Smith.

And, after brunch with NBA legends today, she'll attend the NBA All-Star game at Cowboys Stadium as part of the largest crowd ever to see a basketball game.

Just as the NBA enlisted McCoughtry to help showcase All-Star Week, the Dream is banking she will sell women's basketball in Atlanta. McCoughtry was the first pick in the WNBA draft last April and was named Rookie of the Year in October. Teaming with Chamique Holdsclaw and Izianne Castro Marques, McCoughtry not only helped drive the second-year Dream to the playoffs after a 14-game turnaround, but also was named to the league's All-Defensive team.

On top of her production (12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.1 assists per game) is the icing: She has become a crowd favorite.

"People recognize her, people relate to her," said Marynell Meadors, coach and general manager of the Dream. "Little kids love to watch her play. Angel is the star waiting to happen.

"I don't know how many second-year players get the opportunity to do what she's doing. Everybody in the league recognizes her potential and her strength. Down deep she's a shy person, but she's getting more extroverted every day."

McCoughtry, 6 feet 1, played shooting guard, small forward and power forward for the Dream, but her best position is small forward.

"That puts her on the weak side of the defense, where she can anticipate passes, intercept passes and go score," Meadors said. "She gets better every single day. She's going to be a great player. Whatever it takes, she finds a way to get it done."

McCoughtry played for St. Frances in East Baltimore before spending one year at Patterson School, a prep school in Lenoir, N.C. All through her career, she knew where she was going in basketball, and that, she says, is why she has handled the transition so well.

"This is what I like to do," she said. "When you have something you really love to do, you don't let hype get to you or take the fun out of it. Once you lose the fun and the love, then you let it get to your head and you start to lose focus."

In Slovakia, Candice Dupree (Temple, Chicago Sky) and McCoughtry formed a solid 1-2 punch that lifted Dobri Anjeli to a first-round upset in the Euroleague tournament. (McCoughtry will return to play Candace Parker and the Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg in the quarterfinals.) She also was named Most Valuable Player of the Ekaterinburg International Invitational as a member of the U.S. women's senior national team.

McCoughtry added the dunk to her game in Slovakia and has enjoyed playing in Europe.

"Slovakia is a very nice country," she said. "People here love basketball, especially women's basketball. We are treated like NBA players; that's why I love it so much. They appreciate our game."

Meadors doesn't worry that McCoughtry will get distracted by the limelight, thanks to the job done by her parents, Roi and Sharon McCoughtry.

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