In­jury in past, McCoughtry faces another test

Bal­ti­more na­tive ea­ger to see what free agency has to of­fer

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

When An­gel McCoughtry was med­i­cally cleared this fall to re­sume play­ing bas­ket­ball, 456 days had passed since the last time she had par­tic­i­pated in a mean­ing­ful five-on-five com­pe­ti­tion.

So the Bal­ti­more na­tive and St. Frances grad­u­ate was un­der­stand­ably re­lieved to learn that the torn ACL and menis­cus in her left knee and bone bruise she suf­fered in an Atlanta Dream win against the Las Ve­gas Aces on Aug. 7, 2018, was not a ca­reerend­ing de­vel­op­ment.

“It was like, ‘Life is back again!’ ”

McCoughtry said re­cently. “It’s been a long jour­ney, and I’ve been out for more than a year, and I haven’t played any real bas­ket­ball. So I just can’t wait to get back out there. It was like a dream come true.”

The 6-foot-1, 173-pound for­ward/guard said she was wor­ried that her doc­tors might not clear her, adding, “I was think­ing in my head, ‘If I’m not cleared today, I can’t any­more,’ be­cause it’s been such a long jour­ney and the mind starts to trick it­self [into think­ing,] ‘You’re never go­ing to get back.’”

But McCoughtry quickly dis­missed any in­ter­pre­ta­tion that she was will­ing to walk away from bas­ket­ball for­ever.

“I’m only 33 years old,” she said. “I have

plenty of bas­ket­ball to play. I’ve never known that just be­cause peo­ple get hurt, they re­tire from the game of bas­ket­ball. I think any ath­lete wants to prove to them­selves that they can come back stronger.”

ESPN WNBA and col­lege women’s bas­ket­ball an­a­lyst LaChina Robinson pointed out that re­tired WNBA star Tamika Catch­ings re­turned from an ACL tear in 2001 to win league Rookie of the Year hon­ors in 2002 and a right Achilles ten­don rup­ture in 2007 to be­come a WNBA All-Star in 2009.

“I think An­gel can ab­so­lutely make a full re­cov­ery from her in­jury,” Robinson said. “An­gel is one of the most com­pet­i­tive, fiery play­ers that I’ve ever watched play the game. It’s been re­ally her de­ter­mi­na­tion along the way to be the best player she could and put her team on the map – whether it was Louisville or Atlanta. I be­lieve she’s go­ing to bring that same type of de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­turn­ing to form. I be­lieve that she has missed the game of bas­ket­ball and that she is re­ally ex­cited to con­tinue what she started, which was an op­por­tu­nity to win a WNBA cham­pi­onship.”

Whether McCoughtry re­turns to the Dream is much cloudier. She is an un­re­stricted free agent and re­cently dropped a hint that Atlanta may not be in her plans.

Folks on Twit­ter in­ter­preted her tweet as a sign that she in­tends to leave for another des­ti­na­tion, which McCoughtry did not ex­plic­itly re­fute.

“I know a lot of peo­ple had a lot of spec­u­la­tion, and it’s kind of funny be­cause peo­ple were like, ‘Why are you leav­ing Atlanta?’” she said. “But the hon­est truth is, Atlanta hasn’t of­fered me a con­tract. It’s OK. I un­der­stand that at the end of the day, some­times you’ve got to move on in life and some­times things hap­pen. I got hurt, and when I got hurt, man­age­ment had another agenda, and that’s fine. It’s busi­ness. I’m still able to go out here and do what I need to do and know that I’m a pos­i­tive as­set to any team.

“I can’t wait to go to a team and help them win and just be ex­cited to be out there. It’s the game. It hap­pens all the time. Now you just ex­plore your op­tions and do what you’ve got to do. So I’m just ready to get back out there and play and be a pos­i­tive as­set.”

Two days ear­lier, McCoughtry sug­gested that the Dream had aban­doned her. Af­ter fel­low WNBA star and Dal­las Wings guard Sky­lar Dig­gins-Smith ques­tioned a lack of sup­port from her team via Twit­ter, McCoughtry retweeted Dig­gins-Smith and added, “I know the feel­ing! And us women will fight for bet­ter! We de­serve noth­ing less.”

Asked about the retweet, McCoughtry — who be­came a five-time WNBA All-Star, won two scor­ing ti­tles, and was the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2009 — con­firmed that she wished that the or­ga­ni­za­tion had backed her more.

“Me and Coach [Nicki Collen] had a sit­down to talk about some things,” she said. “There were some things I wasn’t happy about with man­age­ment, and I kind of felt like a lot of times I was out on an is­land by my­self. For some­one who has done so much for a fran­chise and has be­come one of the best play­ers in fran­chise history, I do be­lieve there is a way you treat some­one. Whether they’re hurt or scor­ing 30 points, that shouldn’t change.”

But McCoughtry said she is thank­ful that she got to ex­pe­ri­ence “the busi­ness side” of the sport.

“I’ve taken a lot of pos­i­tiv­ity out of it so that I can say, ‘Hey, some­times it’s go­ing to hap­pen and peo­ple are not go­ing to be­lieve in you,’” she said. “I was talked about a lot, I heard a lot of dif­fer­ent things from peo­ple that I thought had my back. But it’s OK. It’s part of the process, and it makes the come­back even greater. This made me stronger. I may not have got­ten treated the way I wanted, but this is go­ing to be a pos­i­tive tes­ti­mony for other peo­ple who are go­ing through the same thing.”

So would McCoughtry re­turn to Atlanta? “If I was to go back, I would have to say that I would have to make sure that I’m go­ing to get treated the way I’m sup­posed to,” she said.

“But that would have to be a dis­cus­sion. I just want to go where I know I can make a pos­i­tive change. I just want to go where I can have some fun, laugh, en­joy the girls, be a pos­i­tive light on and off the court. That’s where I want to go, and that’s where I de­serve to be.”

Dream spokes­woman Kelsey Bibik did not re­ply to McCoughtry’s sug­ges­tion that she was not sup­ported. In­stead, Bibik’s state­ment was lim­ited to McCoughtry’s sta­tus with the team.

“An­gel McCoughtry is now an un­re­stricted free agent, and at this time no team in the league — in­clud­ing the Dream — can be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing a con­tract with her,” the state­ment read.

McCoughtry ac­knowl­edged grow­ing up a fan of the Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics. But she pointed out that Wash­ing­ton won the WNBA cham­pi­onship last month and may try to re­tain the same play­ers who drove the fran­chise to the ti­tle.

“I don’t want to be con­sid­ered some­one who is just jump­ing on the band­wagon now that they won a cham­pi­onship,” she said. “I don’t want to be la­beled that kind of player. So it would be kind of hard to say that.”

McCoughtry said there are a few or­ga­ni­za­tions she would not mind play­ing for. But she in­sisted that she is keep­ing the iden­ti­ties of those teams to her­self.

“That will have to be a sur­prise for later,” she said with a laugh.

DAVID SHERMAN/GETTY

An­gel McCoughtry of the Atlanta Dream is ready to re­turn to the WNBA af­ter tear­ing her ACL in 2018..

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