Maddy Siegrist Diary: Finding happiness in crowds — Must-click women’s basketball links — Sue Bird’s jersey retirement

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, June 14, 2022

(Editor’s note: Happy Basketball Wednesday! I am delighted to bring you the Maddy Siegrist 2023 WNBA Diary. Every two weeks throughout the 2023 season, Maddy will be sharing her thoughts directly with you, readers of The IX. Maddy’s ability to put everything from her on-court performance to the off-court growth of women’s basketball into broader perspective will be vital to our understanding of the road ahead. I hope you enjoy this as much as I am. – Howard)

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God, and Villanova basketball, are everywhere.

I knew this already, but I discovered it again on our road trip to DC to face the Mystics. I’d gone out to dinner with Harry [Perretta, former Villanova coach] and [his wife] Helen, along with my mom, near their hotel in Alexandria, Virginia.

After dinner, Harry suggested we walk over to the nearby convent, Poor Clare Monastery of the Mary, to pray. [Editor’s note: It’s the convent where Shelly Pennefather, former Villanova basketball great, became a nun — Sister Rose Marie. It could have been argued Pennefather was the greatest player in Villanova history, though not anymore.]. We walked inside, where there were rosary beads and a charity box. The chapel, though, was closed. But as we turned around, the door opened, and there was Sister Rose Marie herself.

She asked me about my progress, who had selected me in the WNBA Draft, and then a pointed question: was I happy?

Everybody looked at me. And I wasn’t going to lie to a nun.

“I’m working on it.”

I told her it’s been a little different, a new challenge, and she told me she’d pray for me, that I’d come out on the other side stronger for it. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it on the way back to my hotel — that someone who was attuned to my life as it is now was there, appeared before me with words of encouragement right when I needed them.

It helped me in every game since, both the good ones and the ones I’d like to have gone better. I didn’t play in the first half in DC, but I stayed ready, I got important minutes in the second half, hit a couple of shots, and afterward, even though my numbers weren’t anything like the kind I’d put up at Villanova, I thought to myself: I put myself in a spot to be there toward the end of the game. I made a difference. That’s all I can ask for.

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I’m working on it in so many different ways. On the court, I’m making adjustments. Against Connecticut, I missed all three shots I took — two good looks, one okay look, and I missed all three. So I was like: okay, how am I going to be better at that? Slowing down and speeding up at the same time, taking that bump from the defender so I can step through instead of fading. It’s three shots, but I want to go 2-for-3, 3-for-3, make that impact in the chances I’m given, run the floor and rebound. I don’t know how long I’m in for, so I’m just going to fully exert myself.

I’d asked my dad after the Connecticut game: “It’s a grind, do you think I’m going to get results?” He reminded me it doesn’t work that way, it’s about putting all the love I have for the game into how I work at it and over time, being the player you are, getting comfortable, and then the results come. But it was funny how that worked, because then came the Phoenix game.

It was only after that I really processed how much of my scoring came with Diana Taurasi defending me. [Editor’s note: Maddy scored 14 and added 8 rebounds in the June 7 game against the Mercury in just 19 minutes.] When I was back home, scrolling through all my text messages, and I had people showing me the highlights. But it came from feeling more comfortable. The first few games, it felt like I’d get a hand on the ball, but I’d slip, or it’d get tipped, but once you start grabbing them, then it’s like you smell blood in the water. And every rebound’s yours. And once you’re doing that, then you notice those mismatches, you can use inside moves on a smaller player.

Diana even noticed. “You trying to get the ball?” she inquired, as I posted her up. I was.

When I came into the locker room, everyone was so happy for me, pushing me and congratulating me. I ask a lot of questions, and everyone’s been so eager to share what they know, from LT [head coach Latricia Trammell] to the veterans.

I still do almost everything with Ashley [Joens, fellow Dallas Wings rookie]. It helps me unwind. We’re both working on our summer tans, hitting the pool at our apartment complex, and eating together most nights on the road. But I’m also finding that I like cooking, which I never knew how to do before.

I’ll set up in my kitchen, put some Billy Joel on the stereo — “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” is a particular favorite — and make a salad, usually with different recipes for salmon. I have had to adjust my buying habits, though: Whole Foods was running through my money too fast, so I’m going to Kroger now.

But the best meal I had came this past weekend, when we ate with my family at Grandma Mare and Pop’s place in New York the night before the game against the Liberty. Grandma Mare and Pop, my mom’s parents, have always been big fans of mine, but they never really watched the WNBA before, didn’t really know about it. But now they’re not just watching our games, either — they’re talking to me about other teams, and Pop is sending me articles he comes across that have anything WNBA in it.

A lot of people who came to see me on Sunday in New York are like that. They didn’t really know about the league, and now they’re tuned in. That 400 people came to see me, though: that was incredibly special. But it wasn’t just about me, either, that was something I knew. I used to get upset if I didn’t play well, and I’d be reluctant to go chat with people who’d come to see me after a loss. And my mom told me: “Maddy, they’re not here to see you win. They’re just here to see you.”

So even though we lost, I just kept focused on all the people from different parts of my life who showed up — friends from elementary school, relatives I hadn’t seen in years, even a teacher from tenth grade, Rick Zolzer. He’d taught a class on sports business I took, and I’d written an essay on either that the WNBA needs more coverage or that the players need to be paid more — I don’t remember which, but both are still true — and he promised this skinny, 15-year-old kid that if I made the league, he’d come see me play, his first WNBA game. So I had to smile when I looked up into the crowd of 20s, and there he was.

It all comes back to something [current Villanova coach] Denise [Dillon] said to me: How do you want to be remembered? Yeah, the numbers and all that are great. But you want to be remembered as a good person, somebody who impacted the lives of others. And I kept thinking about that as I saw my family, my friends, my teammates. Basketball has always been a passion, and now it’s a job for me. It is a talent God has given me. And now, I can use that talent to bring so many people joy, and bring them together. This is so cool.

As I picked up my newest read — Winning: The Unforgiving Race To Greatness, by Tim Grover — it was that knowledge, those hugs, plays flashing from the game itself like a backdoor pass and layup from Odyssey Sims that kept running through my head as we took off late Sunday night, heading back to Dallas, my home now, where the challenge is, where I’m going to keep working on it.

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This week in women’s basketball

Great stuff from Jackie Powell on Rebecca Allen.

Annie Costabile on the new Sky ownership and what it means for free agency.

Matt Brown on how Iowa-Virginia Tech came together.

Sixers owner David Adelman is putting the Sixers’ lack of interest in owning a WNBA team on the league. Bold move, let’s see if it pays off!

Kareem Copeland on how Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin are a joint problem for opponents.

Jonathan Tannenwald on Villanova’s own Maddy Siegrist, as seen above.

Kelsey Mitchell is leading on and off the court in Indiana.

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Five at The IX: Scenes from Sue Bird’s number retirement

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Maddy Siegrist