It took reporting to learn what happened in 24 hours in Atlanta — Coach Yo talks new season — Must-click women’s basketball links

The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, October 6, 2021

Well then, that was quite the off day in the WNBA schedule, wasn’t it!

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I wanted to take you through it, from a reporter’s perspective, to give you a sense of how this work comes together, and why it matters. Also, full disclosure: Renee Montgomery is a member of The IX‘s Advisory Board, though our reporting is all independent of any board member’s affiliation.

Over the weekend, as you probably saw, Courtney Williams released a video that showed her fighting, alongside teammate Crystal Bradford, in front of a food truck.

It was, shall we say, a puzzling decision. I’m always conscious of what qualifies as news, and what is merely gossip. And as someone who knows Courtney pushes the boundaries on her social media, I came to the conclusion that it would be news only if the team issued a statement or something fundamentally changed in roster terms from it.

Well, as you can see in Meredith Cash’s story above, the former happened. At that point, the news lay in what we could find out about the latter — whether this would impact how the Dream would approach the free agency of both Williams (unrestricted) and Bradford (reserve player).

Tuesday morning, I had a source tell me both had been informed they would not be re-signed. When I had a second, independent source confirm this Tuesday evening, I tweeted out the news, and Spencer Nusbaum, my incredibly gifted Atlanta Dream reporter at The Next, continued down his path of writing it all up within the context of what he knew, could glean, and add to from his season of consistently reporting about the Dream.

At that point, Khristina Williams took it to another level, getting Marcus Crenshaw, the agent for both Williams and Bradford, to answer questions on her IG Live.

And this morning, Spencer’s report dropped, with new information about how the Dream will be handling their front office openings.

This is the essence of how the work is supposed to go: numerous outlets, building on one another, crediting each other as we go, turning what for years has been a disquieting information vacuum on the difficult topics into solid, consistent reporting.

There’s no happy part of this story itself — Courtney Williams made a mistake, and a moment that could have passed into the night, because she released the video, led to what will be further difficulties as she pursues her career. To watch Courtney Williams play basketball is a joyful experience, so fans of the game lose as well. And Crystal Bradford’s rise this season was one of the bright spots of a rough season in Atlanta, while that roster faces further redecorating in the months ahead.

But getting the full and true story out? That’s the happy part. That larger mission is fundamental to the work. It was hard not to sit back and marvel at how far WNBA reporting has come in just the past few years.

It’s all complicated, this stuff. You spend time covering a league this small, you get to know everyone. When the news isn’t positive, there’s sometimes a surprise from folks who should know better, who object — but more attention and coverage, real, trustworthy coverage, not pure fawning, is what keeps people engaged. Not because they live for scandal — because they know they can trust it. That it’s real. Indifference is the enemy for women’s sports when it comes to media coverage, not some artificial, false balance.

I won’t write or say anything unless I can defend it, and know I can look somebody in the eye after I do. That guideline has served me well in my career.

I’ve had to write critical things about people who I have boundless respect for, I’ve written raves about performances from players who didn’t have much to say. This is the work. The everyday.

Seeing more and more of it flowering, seeing an entire day’s news cycle pushed by reporting in different mediums from different outlets — this is growth. It is also necessary to protect players, media accountability is often the only counterweight to the established patterns of corporate decision-making, as my friend Meg Linehan made clear once again in her NWSL reporting with Katie Strang, a reporter I greatly admire.

But to bridge the gap between people wondering what’s happening on Twitter and an informed fan base is to not only do the job of journalism. It changes how many people are permanently invested in the WNBA, and all the financial benefits that flow from it. Those changes don’t come with one big feature piece. They come from reporters showing up every single day and doing the work.

This week in women’s basketball

Natalie Weiner reports on WNBA players who play overseas.

Really liked this from Charlotte Carroll on Michigan.

Alexa Philippou gets you the AT recovery story. 

PJ Brown reports on a very different set of expectations for Adia Barnes and Arizona.

Adam Vachon’s column is chock full of stat goodies, as usual.

Enjoyed this from Lyndsey D’Arcangelo about the WNBA playoff format

Wrote this at FiveThirtyEight about the returns from injury of several stars, and how it is impacting the playoffs.

I really enjoyed not only Chantel’s column, but seeing her get more voices into it as well.

Five at The IX: Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin

Finally, when this WNBA season is over, we’re all going to take a deep breath and ::taps earpiece:: I’m getting word we’re already well into NCAA women’s basketball season, and also EuroLeague, you’re never sleeping, deal with it.

Anyway I’m really, really hoping to get a live look at Ole Miss soon. They play at Hofstra December 11 — part of a big weekend of OOC visits to the east coast! Gotta get those times and make a plan. No, I’m not going to be resting anytime soon, friends. Here’s Coach Yo in her first avail of the season. A HUGE thank you to Ole Miss Athletics for transcribing.

Opening Statement

“Where has the time gone? It seems as if we were fighting two pandemics, marching, changing state flags, the whole nine. So now, to be back here in person I’m just overwhelmed. There’s just an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, just happy to be here and moving in the right direction.”

On Madison Scott growing throughout the summer

“Madi, out of everyone, she had the best summer. She just came back looking like a brand-new person. For a long time I was singing the whole ‘I don’t want freshmen anymore!’ and then I see Madi and I’m like okay, well I guess they’re fine after a year. She really worked hard. She really took the evaluation we gave her at the end of the year seriously and it worked out. I’m really excited about her this season.”

On expectations for the season

“John Gordon says it best: expectations are outside influences. My focus is our inside expectations because when I look at rankings, when I look at outside opinions, those people are outside. Only us, we know where we are and where we’re trying to go. So for me, what’s important is how we feel after every practice. Do we feel like we got better? As a staff, do we feel like we put them in the best situation? Because the proof will be in the pudding come November 11. For me, that is what our focus is. But, come on. Everyone understands and we’ve put it out there: it’s NCAA Tournament or bust, as far as I’m concerned. And that’s what we preach to the team, and that’s what we expect. Pressure is a privilege.”

On newcomers and injured returnees contributing this year

“Every new player, and we have one freshman and three transfers, will be impact. I don’t know how many people can say that. People ask me all the time which ones, I can’t tell you. We went out and got positions we thought we desperately needed. I spoke about it last year: point guard play, depth in the point guard position. More prolific scoring. Efficiency. And I think we went out and got that, and then we went out and got some NCAA Tournament experience, and that helps. We’re a mature group. (Andeija Puckett) looks good coming back (from injury), I’m excited about her. Aleah (Sorrentino) is another freshman for us that is coming into her own. I think since year one this is my team with the most depth, that’s for certain.”

About the benefits of the WNIT run last year

“It’s not the one we want this year. If we had gotten to the NCAA Tournament, who would say no to that? But, I was extremely excited when we got the WNIT bid because in the NCAA Tournament, you don’t know who you’re gonna matchup with in the first round, and you can be out of there on a boat somewhere. In the WNIT, I knew we had an opportunity to get at least two or three games. We ended up getting five games. For us, I don’t know how to script it better. It was almost perfect. The icing on the cake would have been us winning the whole thing, just for our players to hoist up a trophy, nothing else. We weren’t going to go out and brag that we won the WNIT to the recruits we’re in the mix with. So to me, mission accomplished. I thought we got the experience, they got the exposure, we dealt with adversity with me being out with COVID for the first three games and them showing the maturity to figure it out. They looked like a well-oiled machine. We’re just trying to build on that and add to that with the people we brought in.”

On having most of the roster return from last season

“It’s been great. That’s one of the things that I enjoy the most. They understand. Last year, we really focused on putting our defense in. This is our system. Now, I see them teaching the newcomers no, we do it like this. The newcomers can get in the back of the line. Last year, the newcomers were in the front. So practices are gonna be shorter this year, so that’s something I know they’ll be excited about. We’ll be able to work a lot more in skill development and personal player development so that their tools can be sharp for when we start to compete.”

On the trajectory of Shakira Austin’s progression heading into her senior year

“I think all of our players really needed the break after the season. I think COVID made a toll on everybody more than anybody expected. I encouraged them to take like six weeks off, and Kira took six weeks off, where Madi kind of went into the gym. Kira is kind of gradually getting herself back into full form, which I’m perfectly okay with it. She’s never out of shape, so it wasn’t a situation where I was worried if she would get herself in shape. But now, she’s starting to get into full form, and for me that’s the game slowing down for her. Being intentional about every move that she makes, every shot she takes, every cut, those things are important for me, for the team, and also for her draft prospects.”

The difference from going to a young team to a team of veterans

“It’s been incredible for us because of even the way that I coach them. When you have a young team, you kind of have to scare them into stuff. This team, I haven’t had to raise my voice because they understand. They have their own self-urgency. They know that this is a window of opportunity for them to be successful with the amount of talent we have that is so mature. Last year we were the 10th-youngest team in the country. They get that, they understand that, and it’s been great. It’s like having a kid. You like when they get older because then they can get dressed in the morning, but then I still enjoy helping my four-year old get dressed and I enjoy that Yas, my nine-year old, can do it by herself, too. It’s like a mixture. I do love the youthfulness, Madi and them are still young. I don’t think you get really mature in the game until you’re like a junior, so we still have that, and then we have the senior leadership with all of the upperclassmen that we have.”

On the NCAA adopting the March Madness branding for the women’s tournament

“I don’t know how to feel. We’ve been fighting for some type of equality when it comes to women’s sports for a long time, so a part of me is what took you so long, and a part of me is grateful that it’s happening. This is going to be a consistent fight for us. There’s no doubt that the women’s game is marketable. The Kaplan Report came out, the information was in it. It needs to be better, and hopefully while I’m coaching I can get to see that and our players get to experience it.”

On how Shakira Austin is handling talk of her draft stock

“She understands what she is trying to accomplish. When she came here, she understood the type of criticism or questions she may have gotten. Clearly, she has shown it was the best decision for her to come, look at her numbers. Now it’s just following through. Keeping healthy, getting stronger, polishing up things she needs to do. I think for Shakira, I don’t think anyone is questioning her talent anymore. Now, if she wants to go number one or top-three, we need to win. She needs to be a part of that. When you hear her talk about the team, and wanting to be a good teammate, she has to do those things if she wants to go as high as we all expect her to go.”

On coaching this year as opposed to last year in terms of the pandemic

“I learned a lot about being locked down. I learned how to better manage and use my time. Some of that I just got working with the Bahamian national team, too. We have two weeks and then we’ve got to compete against some of the best in the world. Last year even though we couldn’t get out, we really valued our time. Now, we’re valuing our time so we can get out. Now my players, when we’re in practice, we really want to hone in so they can enjoy the rest of their evening. It’s definitely a different energy as far as the team is concerned and the program in general.”

Is the team 100 percent vaccinated?

“We’re 100 percent vaccinated. I didn’t make a big deal about it because at the end of the day there’s enough people putting stuff out there about that. Our whole program is. We don’t celebrate it. We educate them, just like everybody else, and hope that they all make good decisions for us and for themselves.”

On having peace of mind in terms of COVID disruptions in regards to the team’s vaccination status

“It’s incredible, especially knowing that our last two just got vaccinated. Now, if you had asked me this yesterday I would have been kind of stressed because now with the state laws you may not be able to take some of your players to certain places like California or even the private schools in New York, and we’re going to New York. So how do you even choose who’s going to start and who’s going to play? It’s stressful, to say the least. So at least we got that part taken care of. COVID is still out there, unfortunately. I don’t think it’s ever gonna go. We have enough information and resources to manage it, and we’re going to do our best doing so.”

On how active she is on Tik Tok

“I kind of do my own thing, I’m not as popular as the girls are. I kind of do it to stay relevant and try to reach as many masses as I could.”

“I have a blast. Tik Tok’s addicting, you can watch it for days like TV. People are so creative. I enjoy it and I have the discipline to cut it off and do something else.”

On her participation in Tik Toks translating to team chemistry

“Not in practice, but as soon as practice is done, they’ll say ‘oh coach we need to do a Tik Tok’ or I’ll see something and say, ‘oh guys we need to do this.’ We all enjoy it. We have to have fun. One thing the pandemic taught me last year is you got to have fun sometimes and loosen up. We try to do that as much as possible.”

On how big social media is in terms of recruiting

“It’s huge. Everyone was like ‘oh you’re too much on social media’ now if you’re not on social media what are you doing? You’re not relevant, I’ll tell you that. That is how you get out to people, through social media. Our recruits love it, they want access. Just like any other show on TV that you’re given access to, people want access and we want them to have access and we want our players to have exposure, because in that way at least we can help them in their own personal business NIL. They need exposure, they need people to see them, and we provide that.”

On how Donnetta Johnson and Snudda Collins are looking so far

“Snudda looks great too. When Snudda first came back we got her with our dietician, and she’s really feeling herself since she gained five pounds. I don’t know if you can see it, but she feels it. She looks really strong and looks really experienced, so I am excited about her. Donnetta really got into the groove of things and we loved where she was going. Unfortunately, she broke her foot, so she’s out for six to eight weeks. She’ll be back at the end of November, so we’ll miss the first month with her. That’s why I am excited about our depth. We have some other players that are really stepping up and filling those spots.”

Closing Statement

“I’m telling you our team, we’re different. I can’t wait for you all to see our group, we’re deep in a lot of positions, a lot of experience. I couldn’t tell you who our starting five would be today. I can probably name three but the other two are still questionable. They’re competing really hard, we’re excited. We’re grateful that we have 10 TV games, we have high expectations. We’re opening up against a team that went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. We’ll be ready to compete and we’re just excited about getting fans back into The Pavilion and being able to play a high-level brand of basketball. This is year four, and year four is the year of stability. Last year was proof of concept, this year is to show that we’re going to be around for a long time, and hopefully you see that when you see us play.”

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 Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.