The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 29, 2019
The looming Riquna Williams mess — Pokey Chatman interview — Must-read women's basketball links
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Greetings, friends! It’s a glorious moment in time, isn’t it?
I sat back on Friday night at press row in Westchester (okay, it’ll be more glorious when it’s Barclays, but still), watching Liberty-Fever, while Wings-Dream played on my WNBA League Pass-enabled computer. I saw Teaira McCowan score a game-winner in her regular season debut. I spent the weekend watching things like Kayla McBride’s jump shot and Napheesa Collier’s effortless transition to the pro game.
I cannot shake the feeling that the WNBA isn’t prepared for what’s coming in the Riquna Williams mess. Doug Feinberg had the story, linked down below. And without any cover from Penny Toler, the Los Angeles Sparks general manager who signed Williams after she was arrested and charged with multiple felonies and before she’s been either convicted or exonerated, it sets up both team and league for some unenviable choices ahead.
The case involves Williams being accused of physically attacking her longtime girlfriend, Alkeria Davis, after forcing her way into a home. Williams also stands accused of threatening another person, who said he helped break up the fight, with a gun.
Leave aside the ways in which employing Williams, rather than placing her on administrative leave, puts the WNBA behind such leagues as the NBA and MLB on proactive handling of domestic violence. Leave aside how the league has, accurately, viewed itself as a force for progressive change in numerous ways. Leave aside, most importantly, how this is going to make domestic violence victims feel about the league.
The coming PR nightmare, aside from being easily avoidable, is likely to swallow up all the positive storylines in every single publication that doesn’t cover the league regularly. All of us who lived through the Brittney Griner-Glory Johnson remember exactly how this ends. And should the league end up taking action reactively, well, even the on-court advantage that presumably led Toler to sign Williams in the first place would be mitigated by a long suspension.
Even if the multiple witnesses in the case don’t end up testifying, A) it doesn’t mean that nothing suspension-worthy happened, as we’ve seen in other leagues, and B) it doesn’t change the fact that the league proactively chose to employ Williams before anyone determined what had happened, and after the charges against Williams were a matter of public record.
And let’s not even think about the aid and comfort this gives to the Barstooly-Breitbartish folks. It makes me sick just to think about it. But it would also be a dereliction of duty not to report on this, and hold the league accountable for its domestic violence policies.
So it all bears watching. Even if I’d rather just watch Teaira McCowan win games and leap joyfully into her teammates’ arms.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Here’s Doug’s story on Williams.
Great Ben Dull work on how Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson will fit together offensively.
Also loved his Kelsey Plum piece. The opening quote alone is worth the click.
Natalie Weiner explains how WNBA male practice squads work.
The Athletic asked its talented stable of writers for preseason predictions.
Asked Courtney Williams last month, “Who’s the most underrated player in the league?” Williams, without missing a beat, huge smile: “Me!” Anyhow, she might be, and Britni de la Cretaz tries to fix that here.
Jenn Hatfield wrote a two-part deep dive on which Ogwumike is best and I AM LOVING IT.
Sabreena Merchant is doing great work on the Sparks (and everything else she writes about, frankly).
Kelli Stacy says Geno Auriemma is high on Crystal Dangerfield, and I’m certainly not going to argue with Geno.
There are reasons Megan Gustafson didn’t make the Dallas Wings, but goodness is she easy to root for. Here’s her blog post on it all, and I wish her luck in The Tournament.
The great Lindsay Gibbs talks abortion with WNBA players.
Give me all the Sloane Martin profiles. (Did you see her interview Sylvia Fowles at halftime of CBS Sports Network game Saturday night?)
Loved this Ava Wallace profile of Kristi Toliver.
Neil Paine brings the numbers to explain why you didn’t feel like you were missing out watching the WNBA this weekend, despite the injuries.
Great stuff from Ed Graney on Dearica Hamby, who is going to be a problem for opponents this season akin to what Natasha Howard was for the Lynx teams she won with.
Kellen Becoats is writing a weekly column at SI.com! Show him the love of a click.
I wrote up the Breanna Stewart marketing contract thing here at Forbes, discovering some history in the process!
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Pokey Chatman, Indiana Fever
I caught up with Pokey prior to Indiana’s season opener in New York.
HOWARD MEGDAL: You mentioned the increased media exposure of the WNBA. On a day to day basis, how are you seeing it?
POKEY CHATMAN: I mean, I’m just a junkie. You know I don’t care if it’s someone reporting on another team, I’m a basketball enthusiast. A report on Dallas or in New York are just as important as one in Indiana if they’re following us. So I’m all about that. I feel like I’m getting more requests, feel like I’m seeing more on social media. I can tell.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Let’s talk about this team, because it’s really interesting. First of all, I know you can’t put a ton of stock in the preseason, but the amount of stops you were getting, the way defense seems fundamentally different with Teaira. Is she ahead of where you had any reason to expect her to be, heading into her first game?
POKEY CHATMAN: I’ll put it into perspective for you. Yes, she makes a difference on the defense end. I mean she probably only plays 15, 16, 17 minutes, however it’s also fun to know Tea was still trying to figure out their offensive chemistry — she makes a difference just in the number of attempts, you know? Someone will go in there, and they would stop short, and they would shoot a contested shot, but she would alter a shot. And then, of course the blocked shots always make a highlight, but it’s just her presence to track the ball, you know, and just be a part of it, you know at 6’7″, she gets a hand in there, and she 7’5″ [wingspan], and if you have a 5’8″ guard trying to shoot over that, that really helps.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Do you think that it’s a bigger deal to have somebody at her size, a plus, plus size center, when more of the league is trying to play smaller?
POKEY CHATMAN: Well, I think it’s two-fold. You look at yes, the league is playing smaller. I’ve gone that route, however, in terms of what we need, we were at a time where we were not very good with rim protection, so it fills that need for us, and then on the other side of it, you know, it’s just, she’s going to take care of two or three less offensive rebounds for the other team, and people are going to factor that in. You know, it’s a game with threes, and layups.
She can help get us a couple layups, stop a couple layups, a few more rebounds, and leave some of the rest of the three-point shooting to us. So, I think it’s incumbent upon what we needed, because Natalie Achonwa on her best day is 6’3″. And her vertical is not going to impress anyone, but her mental state does, and that’s why it’s been amazing. You know, the marriage with those two has been really good for Tea.
HOWARD MEGDAL: So, she played the four overseas. It seems like your plan is to have her alongside essentially playing a lot of minutes with them together, right?
POKEY CHATMAN: Both. I mean you think about what you just said, we played a preseason game at Dallas. They may have Imani [McGee-Stafford], but Imani didn’t touch the paint. So there’s also going to be some peak moments where I like Natalie at the five, and that’s what is so unique about Natalie is her I.Q. and her ability to do it.
HOWARD MEGDAL: When Kelsey scores 26 like she did in the preseason game, the type of explosion we were used to seeing from her out of college, does it seem to you like something that you can expect more regularly this season from her?
POKEY CHATMAN: You know, for me, it was on 8 for 12 shooting, and it was without Tiffany Mitchell, without Erica Wheeler, so your thought would be she was going to put up 24 shots.
But she’s really done a good job taking the better shots, getting them in some pace, creating a little more space. I moved her off the ball a little bit. She’s running that, but I give so much credit to Kelsey. She came home, and she dropped 12 pounds, and then being home for the last month now it’s 14… I mean for me, that transformation and that growth, the mental side of it … We always thought she was special. Here’s the thing, her speed, it’s unbelievable, I mean, from the main basket, she gets it and she’s pushing the pace.