By Paul Nilsen
When number one draft pick and WNBA rookie of the year Angel McCoughtry made the move into EuroLeague Women with her namesake Good Angels Kosice, it hinted at perfect synergy - or at least on paper. Take a look back at the impact she has made since pitching up in Slovakia and you realise it truly has been a match made in heaven.
While the player herself prefers to go by the nickname ‘Angel Face', there is nothing angelic about the way that the Atlanta Dream ace has caused mayhem on the courts of Europe this year by tearing it up in tandem with fellow star Candice Dupree.
|McCoughtry is averaging 21.6 points per game for Good Angels Kosice so far this season.|
The deadly duo have transformed Kosice from bottom of the group no-hopers after Week 3 of the qualifying round to one of the form teams in the tournament. Their impact so far reaching that they now stand with a great shot of making the last eight of the competition.
McCoughtry has been a phenomenon since stepping onto the court and there have been few transitions from the College game into the WNBA and over to EuroLeague Women quite as seamless or as successful as hers. Oozing natural talent and with a work ethic that any coach loves, this exciting mix meant she even managed to outshine the seasoned stars of the USA team when she was named MVP of the prestigious Ekaterinburg Tournament last year.
With no intention of slowing down but only adding to a resume already stacked with accolades, I caught up with the forward ahead of this weeks last sixteen clash with Schio.
FIBA Europe: 2009 was pretty special for you, The first pick in the draft and then you certainly delivered by scooping the WNBA Rookie Of The Year Award! Tell us about last summer and some memories that stand out.
Angel McCoughtry: Last summer was an incredible year for my career. It started by the magical run that my College team made to the NCAA Championship game. No one expected us ladies from The University of Louisville to advance that far and it was an incredible and exciting experience. The College campus was electrified and in fact, the whole town was so excited. It's a wonderful feeling to see and hear the excitement that it bought to Louisville. We had a parade downtown afterwards, it was just awesome.
It was such a great honour to be picked number one in the WNBA Draft - an honour that I will relish for the rest of my life. The WNBA experience was so different from the College experience. I'm playing with professionals now - that can really play. When I went to Atlanta I knew I would love it there and I do. It's a great city. You get better when you have a great surrounding cast, and I have that in Atlanta. Anything new at first takes time to adapt and since it was my rookie season, I had to learn fast.
My coach would always tell me I'm going to be great once I learn the system. Once you know what's expected of you, you work hard and try to be the best you can be.
One character quality I possess is determination, and I was determined to adjust, fit it and contribute. I have a great coaching staff and great team. I was given the opportunity to play more and they got to see what a competitive player I am. This enabled me to get the Rookie of the Year Award.
Another exciting moment was when the team made it to the playoffs having only won a few games the year before. We were excited that the Atlanta Dream Fans got to see us as playoff contenders. I just want to win!
FIBA Europe: What was it like hooking up in Ekaterinburg pre-season with the national team and actually being named MVP? What was your mentality approaching the tournament because clearly you were confident and weren't going to be shy or overawed?
Angel McCoughtry: My mentality was just being ecstatic and delighted to be a part of the team. I wasn't striving to get the MVP since I was playing with some of the best in the US. I was conscious of being a team player -t just happened!
FIBA Europe: Just going back to last year and your college career, you are the Louisville legend! So much so that your legacy was helping attendances at games soar because of the on-court success. How aware were you of that kind of thing at the time and how important to you is what you achieved at Louisville?
Angel McCoughtry: I was very aware of the attendance at the Women's Games and desire for the attendance to grow. Wherever I went in Louisville, such as shopping for example, I would always encourage people to come to the women's games. The men's games always packed out and I thought we could pack the house as well. It was the great fan base at Louisville that incites any team. It's a wonderful College town and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to have gone there and to have received my degree. When you start winning, word gets around and people want to come out. Everyone loves a winning program. To be appreciated by so many people because of your hard work ethic is tremendous - the fans appreciate competitiveness.
FIBA Europe: So, you pitch up in Kosice with the team in one almighty big EuroLeague Women hole and you help them to turn around the season! It couldn't have been much better for a first taste of European basketball could it? What have you made of the competition so far - it was probably the toughest group in the tournament?
Angel McCoughtry: Every team in EuroLeague Women is stacked with talent and tough. I wasn't sure what to expect at first, but you learn quickly and play hard. Wherever you go, you carry your hard work ethic with you. I have been blessed to have a very good great coach on the Good Angels team and as well as competitive team members. I'm therefore very happy to be on this team and with this coach. Also, having Candice Dupree from the US really helped my transition. I've learned and gained experience from this league. Being in EuroLeague Women I've not just been in Slovakia of course, but also Paris, Prague, and Madrid and I am travelling to Italy this week. One day some of my team members and I travelled to Budapest and these are just beautiful, beautiful places! It's been so much fun and I'm so glad to be a part of this club!
FIBA Europe: Much has been made of the impact that both you and Candice Dupree have made. You seem to compliment each other and grab the headlines but how is the dynamic with the rest of the team and how much of a blow will it be losing Linda Frohlich who made a big contribution during her short time with the team?
Angel McCoughtry: The dynamic with the rest of the team is great. I really miss Linda Frohlich as she is an awesome player and we became friends on and off the court. I was sad to see her leave. We miss her greatly but as you can see from the last game, my other team mates have really been stepping up and doing a good job.
FIBA Europe: What do you make of the match-up with Beretta Famila Schio in the last sixteen?
Angel McCoughtry: It will be an interesting match up. Whenever you play in the play-offs it always bring out something extra in you as a player.
FIBA Europe: Do you ever have time to truly catch your breath and reflect and take it all in?
Angel McCoughtry: Yes I do, it hasn't been too long that all of this has transpired. I am a professional womens basketball player and this is my career and I enjoy it!
FIBA Europe: You are of course becoming a star name in your own right but as a young player, when you look around the Women's Game on both sides of the Pond who do you look up to and who do you want to emulate during your career?
Angel McCoughtry: I've always looked up to Lisa Leslie. I remember watching her on television when I was a young girl. I couldn't believe I was actually playing against her in Los Angeles. She's a wonderful person both on and off of the court.
FIBA Europe : You seem to really keep your fans up to date and embrace technology with your web-site, facebook, blogging and the odd tweet on twitter? How important is that to you and anything else planned in the near future?
Angel McCoughtry: Very important, I love keeping in touch with my fans and friends. This past summer I received letters, cards, pictures from fans. I would take the time to answer each one. It's wonderful to be embraced because of your talent. I have a heart for the young girls that are in athletics and want to have a positive impact on them. I enjoy speaking to groups of young people and encouraging them in the game of basketball. I'd really like to do some camps and community outreach.
FIBA Europe: What kind of things really make you tick as a player and as a person and what do you hope we will all see from Angel McCoughtry in the next few years?
Angel McCoughtry: I'm a very kind and compassionate person off of the court. There's always room for improvement and growth. You never just settle for where you are, you keeping working hard. I would love for our team to win a WNBA Championship. I'm young - the sky is the limit!