By Josh Cook
It's been a Dream season for Angel McCoughtry so far.
The former University of Louisville women's basketball star was the WNBA's Rookie of the Year in 2009. In 2010 she's become a star in the league with the Atlanta Dream and is a legitimate most valuable player candidate this season.
Averaging 20.4 points per game McCoughtry has the surprising Dream, a 2008 expansion team, atop the Eastern Conference as this weekend's All-Star game - which she'll participate in - approaches.
"I look at it like we are having so much fun playing together, this is just a part of what happens," McCoughtry recently told SLAMonline. "We have some really good chemistry going right now and we just have to continue it."
For fans who followed the 6-foot-1 forward at UofL that's typical Angel, downplaying her own accomplishments to show her team some love. But the WNBA is quickly finding out what Cardinals fans have known for some time - McCoughtry means business.
After leading Louisville to a national runner-up finish McCoughtry was the top pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft. Although she struggled, by her standards, to adjust to the pro game McCoughtry finished her first season averaging 12.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as she helped the Dream to an incredible turnaround. Atlanta went 4-30 in its inaugural '08 season, but with McCoughtry in the mix the Dream improved by 14 wins in 2009 to 18-16. Atlanta also made its first WNBA Playoff appearance, and although it was swept 2-0 by Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals, notice was served to the rest of the league. Angel & Atlanta will be around for years to come.
Thus far this season McCoughtry, who played professionally in Slovakia during the WNBA offseason, has led the Dream team to the best record (14-5) in the Eastern Conference. In addition to her scoring average, which ranks her third in the league, McCoughtry also ranks 21st in rebounding (5.3), 19th in assists (3.26), sixth in steals (1.79) to offset the fact that she leads the league in turnovers (3.4 per game).
She has been the Eastern Conference Player of the Week twice and was the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in May when she averaged 24 points and 5.8 rebounds per game for the Dream, which won its first six games of the season.
"If we play from our defense, I don't think anybody can beat us," she told the Associated Press after a win over the Los Angeles Sparks in late May.
She has topped the 20-point mark in 12 of 19 games, and 30 points thrice.
McCoughtry had one of her best games of the season in her final one before the All-Star Game. She scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Atlanta's 108-103 overtime victory over the Connecticut Sun on Wednesday night.
"It was tough without (injured forward) Sancho (Lyttle) tonight," McCoughtry told the AP afterward. "We knew that once our post players got into foul trouble that we had to box (out) and rebound so we could get our running game going."
McCoughtry did her part, helping the Dream rally in both regulation and overtime for the win.
With 2:31 remaining in regulation Connecticut led Atlanta 93-88. But McCoughtry brought the Dream back. She hit 1 of 2 free throws, then her fadeaway jumper with 1:02 to play pulled Atlanta within two (95-93) before her jumper with 31 seconds left tied the game.
Then in OT McCoughtry hit the game-tying jumper with 1:04 to play, then her three-point play with 32.2 seconds left gave the Dream the lead for good.
As for how good McCoughtry is at this point you can find out at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when she represents USA Basketball against a team of WNBA All-stars on ESPN in the game dubbed "The Stars at the Sun," because it will be played on the homecourt (Mohegan Sun Arena) of the Sun. With her place on the national team secure don't be surprised to see Angel on the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team in 2012.
But you'll early next month you'll be able to find her in Louisville when she hosts an "All Girls Basketball Camp" Aug. 2-6 at the Basketball Academy. Although the Dream hosts Washington on Aug. 3, McCoughtry will make an appearance at the camp before the Dream plays at Indiana (the last time this season she'll play this close to Louisville) at 7 p.m. Aug. 6.
It's easy to see McCoughtry is living the Dream right now.
Photo courtesy WNBA