‘Natural-born leader’ Angel McCoughtry steps into veteran role as Lynx chase fifth WNBA title

Angel McCoughtry #35 of the Minnesota Lynx poses.
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Just six months ago as the 2021 season came to a close, five-time All-Star and two-time Olympian Angel McCoughtry admitted she didn’t see herself as a member of the four-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx. But with just two weeks to go before the season opener, the former overall No. 1 draft pick now says she can’t see herself anywhere else.

“I’m going to be honest, I thought I was going to go back to the (Las Vegas) Aces – I never thought that I was going to be on another team,” said the 35-year-old McCoughtry, who played for Las Vegas the last two seasons but spent all but one game during 2021 on the bench due to a torn ACL in her right knee.

“I had to look at where I could be successful coming off another injury, who still believed in me – that I can do what I know how to do on the court – and Cheryl (Reeve) was the perfect person,” she said, adding that being near the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., with anytime access to medical care, is another bonus. “This is definitely a great situation for me.”

Training camp kicked off Monday for the Lynx, who made no secret during media day on Wednesday that their mission is to send star player Sylvia Fowles off to retirement with a league title in her 15th and final season. Head coach Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx have made the WNBA Playoffs 11 straight years, and two of their four titles have come with the 6-6 Fowles at center. Fowles herself said the addition of the 6-1 McCoughtry is a perfect complement to her own goals for the season, which include imparting as much knowledge as possible to her teammates.

“Angel is good seed for me,” explained Fowles, a seven-time All-Star and four-time Defensive Player of the Year. “She’s very much vocal – more vocal than I am. So when I feel like I can’t get things across or when I’m frustrated, Angel is that person to deliver that message … and in the right tone, so she will help me a lot in that way.”

The respect is mutual between the two, who played together on the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic teams. In September, both were named to “The W25,” which honored the 25 most influential players in the league’s first 25 seasons.

“Playing with Syl certainly had an impact on me coming to Minnesota,” said McCoughtry, who signed on with Las Vegas on Feb. 2. “That’s kind of like the icing on the cake – that I get to play with her (during her) last year. We have a lot of great memories together.

“It is a bit emotional thinking like, ‘This is her last year.’ We won’t see her again on the court. But what I can say, the great part about it, is to be a part of history and playing with her in her life. That’s definitely just an amazing thing.”

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Entering her 13th season in the league, McCoughtry is ready to step right into a leadership role with the Lynx, her third career team. After playing college ball at Louisville, the Baltimore, Md., native was drafted the No. 1 overall pick by the Atlanta Dream, where she earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2009 and spent 10 seasons before joining Las Vegas in 2020.

“I’m just a natural-born leader,” she said. “This is my third team, so it doesn’t matter where I am, you know, the leadership comes out, my experience, or what I see.”

However, McCoughtry said she’s hung back slightly as training camp gets underway this week, taking time to learn the system and getting to know her teammates.

“For Angel, it’s new,” said Reeve regarding McCoughtry’s transition. “So even though you’re a veteran and you’ve got years behind you, you’re going into a new camp. Angel is wanting to learn as quickly as she can so that she can be a leader and do the things that, later in life, she’s gotten really good at: She’s a really good mentor, really good voice, pulling players aside and just sharing nuggets that she’s learned along the way.”

“She likes to talk the game a lot, which I really enjoy,” said guard Rachel Banham, who’s entering her third season with the Lynx. “She asks questions, talks the game. And I didn’t know that of her. I thought, you know, maybe she just kind of goes out there and does it, but she’s good about really learning the game and talking through it.”

That basketball IQ has translated into a slew of honors and notable stats for McCoughtry, who twice led the WNBA in scoring in 2012 (21.4 points per game) and 2013 (21.5 PPG) and is seventh in career points per game (18.7). She holds the single-game scoring records for both a WNBA Finals game (38 vs. Minnesota in 2011) and a playoff game (42 vs. New York in 2010).

Her last turn as an All-Star came in 2018 and her last appearance in the WNBA Finals came in 2020 with Las Vegas, but while McCoughtry admits she may not be far behind Fowles out the door, she still has unfinished business to handle.

“I still have a little bit in the tank to get back to the history that this franchise has had, and the nightmares they gave me in my career early on,” adds McCoughtry. “So, you know, hopefully we can be a nightmare to some other people.”

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