McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN'S STEADY PLAY EARNS HER PEERS' RESPECT
Taj Is Having a Ball
By Rob Reheuser
Taj McWilliams-Franklin of the Orlando Miracle is very much like an appliance. Simply plug her in and expect the same results day in and day out: roughly 13 points, seven rebounds, two steals and stifling defense.
What should also be added to the product description is All-Star berths. In an age when midseason All-Star games tend to reward flashy stars with numbers, McWilliams-Franklin has quietly racked up three straight appearances, one for each year she's been in the league.
"It's pretty amazing," McWilliams-Franklin said. "I did not think it was going to be me. I don't think a lot of people thought it would be me. I'm pretty happy and honored to represent Orlando."
Not bad for a girl who never entertained the notion of becoming a professional athlete while she was growing up. She didn't discover basketball until she was 15, and even then, it was more as a means to an end: Someone told her she could attend college for free through playing. The rest is history. McWilliams-Franklin attended St. Edwards and was named NAIA National Player of the Year in 1993.
"Growing up, my father never instilled athletics," McWilliams-Franklin said. "It was always about doing what's right for you, or doing family stuff. Never would I have dreamed that I would have been a professional athlete."
Instead, McWilliams-Franklin has become one of the most respected players in the WNBA. In 2000, she was voted a starter for the All-Star game in Phoenix. This year, she was named a reserve.
"I don't think of myself as a superstar. I'm really more like the girl next door trying to play," McWilliams-Franklin said. "If you look at the big picture, it's a lot of games in a little bit of time, and it can really wear you down mentally and physically. Some players fold under that, but day in and day out, I do the same stuff. I think that consistency comes through in my stats."
Married to Reginald Franklin and the proud mother of 11-year old Michelle, McWilliams-Franklin has always had her sights set on the future. Although basketball has been her primary occupation, it has never been the entire focus. She plans on getting a master's degree in fine arts and pursuing an interest in writing.
"This is just one step in your life," she said of basketball. "It's not your total life and a lot of players forget that until something humbles them. I always keep them in the forefront. You always use the same tools in basketball and life."
As for the Miracle, a 5-11 start has dampened the team's spirits, but McWilliams-Franklin insists the team can turn things around.
"Sometimes I feel we play not to lose, instead of playing to win and when we have teams down, we don't keep them there, we open up the gate and allow them to think they can play with us," McWilliams-Franklin said. "We definitely have the personnel to accomplish our goals, which is to get into the playoffs, then we'll go from there."
For now, it's off - or shall we say, home to Orlando to represent her team in the third WNBA All-Star Game.
"It's a nice opportunity to be representative of your city, your state and your team," she said. "I've been pleasantly surprised a number of times, this time is definitely another surprise and a blessing for me."