Around the World: Angel McCoughtry

January 8, 2013 -- Angel McCoughtry wants you to trust and believe.

The mercurial, high-scoring forward with defensive intensity to spare opened 2012 by leading her Istanbul-based European club , Fenerbahce, to the Turkish League title for the second straight season, before bursting onto the Olympic scene in London, where she helped the U.S. Women’s National Team win an unprecedented fifth straight team gold medal. Along the way, McCoughtry also managed to lead the WNBA in scoring despite a drama-filled season with the Atlanta Dream.

McCoughtry is averaging team highs in both scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounds (6.3 rpg) for Fenerbahce, which currently sits undefeated atop the Turkish League with a 12-0 record, including a big win over fellow Istanbul-based sporting rival Galatasary, which sports fellow WNBAers Lindsay Whalen, Sylvia Fowles, Sancho Lyttle and Ann Wauters . Additionally, McCoughtry and Fenerbache are 5-2 in Group B of the prestigious EuroLeague.

Angel
Angel McCoughtry/FIBA/Europe.
Now in her third season in Istanbul, McCoughtry credits her familiarity with and fondness for the city as a big factor in her success on the court.

“I feel really great here in Istanbul. It’s a great city. I love the culture. The food is great, the nightlife is terrific and most importantly, I’m loving the basketball,” said the Baltimore native. “Istanbul is so killer. In some ways, it’s a lot like New York City. The fast-paced vibe, the thriving business, the traffic. But it’s also very historic and has a great history.”

The on-the-court atmosphere in the Turkish League sometimes reminds the fiery University of Louisville alum of the collegiate game back home in the U.S.

“You can tell the people here really love the sport. Every game the intensity in the crowd is like going to a Duke home game, times three,” said McCoughtry, who led Louisville the National Championship game in 2009, where they fell to Maya Moore, Geno Auriemma and UConn in the title game. “It’s definitely different playing here, but who doesn’t want to play in front of high-energy, excited fans for every game? To hear fans chanting your name in another language is a special feeling.”

McCoughtry is partnered by New York Liberty guard Cappie Pondexter with Fenerbahce this season and is loving every minute of it.

Istanbul is so killer. In some ways, it’s a lot like New York City. The fast-paced vibe, the thriving business, the traffic. But it’s also very historic and has a great history. -- Angel McCoughtry

“I really enjoy playing with Cappie. She has a great knack for knowing the strengths of her teammates, where they like to get the ball, and which plays work with which players,” said McCoughtry. “Cappie makes sure that she is aware of her teammates needs and does what she can to make everyone involved, which helps the team as a whole. I’d love to have her with me at Atlanta, but I know she’s doing her thing in New York City, trying to win a championship there, like I am in Atlanta.”

Pondexter, averaging 12.5 points and 3.8 assists per game for Fenerbahce, is happy to be teaming up with McCoughtry in European ball.

“Angel is a great teammate. She’s a never-say-die competitor and it doesn’t hurt that the girl can jump out of the gym,” said Pondexter, who is looking forward to teaming up with new Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer for the 2013 WNBA season. “It’s a pleasure playing with Angel, a real treat.”

One of the primary benefits of competing in Europe during the WNBA off-season is the opportunity to compete in more than one competition.

Fans of WNBA players competing abroad, however, may find themselves with a case of "league fatigue" when faced with the different leagues featuring their favorite WNBA stars. Here's a quick explanation.

Map
Click for Interactive Map of WNBA Players Abroad.
Most WNBAers are playing for teams that compete in the domestic league of the country they are playing in. So, McCoughtry and Pondexter are in the Turkish League. The European teams, however, are ALSO competing in a larger, and in many respects more competitive and more prestigious league called the EuroLeague, which pits the top domestic teams from individual countries (ie. Fenerbahce in Turkey) in a European wide tournament.

College basketball fans can think of it like Brittney Griner and Baylor University compete in the Big 12 where they face conference foes in pursuit of a conference championship. Additionally, Griner and Baylor will appear in the NCAA tournament, where the top teams in each conference are matched up in tournament crowning the best of the best as the National Champion. The domestic European leagues are akin to the conferences, while the EuroLeague is similar to the NCAA Tournament, including a Final Four.

While McCoughtry is intent on holding off Whalen and Fowles and Company with Galatasary for the 2013 Turkish League title, she also has an eye on a strong EuroLeague run, where she may bump into Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker with UMMC (Russia) among other top European teams.

“Our domestic Turkish League is tough and exciting, but the Euro League, you’re talking at another level because you have the best teams in Europe, and most of the best players in the world, all competing in that one competition. It’s a great test of your talent,” said McCoughtry, who helped Fenerbahce reach the Final Eight of the EuroLeague in 2011. “It is different, playing a team from Poland or Russia, you may not know how they play, what type of game they play, but I’m not really big on stats and scoring averages and that type of thing anyway, so I don’t worry about that. I’ll focus on whichever team we face that week, get the info from the coaches on how to go after the opponent right in front of me, and then go from there.”

The thing about the USA team is you have all these great players, but since you are all together and you have that common goal of winning the gold, you are all so hungry for it. To get it done. -- Angel McCoughtry

It’s no wonder McCoughtry is excited about competing among the world’s elite, after firmly establishing her personal bonafides in the London 2012 Olympics. Despite averaging just 14.9 minutes per game under Auriemma with Team USA, McCoughtry led the women’s basketball tournament in steals with 20. And numbers didn’t tell the whole story, as McCoughtry’s raw energy and enthusiasm off the bench was for many the talk of the tournament.

“London was just a tremendous, satisfying experience. Everything about it. Winning that gold medal was fantastic, of course. To be a part of that was something I will never, ever forget. I was so happy to get the opportunity to get on that team and play with those players and show my peers and the world what I can do,” said McCoughtry, who also led the tournament in field goal percentage (.620). “It was great having people come up to me, ‘Wow, Angel, you were off the hook.’ The thing about the USA team is you have all these great players, but since you are all together and you have that common goal of winning the gold, you are all so hungry for it. To get it done. And I think that helped me get to another level and I was very happy with how I played and to bring home the gold for our country. It was the best experience of my life. An absolute blessing.”

However, it wasn’t all blessings and accolades in 2012 for McCoughtry. Upon her return to the U.S. and the second half of the WNBA season, McCoughtry found herself in a maelstrom of controversy as the Dream parted ways with Head Coach Marynell Meadors, who had combined with McCoughtry to lead Atlanta to two-straight WNBA Finals appearances in 2010 and 2011.

“I just had the best experience of my life and then I get to Atlanta, and it just felt like I got blamed for everything,” said McCoughtry, who served a two-game suspension before returning to play for then interim and fulltime Head Coach Fred Williams. “ I had nothing to do with the coaching change. I’m not the person who decides who coaches or not. I was painted as the bad guy, and I won’t lie, that hurt. I got depressed and felt all this pressure. It went from the ultimate high of London and then the all-time low of being made out to look bad for something I didn’t do. It was a learning experience.”

Trust me and believe. It’s coming. Real soon. I will win a WNBA Championship. -- Angel McCoughtry

McCoughtry looked to her counterparts in the NBA for inspiration when things got tough.

“For the first time, I understood a little bit what LeBron and Kobe had to deal with,” said McCoughtry, who recently got some positive headlines after donating $15,000 to fund educational and learning supplies for youth via the Louisville Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council. “But Kobe persevered and came back even stronger.”

McCoughtry paused a moment before completing her thought and stated her clear intentions for the 2013 WNBA season.

“Trust me and believe, Angel is coming back strong too,” said McCoughtry. “Trust me and believe. It’s coming. Real soon. I will win a WNBA Championship. Mentally, after this experience, I’m stronger than ever. And physically, I’m 26-years-old, hitting my prime, and I am ready to go. Trust me and believe. It’s coming.“

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