The Duality of Angel McCoughtry

Oct 2 2011 2:06AM

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. -- One-half of the WNBA’s fiercest competitor was in a kissing sort of mood on Saturday.

Lori Ann was nowhere to be found, but the other half – the kinder half, she’ll remind you – wanted to make sure everybody knew how much she loved her point guard.

So, that other half, which you probably know as Angel McCoughtry, broke into Dream point guard Lindsey Harding’s Media Day interview and planted one on her left cheek.

“Angel’s my special girl,” said Harding with a laugh.

That’s the Angel that Angel McCoughtry would prefer you to know. But she knows – because she hears it all – that the person you know is not Angel. The person you know is Lori Ann, an alter-ego that was born on the pebbled courts of crime-torn East Baltimore about a decade ago.

“She comes out whenever she wants to,” McCoughtry said of Lori Ann. "I haven’t talked to her in a while, but usually she comes out in intense situations.

“I think I had too many cells, which kind of formed her in my brain, which made the illusion of Lori Ann come out,” she continued in a deadpan, before breaking down and laughing.

To really capture Angel McCoughtry, the second-leading scorer in the WNBA and the catalyst behind the Dream’s second straight run to the Finals - which begin on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Minneapolis - you have to think in twos. In uneasy pairs. You have to think of the “goofball” off the court that her teammates glow about, and you have to think of the long-armed vortex that draws jeers every time she’s on the road.

You have to think, too, of double natures. To McCoughtry, her alter-ego isn’t just a part of her personality. Lori Ann’s her own person, full of breath and power. “You ever see The Nutty Professor?” she said. And if you’re going to think about double natures, you also have to think about double-standards, namely how noble aggression in male athletes morphs into a character flaw on the women’s side.

“Some lady came up to my mom and was like, ‘Is she mean?’” McCoughtry said. “My mom was like, ‘No, my child is not mean!’ … You can’t judge a person because they’re playing basketball. You’re supposed to be intense on the court, and if you’re not, then what am I out there for?”

So in a sense, McCoughtry’s double-life reflects the maturation of a player who’s begun to embrace her role as a face of the WNBA. She’s begun to understand the tricky junction where perception and professional edge meet, and how much responsibility comes with that. And that responsibility is why McCoughtry says, in one breath, that “you never explain yourself to anybody, because you can’t make everybody happy,” but still feels obligated to wrap up her WNBA.com chat on Friday by writing “please don't take my intensity on the court as a bad thing, but just passion for the game.”

As such, Angel McCoughtry’s facing the same problem that’s long complicated the roles of women in the workforce: namely, how to split the difference between underwhelming and overbearing. Her workplace just happens to be televised on ESPN.

“I wish people could get to know Angel, because all they see is Lori Ann,” she said. “They get like, ‘Lori Ann is this or that,’ but I wish they just got to know me.”

What people do get to see is exactly what’s made McCoughtry one of the most feared (and most productive) players in the WNBA. They get the yelling. The bravado. They get the pouting, which, in McCoughtry’s defense, may just be a product of a set of lips that could sell magazines if they weren’t selling fouls.

But that’s not what you get off the court.

“Angel is one of friendliest people you’d wanna meet,” she said. “She’s shy, but outgoing at the same time – if that makes sense. But she’s very sweet. And Angel is a goofball.”

If you’re to believe her coaches and teammates’ accounts, what makes Angel and Lori Ann tick is the same thing that’s long sent writers stumbling to their desks in frothing pursuit of clichés. Real eye-of-the-tiger, killer-instinct, cutthroat stuff.

Not that any of that stuff is violent.

“She’s just really rough and mean sometimes,” McCoughtry said of Lori Ann. “She’s a go-getter. She wants to win everything. I gotta explain to her like, ‘OK, you’re gonna win some, you’re gonna lose some. Don’t get mad, as long as you give your all.”

Most of the time, though, all that talk goes nowhere.

And that’s why you see the person wearing the ‘McCoughtry’ jersey doing things like yelling at refs. Or occasionally turning into a mechanical bull in the middle of the lane. Or refusing to come out of the game, like she did when Dream coach Marynell Meadors tried to sub McCoughtry out before halftime of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals – teammates had to usher her off the court.

But in Lori Ann, there’s also the person who absolutely takes over. Over the final two-and-a-half months of the regular season, nobody scored more points than McCoughtry, including eventual scoring champ Diana Taurasi. And as her scoring numbers and shooting percentage went up, so did the Dream’s play.

“Angel is so competitive, and people mis-read that as having an attitude and things,” Meadors said. “She does not have an attitude; she has a confidence that a lot of people don’t have. But when she walks between the lines, she’s going after the win.”

Few players in the WNBA can match what McCoughtry – or, Lori Ann (sometimes it’s tough to know the difference) – can do when she’s on. And for the Dream to erase a 3-9 start this year and finish the season as the second-hottest team in the WNBA, they’ve needed every ounce of edge that McCoughtry could bring them.

“We’ve all seen the many sides of Angel,” Harding said. “On the floor, off the floor. The thing we love about her is she wants to win. She doesn’t care. No matter what it takes, no matter who she has to make mad, she wants to win. I love her competitiveness. … Just don’t make her mad. She’s so serious, but it’s because she wants to win.”

“She’s a different person than she is a player,” said Dream guard Izi Castro Marques. “She’s just a very focused athlete. Like, ‘no matter what, I’m gonna win, I’m gonna run you over if I have to.’”

The thing is, McCoughtry says, Lori Ann fades away the minute she steps off the court.

“Thank God,” she said. “Man, I wouldn’t be a likeable person at all.”

Off the court, she’s the kind of person who organizes camps for underprivileged kids. And campaigns on behalf of Vaccines for Teens. And, ya know, kisses her point guard on the cheek.

But, as she’s growing, she’s learning that fans don’t usually have the luxury to actually get to know the people they only see on the court. And as the WNBA grows, she’ll have more eyes on her when she’s at work, which means more chances for Lori Ann to mess up her reputation.

“They don’t talk much, they just clash,” McCoughtry said. “Lori Ann just comes out. She takes over.”

But the clashes are becoming a little less vicious, Meadors said. McCoughtry’s finding more and more ways to keep Lori Ann as her secret weapon.

“I see a maturity level she didn’t have a couple years ago,” Meadors said. “I think she is one of the young faces of this league.”

So maybe it’s helpful to think about Lori Ann as a complete “separate entity,” as McCoughtry called her. Because to really understand Angel McCoughtry, it’s best to see her as the point where Angel and Lori Ann and their kind live – at an intersection. One of many things in and out of their control.

“I’m gonna continue to play the way I play – with a passion and intensity,” McCoughtry said. “Because this is the way I play, and I’ve been playing like this for a long time.”

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