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The Rookie Report with Shakira Austin: The Heart of the DMV

The Washington Mystics have flexed their muscles early in the W season, jumping out to a 2-0 start with their next game coming up against the also undefeated Las Vegas Aces. 

Natasha Cloud went absolutely crazy against the Lynx and is continuing the offensive aggression she showed at Athletes Unlimited. Elena Delle Donne is back and fully healthy. Alysha Clark is on the way to reinforce once she returns from a foot injury. This Mystics team looks primed for a great season.

Rookie and third overall pick in the 2022 W Draft has impressed immediately. After a twelve-minute run in game one against the Fever, Austin started at center against the Lynx. 

She showed out, putting up a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) while bothering Minnesota’s frontcourt all night with her length and energy on either end. Watching the rookie face off against future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles much of the night was euphoric, providing a glimpse of the future at the five spot in the league. Syl is Syl, so she made her presence felt, but Austin approached the game in the same way she approaches everything, with confidence and competitiveness. Austin isn’t bothered by the moment.

I sat down and spoke with Shakira (SA) yesterday (5/9) and really got to know her as a person, her journey to the W, her goals, and so much more that really showcased who she is as a person. (Including slandering me for wearing Black Air Forces!)

This interview is shortened for brevity:

“I definitely have a lot of confidence, and I think that game allowed me to showcase and get the platform to show everybody what I can do,” said Austin. “I came in with the mindset that I’m here to compete. I was trying to put on for the rookies and show that we’re meant to be here too. I watched the film, the whole team and I just felt like I was prepared. Coming in, I feel like my defense and rebounding is going to be able to help me dominate, but you know, I still haven’t opened up my offensive side. For me, it’s exciting.”

MS: You showed a lot attacking off the catch, are you trying to work in more face-up as the season goes on?

SA: “I think that’s my game, the team doesn’t necessarily need my offense right now. So I’ve really just been cruising through. But, it’s definitely something that I have in my bag right now. I’m just not going to force anything or, you know, take up 12-15 shot attempts, you know, it’s just not needed. So I’m just gonna be aggressive. But obviously, I’m still working on everything that I want to do on the floor.”

MS: Coming into camp from the draft, what is that conversation like with Coach Thibault and the staff? Discussing your role on the team and development, you’re definitely in a different spot than most rookies picked 3rd overall.

SA: “like you said, other other rookies are going into programs and they have green light, you know, and I feel like with me, this situation just allows me to really just be efficient, and to focus on key details that I felt like as a rookie, you’ll be able to learn being around a lot of vets. I feel like this opportunity, with me being around Delle Donne, Tash (Natasha Cloud), A (Ariel Atkins), just everybody who was able to take me under their wing. I feel like I have the best opportunity to really expand and really open my wings to grow.”

MS: You mentioned in an interview this past year that Elena Delle Donne was your favorite player! What’s that like going from two to three months ago, to being on the same practice court headed into the season?

SA: “It was just exciting! Even to this day, you know, we’ve been around each other a couple of weeks now, but just in the game, watching her, I’m just amazed. Just trying to pick up and soak up as much as I can. And, you know, she’s done a great job with speaking to me and, you know, really just putting knowledge into me and motivating me, so, I’m just really excited to see what we can do together.”

MS: Rewinding a bit, you played your last game at Ole Miss on March 18th and you just played your second game in the league. That transition has to be an absolute whirlwind.

SA: “It’s definitely been something that I don’t think they talk about enough. You know, the transition from draft weekend, I was told that training camp was going to be in like, a week or so, but I literally went home that Tuesday morning from the draft and I had to leave back out Wednesday. I mean, just between balancing school and trying to finish my actual graduation, and prepare for big games, it’s definitely been hard to balance. I feel like there should be something out there just to help us navigate through this time and just try to be able to balance it because I really feel like they just shoved everybody out there. It’s just like “Alright, now you’re in the league. So, you know, do what you do.” And it’s even more tough for rookies, because you know, half of us don’t make the teams anyway. So, I mean, they’re juggling, you know, that and then they waste some time and have to go back to graduation. But, I mean, I’m so blessed, I will be graduating, so I feel, you know, really, really happy about that. And, you know, I’ve made it work. So, you know, shout out to God.”

MS: I remember reading that you’re going to be the first member of your family to graduate from college, so big congrats on that! I know going through your IG, you’re big on cooking, and you’ve mentioned before that you hope to open a restaurant someday. What kind of food? Are you the executive chef? I need details here!

SA: “I want to have my own farm. I think that’s step number one, I want to grow my own produce. One of my sisters, she’s actually a vet. We’re trying to figure this whole thing out so that she can deal with the animal part maybe and I do everything else. Having a restaurant is always something I wanted to do. My family, I grew up watching them cook in the kitchen. So my sister’s been to culinary school, and it’s just something that we’ve started to talk about, and I think now that I’m in the situation I’m in, it’s just really about putting it all together. I feel like it’s definitely something that I can do. I’m not sure what type of food I’m gonna make yet. I love so many different types. But, you know, we’re working towards it!”

MS: If you could make one meal right now, like your signature dish, what are you cheffing up?

SA: “I’d go with stuffed salmon, and mac and cheese. So stuffing it with like cream cheese, spinach, shrimp, crab.”

MS: This is what I get for not eating before hopping on this call, did you grow up watching Food Network? What was your favorite show?

SA: “Oh my gosh, Chopped. I wanted to do my own little segment with my family and we would just pick some random ingredients and figure out what we could do. But yeah, I just love Food Network.”

MS: Who’s the worst cook on the team?

SA: “The worst cook on the team??? Oh I’m gonna go with Myisha (Hines-Allen).

MS: You’ve seen her cook before? Or what’s the sell? (She made the funniest face of all time when I asked this man) Oh that face said it all!

SA: “Hahah I mean, just she keeps asking! She’s the type that’s just “When are you gonna cook? When are you gonna cook?”

MS: Growing up DMV area, what’s it like coming back to Washington area and being near your family again?

SA: “I just feel blessed. If I go to a random restaurant, people recognize me and I just feel this is just the best opportunity for me to really do some things that I want to do. I feel like just playing for DC it’s gonna allow me to do that. You know, a lot of people in this area look up to me from you know, playing in Boo Williams in Virginia to graduating from Riverdale Baptist. I feel like there’s just so many things that I could do and just impact people. So I’m really excited.”

MS: You have a ton of personality and an aura that was noticeable even from your time in college. Do you have any influences from the DMV area? Where did your charisma really come from?

SA: “Yeah, it’s definitely that DMV energy! I wouldn’t say anybody in particular influenced me. I think me being 6’5 I mean, I was like six foot as a young kid, and I really just had to learn how to just grow into who I wanted to be. Just figuring out how to be confident. And I feel like, that’s just the, you know, this is the result of it, you know, I wasn’t always just loud. I usually was quiet and reserved, and it just took a lot of just confidence and just believing in myself to really find out who I really wanted to be and who I was confident being and that just translated to, to who I am now.”

MS: Have you signed a shoe deal yet? I know you hadn’t yet prior to the draft!

SA: “I’m with Nike! I’m the only rookie they signed.”

(The smirk she threw was hilarious)

MS: That’s awesome! What’s your favorite pair of shoes right now?

SA: “OH Kobe’s, you can’t go wrong with some Kobe’s man!! First game, I had to bring out the Kobe’s, they’re just so comfortable.”

MS: What about off the court?

SA: “SB Dunks, the waffles. I love a low top because the high top, I mean you gotta wear pants, then you can’t wear the ankle socks, because that looks corny.”

MS: Thoughts on Black Air Force 1’s?

SA: “You wear black AF1’s?? I’m not gonna lie Mark, I don’t know if I can trust you bro. I mean if that’s your style that’s your style…. But don’t wear em’ up here!!”

MS: Alright alright noted! SO last thing I really wanted to hit on, what are your goals with your career? What are you really hoping to accomplish this season and moving forward as well?

SA: “I definitely have a lot of goals outside the court, but I want to be the best. It’s nothing else to it. I really think the people who are successful in the league right now, they look like me, and I feel like I can be better than them. I just continue to work. I’m not going to get a big head. I wouldn’t say I’m cocky. I’m definitely confident and I talk a lot. But, at the end of the day, I still know there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I know my ceiling is super high. This year, I still have high high goals for myself. I’m not gonna put it all out there, because you’d probably think I’m crazy, but I just speak a lot of stuff into existence. You know, people were asking me about the game yesterday, like “oh, well, you know, what were you telling yourself going in?” I mean, I was just telling myself that I’m gonna dominate. You know, that’s my goals for this year is just to prove to everybody that I’m one of the best regardless of how old I am.”

MS: Going back and watching your play at Ole Miss, you have a lot of skill offensively that you haven’t necessarily gotten to show off yet. What do you think is next for you and your evolution as a player?

SA: “I think if I locked my three ball down, there’s really nothing anybody will be able to do with me. I have to face up. I have the back down. I have the handles. I have the jump shot from mid range. So it’s like, if I get my three ball consistent, I mean, I’m gonna feel like Kevin Durant.”

MS: Another DMV legend. You didn’t take a ton of threes in college, is that something you’re working on in practice?

SA: “Not in this practice too much, but when I play pickup and everything like that, like I cash out. I’m coming off screens. I like to just work on everything, so it’s just really about translating them, but I’m gonna be patient.”

MS: Awesome, I’m psyched to see how you continue to develop. Appreciate you a ton for your time and best of luck against the Aces tomorrow!

Shakira was an absolute delight! If you don’t already, be sure to follow her on Twitter (@Theylove_kira) and IG (@curlyhead_kira). We’ll be back every few weeks with more editions of The Rookie Report as the season continues!

Newly hired WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.