Former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry returns to “my stunning best.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Angel McCoughtry leaves no doubt. She does not leave.
Repairs to both knees prevent her from jumping as high or moving as fast as she once did. Injuries, surgeries and rehabilitation have kept her from playing more than two games in three of her last four WNBA seasons.
The qualities that once made his game elite have eroded enough that the Minnesota Lynx opted to buy out his contract last month.
At 35, the former University of Louisville All-America is a five-time WNBA All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the highest-mileage free agents in women’s basketball.
“I have tons of basketball left to play,” she said. “I will know when it is time to retire.”
Friday’s official opening of a memorial basketball court in Shively Park will find the U of L’s most accomplished ballerina between concerts.
McCoughtry says she wanted to be sure “I was at my best” before re-entering the workforce, and is encouraged enough by her twice-daily workouts to “let the teams know I’m available.”
She attributes her knee problems to “abnormal” injuries and attributes one of them to a side effect of acne medication.
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While it’s tempting to paint McCoughtry as another aging athlete clinging to delusions in the face of a deteriorating skill set, she’s always been a player who preferred the plain truth.
In 2009, at halftime in the U of L women’s team’s very first Final Four game, head coach Jeff Walz told a national television audience that McCoughtry had played terribly against the U of L. ‘Oklahoma.
“As soon as I say it, everyone is going to say, ‘He rips his player off, threw her under the bus,'” Walz recalled. “I said, ‘Angel, I just told everyone who watches ESPN that you were terrible. ‘ And she goes, ‘Well, I was.’ And she comes out and I think she had the first 12 (points) in the second half.
“She just took everything as a challenge.”
Walz’s memory is slightly off. McCountry failed to score the first 12 points of the second half but led U of L’s comeback from a 12-point halftime deficit after missing her first eight shots from the field.
His field goals broke ties four times in the second half and his final free throws gave the Cardinals the last points they needed in a 61-59 semifinal win.
Walz’s most important point, however, was correct. McCoughtry never needed to be pampered.
“I want people to tell me exactly what I’m doing wrong,” she said. ” Tell me. Let me know so I can adjust.
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For the most part, however, his career has been defined by minor adjustments and major accomplishments.
More than a decade after leaving the U of L to become the WNBA’s No. 1 draft pick, McCoughtry remains the school’s career leader in points, rebounds and steals.
A two-time WNBA scoring champion and three-time top steal with the Atlanta Dream, McCoughtry became so prominent in Georgia that she was encouraged to announce their intention to eventually run for governor.
It’s a singular talent that once allowed Walz’s grandfather to see double.
In a 2007 game at Rupp Arena, McCoughtry butted heads with Kentucky’s Victoria Dunlap so hard that she was forced out of the game to close the wound with 11 stitches.
Before returning to the ground, she changed her bloodstained No. 35 jersey to one wearing No. 45.
During McCoughtry’s absence, Kentucky went on a 10-0 run. On his return, Louisville regained his lead and won by 15 points.
“My grandfather was probably 85 at the time,” Walz said. “He’s 99 now. After the game he said, ‘Jeff, I know you’re the coach, but I would play this 45 and 35 together.'”
Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, [email protected]; Twitter: @TimSullivan714