Inside the Paint: Coach Taj

The Wings are going to run their offense through the post in 2018, something that they did not have the luxury of doing a season ago. With the addition of 6-foot-8 center, Liz Cambage, the return of center Ruth Hamblin, and rookie Azurá Stevens, the team has grown into one of the tallest teams in the league.

A season ago, the Wings gave up a lot of baskets in the paint. Assistant Coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin believes the heightened post players will not only solve that issue, but she thinks they can go beyond that.

“I want them to dominate,” said McWilliams-Franklin. “Pure dominance on offense and terrors on defense. I want them to be who they are and understand that no one has their size or presence. That is what we are going to exploit against other teams. We are trying to figure out creative ways to get them the ball that other teams are not used to or have not seen.”

Interior dominance is something McWilliams-Franklin knows well. A six-time all-star and two-time WNBA Champion, she is one of the most dominant post players of all-time. She held the record for WNBA all-time offensive rebounding until 2016 and was a key contributor in helping her teams excel on the defensive end of the court as well.

Being an all-time great, McWilliams-Franklin has plenty to teach the Wings post players. Her main advice for post players is a theory that she calls “Two.” The theory is applied to both offense and defense and is something she wants her post players to live by.

“We tell them ‘two’. You have to defend two steps, two dribbles, or two moves. That is a solid defensive idea. We have five players, it is not like it is 3-on-3 and they can do whatever they want. If you can learn to defend like that, you are going to contain 90 percent of the league, or we will rotate our help. Offensively, most good post players have one or two moves and the counters to those moves. We just have to find out what your two moves are and how to counter when they take that away. I try to keep it real simple for them.”

Just having a great coach like McWilliams-Franklin isn’t always enough. Player have to want to work and want to succeed. The sixth overall pick, Azurá Stevens, is a prime example of a player who wants to be great. A 6-foot-6 Center out of Connecticut, Stevens is working with McWilliams-Franklin to develop a long-range jump shot as well as her post skills.

“For Azurá, it is about developing that skillset. We work every day on shooting outside and that form and technique. As a 6-foot-6 player in college, you are a post player. For her, we want to develop her shot enough to where she can shoot it with her eyes closed. We want her to be on balance and ready to shoot at any moment. She already has a great feel for the basketball., but she comes up every day and asks for pointers. She is not shy about asking for help. That is going to make her commodity in this league. And she is not afraid of the big moment. She may be a rookie, but she is going to play as hard as she can for you. When she makes a mistake, she admits it. And that is something you want in a young player.”

With all the excellent post talent on the Wings roster, McWilliams-Franklin has high expectations for this group this season. Not every team has multiple players over 6-foot-5 and the Wings will look to use that to their advantage going forward.

The post players led by McWilliams-Franklin lead the Wings into their final preseason game on Sunday, May 13. The regular season tips off in Phoenix on May 18, with the home opener scheduled for May 20 against the Atlanta Dream.