Can McWilliams-Franklin Get The Wings Flying In The Right Direction?
By Dorothy Gentry
Hours before the Wings prepared to face the Sun - ironically a team she played on for four years - interim head coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin was calm but laser focused on the task at hand: making the playoffs.
“We are going to do the simple things,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “We are going back to our simple stuff – we’re going to box out, rebound and fight. This is our last opportunity. We have to get into the playoffs. We know this. We talked about it. We’re focusing on us and what we do well.”
The Wings are in the last week of the season and are literally fighting for their playoff life. At 14-17, they are hanging on to the final playoff spot. Sitting closely behind at just one game back are the Aces at 13-18. Both teams have three games left this week and will play each other in Dallas on Friday night.
Tuesday’s Wings’ game against the Sun is the third of a three-game road trip and their third game in four days. After Friday’s game against the Aces, the Wings will close out the regular season against the league-leading Storm on Sunday.
In the meantime, McWilliams-Franklin said the team will continue to fight and do what they know to do. She acknowledged being without 6-foot, 8-inch MVP candidate Liz Cambage the last two games due to a neck injury suffered last week has been a struggle and hurt their rebounding. Rookie Azura Stevens has been starting and in two games has scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
Skylar Diggins-Smith has also missed a few games recently with a facial injury and her backup, Kaela Davis, has missed the last two games with an illness. The status for both for tonight’s game remains unknown at this time.
“We’ve missed all of them – and Rima (Karima Christmas-Kelly) going down for the season – we’ve been fighting just to get a solid group that has played for a while. Just trying to get consistency,” McWilliams-Franklin said.
Turnovers and missing second-chance points (the last two games they fought back from large double-digits deficits to get within three but couldn’t close it out) have also plagued the team of late.
“Being an ex-player, it’s frustrating,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “You just keep digging in. It’s all basketball luck or the basketball gods some people say.”
McWilliams-Franklin says fans and opponents will see the same coaching style as former coach Fred Williams when they take the floor Tuesday.
“We’ll see the same thing, it hasn’t changed,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “We’re not changing our team’s identity in these last three games.
“I’ve coached before today. I was coaching last week. It won’t change much. I’m an ex-player so I understand the ebbs and flows of games; sometimes you need a kick in the rump, sometimes there is nothing to say. We are a team. Together. All of us. We are all on one accord.”
Regarding the circumstances surrounding the firing of Williams, McWilliams-Franklin was open and honest.
“Coach Fred has always been a mentor to me, even when we played against him. I spent several hours talking with him,” McWilliams-Franklin said.
“You feel an incredible amount of emotions when things like this happen, both as players and as staff. I want to honor the opportunity he gave me to be part of this staff. I will probably call him at halftime. I don’t mind saying that. I listen to him. Being a mentor is not something you turn off because they are not here anymore. It is for life. I will call him and ask him what he thinks about things. What happened is unfortunate for everyone involved but we stay with who mentored us and who leads us. ”