Wings Assistant Coach Follows Fate Into WNBA Career
By Dorothy J Gentry
While growing up, Dallas Wings assistant coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin never dreamed of playing professional basketball in the WNBA.
In fact, there was no WNBA when she was a little girl.
"When I was growing up I didn’t have any thoughts of playing basketball or even coaching. I wanted to be in the FBI,” McWilliams-Franklin said.
But fate, opportunity and life had different plans.
McWilliams was a pretty good basketball player and played college ball at St. Edward’s University in Austin. She ended up setting several school records and individual achievements, including NAIA National Player of the Year in 1993.
There were no opportunities for professional basketball players after she finished school, so she headed overseas after encouragement by her now former agent, eventual Hall-of-Famer Clarissa Davis Wrightsil.
“She told me about the opportunities of playing overseas, the ability to make money and that’s how I first learned about it,” said McWilliams-Franklin, who is 47.
McWilliams-Franklin began playing overseas, including stops in Germany and Israel in 1996, the latter of which made her start loving the game even more.
This was also the year the American Basketball League (ABL), the first independent professional basketball league for women in the United States, was created.
Fate stepped in again.
Success overseas led to McWilliams-Franklin being drafted by the short-lived league in 1996 (40th overall pick). She played two seasons for the Philadelphia Rage of the United States and led the league in blocks with 1.5 per game, and ranked fifth in field goal percentage (.528). She was also a member of the 1997 All-ABL second team.
Then the WNBA was formed. It came calling, she answered and the rest is history.
A six-time WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA champion, McWilliams-Franklin began her WNBA career in 1999 as the third selection (third round, 32nd overall pick) of the Orlando Miracle, now known as the Connecticut Sun. She played eight seasons for the organization before enjoying stints with the Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics, Detroit Shock, New York Liberty and the Minnesota Lynx, winning championships with the Shock and the Lynx.
In her 13 seasons in the WNBA, she was one of the top rebounders in the League. She held the record for WNBA all-time offensive rebounding (1,062) until 2016 when Rebekkah Brunson took it over.
She moved into coaching after retiring in 2012, serving as assistant coach for Boston University, the New York Liberty and Rice University, and head coach at Post University.
McWilliams-Franklin, who is always impeccably dressed and well-groomed, is in her second year as assistant coach for the Wings where she can be seen on the sidelines clapping, high-fiving, celebrating and encouraging players. She spent a few minutes after practice one day sharing her thoughts on a number of topics including the evolution of the league, playing overseas, what she misses most about playing and what lies in her future.
On how the league has evolved: “The talent level has increased. You see players able to do more, they’re more athletic and versatile.
“When I played a center was a center, ones and twos did certain things. Now you have players that play one, two and three, a player can play the five but is really a three and more. You don’t have defined roles anymore.”
On playing overseas: It’s a necessary evil. You want to have the ability to create wealth and you give up something to create that wealth. Playing overseas adds a dimension to your game – you’re playing top players in top countries – that you don’t get anywhere else.
“But it’s not for everyone. It can be lonely. Some people can’t handle it. You have to choose.”
On what she misses most (as a player): “I miss the camaraderie of having like-minded individuals you are playing with. You are playing on an equal level and fighting for the same things. You have one mind and want to win. You’re always together - on same plane, same hotel, eating together, etc.
My basketball family became like my family – crying, angry at each other, hanging out.”
On her coaching philosophy: “As a coach I try to keep the lines of communication open for players and for us to discuss the game, and give them ways to succeed. I want to be able to teach them what they need to know. I want to explain what they need to know. The “how” you do something is often missing. I do the details, that’s the only way I played. I was super-smart but paid attention to details, footwork details, how to force someone into a turnover, those are the nuggets I want to share.”
On her future: “To learn more about my craft and be a head coach in the pros. I will either do that or get into the business of basketball.” McWilliams-Franklin will finish her MBA in a little over a month from Purdue.
On the WNBA: “I am proud to be associated with the WNBA; it’s given me an opportunity I didn’t have before. The WNBA has been here for many women who haven’t had the chance to play in front of their friends and families and who had to go overseas to play.
I am thankful for this no matter what is in the news and media. At the end of day, my first thought is the product we put on floor, that people are in the stands and then we move on from there.”
On her eye and love for fashion: “I design and sell clothes and plan to have a fashion brand one day. I’ve been doing it for several years. I was so tall back in day and no one was making clothes for me. There wasn’t any ordering on-line like it is now. I would just walk by someone and see something about their clothes I like, take a photographic image in my mind and go home and try to make it. I wanted to be fashionable and still be tall.”
McWilliams-Franklin is a proud mother of three and lives in San Antonio with her husband Reginald. This past offseason, she joined former NBA player Vlad Radmanovic on a visit to Kazakhstan as U.S. Department of State Sports Envoys. The Envoys participated in a series of events sponsored by U.S. Embassy Astana, including Jr. NBA clinics, speaking engagements and camps.