Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry (center) watches from the nech during a June game. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Angel McCoughtry wants to play in finale but Dream says she’s not cleared

The Atlanta Dream dropped their 12th straight game amidst rumors that franchise star Angel McCoughtry wanted to return for the team’s final regular-season game. 

The 87-83 loss to the Chicago Sky Tuesday night at State Farm Arena marked the Dream’s 22nd loss of the season. And with just five wins, the team could desperately use the return of five-time WNBA All-Star, two-time FIBA world champion and two-time gold-medal Olympian McCoughtry. 

“You can’t teach what Angel has,” coach Nicki Collen said. “Angel’s just one of those players, when the game is on the line, she wants the ball in her hands.”

McCoughtry posted to Instagram on Tuesday morning: “Proud to announce that I will be playing in the last game [on] September 8th. It’s an honor for all the Atlanta dream fans to see me in that jersey before the 2019 season ends.” 

McCoughtry updated her caption, which originally said fans would see her in the jersey “one more time,” to clarify that she was not retiring. 

“I don’t know where people got retirement from,” she told the AJC. “Retirement never came out of my mouth.”

McCoughtry said she hopes to get a little bit of court time in the September 8 final game, even if it’s just for a second, she said. She added, smiling, that’d she’d of course take the opportunity to launch some shots.

Collen said she and McCoughtry discussed the possibility “briefly,” and that she respects the forward’s desire to put on the Dream uniform at least once this season, but even if they allowed McCoughtry to sub, the forward would not run plays, she said.

McCoughtry met with a doctor on Monday and has not been cleared to play nor is she close to being cleared, according to Collen. 

“She’s not ready. She probably thinks she’s closer than the doctors think she is. I know she’s itching to play,” she said. “If she was close to coming back and was someone that could help us get over the hump, that would be incredible.”

That hump being the Dream’s tough season. 

Atlanta has spent much of the season at the bottom of the WNBA standings and remains there as the end of the season nears, with just seven games remaining.

Collen knows the team’s struggles are a result - at least in part - of McCoughtry’s absence.

The Dream have tried to put the pieces together in her absence, with players like Brittney Sykes and Tiffany Hayes showing up in big moments, but Atlanta is missing the passion, consistency and ego of someone like the 2009 No. 1 draft pick.

“When we had a five-point lead last year, the game might as well have been over,” Collen said. “We knew how to make enough plays and guard the heck out of people.”

On Tuesday night against the Sky, the Dream let a 10-point halftime lead slip away even with an 18-point second half from Hayes. The consistency just isn’t there without McCoughtry, according to the Dream’s coach.

“Sixteen points and eight rebounds is a hard void to fill,” Collen said. “Especially when you’re talking about 16 points, eight rebounds and a fearless attitude – the ‘I’m-better-than-you’ attitude she’s always going to have.” 

Since her inaugural professional season -- the Dream’s second season -- the franchise player has averaged 19.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

Last season when McCoughtry was healthy, Atlanta fought its way to the playoffs despite a slow start, eventually falling in the semifinals to the Washington Mystics. But a late-season knee injury sidelined the forward and she hasn’t been back since, over a year later. 

Before Tuesday night’s game, she was practicing shots with the rest of the team though she wasn’t wearing her uniform.

She said while her future with the Dream is unclear, her time in the league isn’t, saying she’ll play until she’s 50.

“After this season we’ll see,” she said.

And with the 2020 Olympics around the corner, the two-time Olympian hopes to join the women’s national team in Tokyo next year.

Collen knows the veteran has her eyes set on the Games, which is why she’s hesitant to play her too soon. 

“Angel needs to take care of Angel right now,” she said. 

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