Nicki Collen: Chennedy Carter ‘can be as good as Chennedy wants to be’

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Nicki Collen doesn’t think she’s ever coached anyone as talented as Chennedy Carter. Kit Kyle Martin, Carter’s high school coach, said Carter is the most gifted athlete she’s ever seen. Gary Blair, Carter’s college coach, believes she could be one of the best guards ever to play in the WNBA.

Carter has excelled everywhere she’s been.

She led her team to a 37-3 record in her senior year at Timberview High School in Mansfield, Texas, and was a top-10 recruit in her class. In three seasons at Texas A&M, Carter scored 1,983 points — just six shy of the Aggies’ all-time record. After she was drafted by the Dream with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, she became the youngest player in WNBA history to score 30 or more points in a game.

And Carter believes she’s just getting started.

“Right now, I don’t have (a ceiling),” Carter said. “I think I can grow so much. I just think there’s still a lot left in the tank. I think I haven’t even seen my best potential yet. I probably haven’t even played my best game yet.”

Right up to the last regular-season game of Carter’s career at Texas A&M, she wasn’t sure if she’d enter the WNBA Draft. It wasn’t until after a close loss to No. 1 South Carolina that Carter started thinking seriously about leaving.

“I went back after that game and talked with my parents and just let them I know I was kind of thinking about it,” Carter said. “At the same time, I was thinking about staying in school, too. It was kinda really after my last game because I knew I had the opportunity to go and that I would be probably a high pick, so I took it.”

A month and some change later, Carter became the Aggies’ highest-ever WNBA draft pick, at fourth overall. Weeks after that, Carter’s rookie season began in a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Because veteran Renee Montgomery opted out of the season, Carter had to come in and become the Dream’s starting point guard as one of the youngest players in the league.

“I was put in a position that I’m pretty sure most rookies wouldn’t be put in,” Carter said. “I had to run the team, be vocal, be a leader and be the youngest one probably in the league doing that. It definitely put me to the test, for sure.”

Collen often says point guard is the hardest position for a rookie to play. Not only did Carter have to know what she was supposed to do, but she also had to know what her teammates were supposed to do as she directed the offense.

In a shortened season, with limited practice time, it was expected that there would be a learning curve. It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Carter, particularly when she suffered an ankle sprain midway through the season that sidelined her for six games. But for the most part, Carter didn’t look like a rookie. She was well on her way to being the WNBA’s Rookie of the Year before she her injury, hurt and she finished the season ranked 10th in the league in scoring, at 17.4 points per game.

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As a scorer, Carter was ready to go from Day 1. But as a leader, it took her some time to settle in.

Having to lead a team is a challenging position for a rookie, particularly one who left college a year early. Collen discussed leadership with Carter before the Dream drafted her, knowing it would be a crucial piece of Carter’s development.

“Ideally, you want your point guard to be a verbal leader,” Collen said. “(But) if you have other leadership on your team, if you have veteran leadership on our team that can kind of give her that road map and get her to understand that there’s different kinds of leadership. There’s leadership in understanding the playbook. There’s leadership in taking responsibility when you make a mistake and having that humbleness about you. That’s leadership.”

Vocal leadership doesn’t come naturally to Carter, but she credits Collen’s belief in her as a key reason why her leadership ability grew throughout the year.

“(Collen) just consistently would pull me over in practice, and we would have those conversations as to where this was the position she was putting me in,” Carter said. “This was the position she wanted me to be in. She trusted that I could get the job done for her and that I could run the team.”

Collen believes that there’s a natural tendency for athletes to follow the best player on their team, and it’s clear that Carter is that player and will be that player for the Dream for the foreseeable future. That takes some of the burden off Carter being a vocal leader, because her teammates will follow her regardless. And with a year of experience under her belt, Carter now has a deeper understanding of what it takes to play point guard in the WNBA.

Her on-court skill never was a question. Anyone who’s seen Carter play knows that she’s an elite talent. And as she develops as a leader and learns how to truly command her team, Carter has a chance to blow past any ceiling she’s given.

“Chennedy can be a Hall of Fame player,” Collen said. “She can be one of the best players this league has ever seen. … Chennedy can be as good as Chennedy wants to be.”