Olympic Rings, Rookie Things, and Everything Dallas Wings

With one win under their belt, the Dallas Wings kicked off the season with a stellar performance from veteran Allisha Gray against the Los Angeles Sparks. Dallas trailed by seven after the first quarter, struggling offensively, recording 11 turnovers. However, Gray took charge in the second quarter scoring 12 points. She began facilitating the offense, garnering four of Dallas’ 15 assists and ended the game with an impressive statline: career-high 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Although Gray showed she was the perfect veteran to lead the young team to victory, she’s taking an international getaway for a shot at the gold. With Gray missing two games so far, Dallas fell 0-2— Gray will miss at least one month.

Along with sophomore Satou Sabally, Gray has left the U.S. to participate in the Women’s 3×3 National Team’s Olympic Qualifying trials. Part of team USA, Gray will represent the nation alongside Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky), Katie Lou Samuelson (Seattle Storm), and Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces) with Duke Women’s head coach Kara Lawson as coach advisor. 

 

Team USA

On Sunday, Team USA won the Big Twelve International 3×3 Tournament in Voiron, France, where Gray was named MVP. Surprised by receiving the award, Gray said she simply played like herself competitive and trusting her game.

“I was surprised. I pretty much played within myself,” she said. “I was aggressive the whole game. I think I played defense really well this tournament, too, so I feel like I brought an overall presence.” 

Team USA saw the Big Twelve tournament as a way to establish team chemistry. With the majority of their opponents experienced in 3×3, the U.S. was at a disadvantage. The fast-paced basketball tournament is dubbed as the No. 1 urban team sport and is debuting as an Olympic discipline at the 2021 Tokyo Games.

Like Gray, Dallas awaits the return of Satou Sabally from Germany as she competes in her second Olympics qualifying trials. Sabally flew to Minsk, Belarus to represent Germany for the 3×3 at the 2019 European Games. Sabally and Gray are set to meet on May 29, Germany v. USA, to compete for a spot in the Tokyo Games.

The qualifying trials begin today, May 26, and run through May 30 in Graz, Austria. For both men and women, 20 teams will compete for a top-three finish, which grants entry to the games in Tokyo. Team USA’s preliminary round begins May 27 against Indonesia and France, followed by close-out rounds against Germany and Uruguay on May 29.

For those unfamiliar with 3×3 basketball, here is a brief overview of the sport: Played on half-court with a 12-second shot clock, teams are constructed with three players and one substitute. Coaches will not be allowed at the games per Covid-19 policy. The first team to reach 21 points wins, and in the case of overtimethe clock is set to 10 minutes, and the winner is the team which scores two points first. The games will be available to watch live and on-demand at Livebasketball.tv or free on FIBA3x3 Youtube Channel

 

Fresh Meat

If we were giving away awards for the 2021 Draft, Dallas would surely deserve one, after they secured five picks in this year’s event, including the first two. 

Center Charli Collier was the first rookie to make an impact, banking an 11 point, 10 rebound double-double in her first WNBA game, adding a steal and a block. She helped the Wings claim 45 rebounds, the most since June 20, 2019, against Phoenix (49). Her poise in the paint helped her to hold her own against sisters Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike. Collier is the first Wings rookie to record a double-double in their debut since the team moved to Dallas. The former Texas Longhorn remained in the starting lineup in their second game against Seattle, but coach Vickie Johnson saw better options on the bench in the tightly contested matchup, relying primarily on Isabelle Harrison instead—Collier spent just eight minutes on the floor. Harrison took her place in the starting five against Liberty on Monday, as Collier aided with five points (2-of-4 FG) and five rebounds in a game the Wings eventually came up short

Chelsea Dungee, selected with the fifth pick, checked into the game against Los Angeles late in the fourth quarter, scoring her first three WNBA points. She did not play against Seattle, but spent five minutes on the court against the Liberty, as one of the players coach Johnson hoped could help slow Betnijah Laney down.

Dana Evans, who many viewed as a top prospect in the draft class, but who slipped all the way to the 13th selection on draft night, got her first chance to play in the W late in the fourth quarter versus LA. Her first WNBA points came as a three-pointer against Seattle, scoring five points and one assist. Evans was unable to make an impact during the Liberty game, recording a turnover, personal foul and missing her one attempt from behind the arc

Awak Kuier arrived in Dallas from Finland on May 20 and got a few reps in with the team. 

There is no current update on when she will be available to play. Sources have informed Winsidr that Kuier is expected to play Thursday against the Atlanta Dream.

 

Double Trouble

Allisha Gray led Dallas to a win over the Sparks in their season opener, so far their only notch in the winning column. Her second-quarter 12-point gains gave her team the wind it needed to blow out the Sparks. While feeding her teammates on the wing and in the post, Gray helped Dallas control the game tempo. 

Still, with Gray competing in the Olympics, Dallas and head coach Vickie Johnson have a challenge on their hands: defining team leaders versus role players. 

Last season’s league leader in scoring, Arike Ogunbowale, extended her streak of games with double-digits in points to 40– tying Skylar Diggins-Smith for the longest streak in franchise history. In her first three games, Arike recorded 17, 28, and 24 points; Still, she has to improve on her overall game efficiency. She is currently averaging 3.3 apg and shooting 40.0 percent from the field, although forcing shots instead of finding her teammates. When she can incorporate her teammates like Marina Mabrey, Dallas’ overall floor productivity increases.

“Ma-Rike” is a fan favorite as the duo seemingly gets better with each bucket the other sinks.  The Notre Dame teammates find each other during transition opportunities and can get their team in rhythm. Mabrey dropped a career-high 26 points against Seattle and set career-bests in field goals made, rebounds and minutes played. She and Ogunbowale set the record as first college teammates to score 25 or more points each for one team in a single game. Overall, these two have shown themselves to be team leaders and have their plays down to the science, but it’s time to get others involved, if they want to become a true contending team.

South Carolina teammates Allisha Gray and Tyasha Harris also proved to be a solid duo during the Sparks game. Harris recorded seven points, shooting 50 percent from the field, 33 percent from three, seven assists and a steal. She struggled her first game without Gray versus Seattle making three fouls and scoring two points, one steal and one block. Even so, Harris started against Liberty, punching eight points, three rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and a block. Although she recorded three turnovers and fouled five times, Harris was fierce throughout the game and played well on both sides of the ball.

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Figuring it Out

With an offensive superstar, two sets of college teammates with impeccable chemistry, the No. 1 overall pick, and four other top rookies, Dallas is a special team on paper. Yet, they sit at 1-2 and blamed each other after losing to New York’s Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. 

Head coach Vickie Johnson says the team’s biggest issue is having confidence in one another.

“The most important thing is our effort and trust in each other,” she said. “We didn’t trust each other on both sides of the basketball, and we have to do a better job of that as a whole and take responsibility. When we get tired as a whole, we start blaming, doing the blame game, and that’s not who we are.”

Dallas is still struggling with identity and leadership as a unit. Without having all of their players present, it is difficult for the team to forge true chemistry on the court. 

Veterans Isabelle Harrison and Kayla Thornton stepped up in Gray’s absence, both stamping double-doubles against Seattle, Thornton adding a 12-point, 11-rebound outing against the Liberty. 

If Gray and Collier were to return to the starting lineup, Harrison and Thornton could hope to compete for the Sixth Woman of the Year award. Off the bench, they show control when hitting the floor and make their teammates better. Thornton proves she can not only score but hustle and create plays when her team needs it, while Harrison shows off her spin cycle move when she’s not locked in on defense.

 

Work with What You Got

The biggest challenge for Dallas is constantly reintegrating players into a system that is ever-changing. Currently, they cannot create a system that sticks due to crucial players leaving for the Olympics and bringing in players like Kristine Anigwe, who may not have a roster spot all season. For the time being, the Wings will have to implement trial and error for who are the best five to play at any given moment. If they are not able to grapple with this issue in the short run, it could once again affect their standing, in the long run, come the postseason. 

For players like Kayla Thornton, this is another bump in the road for the regular season as the team develops.

“With Coach VJ we have a 24-hour rule where we have to look at our mistakes, go back and watch film, see what we did wrong and then it’s on to the next game. These games are coming too fast for us to dwell on what we did not do and stuff like that. We have a game coming up Thursday against Atlanta, so we have to have short term memory.”

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