Lynx Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin Unfiltered

In a starting line-up loaded with All Stars, All Americans and a local legend, it’s easy to overlook Taj McWilliams-Franklin. The unsung center however, was recently included among the 30 finalists for the WNBA’s 15 greatest players which are set to be unveiled at the All Game later this month.

Having appeared in three Finals and six All Star Games, the 13-year veteran brings a wealth of experience and toughness to team that has lacked both in recent years. At age 40, McWilliams-Franklin is averaging 7.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in nearly 29 minutes per game for the 7-3 Lynx heading into Wednesday afternoon’s contest against Phoenix.

McWilliams-Franklin and I hooked up after Monday’s practice at Target Center for a quick Q&A.

DZ: Right now your team is winning, you’re playing big minutes - contributing - I imagine you are pretty happy with the way things are going.

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Yes, we are competing. I think that is important from game-to-game - to get better and compete. We have great teams here in the WNBA. I am not happy about my minutes, I don’t want to play that much. I think as our post players - the young ones - Amber (Harris) and Jess (Adair) come along, I can sit longer and rest more.

DZ: I’m sure you’ve been asked a lot about this, but this is your first year playing in your 40s, is anything different?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Yeah, waking up everyday (laughs). No, as far as my preparation, I don’t do anything differently outside of what I normally did all of the years I’ve played. I apparently take good care (of myself) anyway. I make sure I get enough rest and massages and relaxation time so I am not totally stressed out about playing in the games. It helps that you have a knowledgeable training staff. Chuck Barta (and) Keith Uzpen are good trainers, so they understand. The fact that I have coach Reeve, who knows me from Detroit and previous years (helps). She is not the kind of coach who wants to be all over you and force you to play as hard as you can in practice. She knows that you sit out (when you need to). That keeps the longevity going, so I don’t have to play 14 hours in a week, I only play 12 hours. It saves me for games and things that are more important for her and our team.

DZ: You mentioned the other post players. Amber Harris has kind of struggled this year, what is your role in mentoring her, helping her develop?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: I hope that it is just that she can watch me and pick up some traits that I do. Everyday she comes in before practice with Jess Adair and works with our post coach Jim Petersen, just learning post moves and rhythms and when to whip through and when to step back and when to go. She is such a big kid that everything for her should be finishing at the rim. She shows flashes that she is going to be brilliant, but like everyone else she has a rookie learning scale. She is not Maya Moore; a lot of people want to compare all of our rookies to Maya Moore. Each one is different, on our team, on other teams. You have to accept what Amber Harris brings to our team. She is not Maya Moore, she brings what she does well and for us, there’s a curve she has to learn and integrate herself. Trust me, playing post is a lot harder in the WNBA than in college.

DZ: That leads to my next question, do you think it’s a harder adjustment (to the pros) for a post player than a wing player?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: I definitely think it is because there is a lot of hitting, a lot of bodying, a lot of nuances of our game that in the WNBA becomes magnified in the post. You have to learn those tricks in order to be successful. I’m 6-2 and I’ve been playing center all of my life in the WNBA. She (Harris) is 6-5 and she’s been playing center in college. I know that there are so many tricks that you can use to be taller or play bigger and she’s learning them as she goes along. When she gets in a game, she has to know that she has to do something positive so she can continue staying in the game and continue to compete against those great post players to learn those nuances.

DZ: You were a free agent coming into this season, why did you decide to come to the Lynx, what attracted you to them?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Cheryl Reeve, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus - who I played a little with overseas in Turkey a couple of years ago - Alexis Hornbuckle, I played with Rebekkah (Brunson) at the beginning of this year in Spain. So, I knew the players that she (Reeve) had and I know her ultimate thought is about defense. For me, my first thought is about defense and my second thought is about scoring. I know our personalities mesh - Coach Reeve and I - because we were in Detroit together and I got a chance to get to know her for the year and a half we were there. When she asked my agent and he called me - I had a lot of offers - it made me just think about what they (the Lynx) had and write out if I could help here or if I could do better where I was at in New York or move on again to another team. Ultimately, it was Coach Reeve’s insistence that she was going to get the team to play defense and that appeals to me.

DZ: You were on a championship team in Detroit (2008) and you made the Finals a few times with Connecticut (2004 & 2005), does this team have the potential to make that kind of a run?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: I never think about it. Every team comes in every year and says “Hey, we are going to be WNBA champions.” For now, the Seattle Storm are the reigning champs and that’s all we worry about. (It’s) game by game by game, there is no big picture with us. The Minnesota Lynx want to think about the next game and that’s it. We want to control what we can control right now. In a month and a half or two months that will be different because the games will be almost over and then you can focus in on “We want to make the playoffs, we want to do this,” but for now, the Minnesota Lynx want to win our next game and that’s pretty much all we think about.

DZ: One last thing, going way back to when you first started playing in the WNBA as a professional, did you ever think you’d be playing when you were 40?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Never (laughs). But then again, I can’t see the future. Thank goodness I allow God to send me where I am supposed to be and do what I am supposed to do and this is it. I’ve been here and I’ve been successful and who knows, I might be 45 and still playing. Wherever I am at, it’s going to be fun like I have here. I have fun playing basketball. It fuels me, the competition. The players that are coming in are so great, so this my calling for now.

One Response to “Lynx Center Taj McWilliams-Franklin Unfiltered”

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