Lynx Center “Mama” Taj McWilliams-Franklin Unfiltered

While Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore are off chasing Olympic glory in London, their more unheralded teammates are sweating out the summer on the practice court at the Lifetime Fitness in Target Center.

The break came at a perfect time for the Lynx, giving their battered front court of Rebekkah Brunson, Jessica Adair and rookie Devereaux Peters time to get healthy. All three are expected back when the Lynx resume play on August 17.

After winning a WNBA title last season, conventional logic said that Taj McWilliams-Franklin had played her last professional game and would join likely the coaching ranks. The 41-year-old had other ideas however, and with the encouragement of Coach Cheryl Reeve, returned for the 2012 season.

I caught up with the veteran center recently and had a candid discussion about a variety of topics.

DZ: You guys are on break right now, that’s got to be kind of different. What’s that like – all practices, no games?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: For me it’s not fun, but I go through it. This is my 4th Olympics in the WNBA, so I am used to the break. It helps, you get a lot more rest, your body gets to recover. I play year-round overseas and the WNBA, it’s a welcome break – not for the Olympians, but for us. You give confidence to the players you don’t play as much, tighten up some things and actually work on fundamentals, which every team is happy about I’m sure.

DZ: What’s it like not having the Big 3 here while you are practicing?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: It helps with the other players because if you have an injury and something happens to someone, you’ve got to have players who are ready to step in. I think during the break when the Big 3 are gone, now Monica (Wright) has an opportunity to come in and play some more, you get more confidence in other players and how they play. Me and Rebekkah (Brunson), we are playing with two or three players we haven’t played with unless something happens. When Seimone got injured, Monica started; maybe you don’t know her rhythm, what she likes to do. With the Big 3 gone, now we get used to everybody. I know which way Monica likes to go, I know which way Erin (Thorn) likes to go, I know which way Candice Wiggins likes to go. For us, it gives us an opportunity to see other players in those roles.

DZ: I wanted to ask you about Monica Wright. Her confidence – she seems like a whole different player this year. What are your thoughts on her?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Monica is a great person and she’s a great player. I think it goes hand-in-hand with how hard she works. She went overseas this offseason and really worked on her game and came back and was determined – after winning a title, a lot of players come in and regress on what they did before – Monica Wright is trying to get better. She has a sky-high confidence level; her ball handling is much tighter, her defense is better – she’s strong, fast and she’s capable. When you put that in with her confidence level right now – it’s been amazing.

DZ: Obviously you are back this year. What was that process like, was it a tough decision for you?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: It was tough as far as my family and just being 41. Coach Reeve said at the beginning she wanted me back and the organization wanted me back, so for me it was just about working through the process I do at the end of every year – trying to figure out where I want to go, if it’s time for me to stop, how my body responds from being overseas – things like that. For me it was a hard decision for personal reasons, not professional reasons.

DZ: Was there any part of you that thought, “I am over 40 now, I won a championship, may this is the time to check out and do something else?”

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: For a long time, a couple of months. You know, I am a competitor and it’s been a long time since the LA Sparks repeated, the Houston Comets repeated and it’s something that we wanted to do – be the first team in a dozen or so years to repeat. That was something that was pushing me and being over 40, that’s pushing me also. How many years can I play competitively at a high level with a great team and not rely on someone else to get me through. Being a competitor pushes you and you think in your mind, “I want to do this again.”

DZ: Your nickname is “Mama Taj” and obviously, you are a mature player. You seem to embrace that, but is there any part of you that gets tired of the old jokes or talking about your age all of the time?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Definitely. I get tired of that a lot more than it seems because I am just gracious. I get tired of hearing the announcers on TV when I make a move (say), “41-year-old”. It gets annoying at times, the “Mama Taj” does not, but the talk about my age and everything like that (does). There are a handful of NBA players who played after 40, I watched those telecasts (and) I don’t remember anyone saying, “40-year-old Robert Parrish scores”, no it was just “Robert Parrish gets another bucket” and I think it should be the same (with me).

DZ: One last thing, what are Coach Reeve’s themes heading into the second half?

McWILLIAMS-FRANKLIN: Our focus is always the same. We focus on winning the West, protecting home court and getting a great seed for the playoffs and trying to win another title.

See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Lynx players:

July 10: Erin Thorn
June 21: Devereaux Peters

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