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A lot of athletes talk about the importance of spending time with family. Janel McCarville meant it. After playing a year round schedule overseas and in the WNBA for six years, she needed a break.
The former Gophers star’s WNBA career began as the No. 1 overall pick by Charlotte in 2005. She spent two disappointing seasons with the Sting before the franchise folded. McCarville was then selected by New York in the dispersal draft where she flourished, winning Most Improved Player honors in 2007 and establishing herself as a top post presence.
Prior to the 2011 campaign however, McCarville decided she needed a break and did not report to training camp with the Liberty and was suspended. While she continued to play overseas, the 6-2 center spent two years in WNBA limbo. Her rights were controlled by New York, but the Lynx were playing close attention.
Finally in March 2013, the home team completed a three team trade that returned McCarville to Minnesota and reunited her with Lindsay Whalen. While the move was public relations coup, there were practical considerations involved. The Lynx filled a hole in their lineup caused by Taj McWilliams-Franklin’s retirement and McCarville, a Stevens Point, WI native could finally get the work/life balance she craved.
The 31-year-old and I chatted last week about that and a lot more.
DZ: We are about a fifth of the way through the season right now, how are you feeling on a personal level?
McCARVILLE: I don’t know. Not the best. I know I can do better and have higher goals than what I’ve so far, but the team is doing well so I can’t really complain too much.
DZ: I am guessing when you say you can do better, you probably mean shooting the ball.
McCARVILLE: Shooting percentage, yeah. Lower my turnovers, get more rebounds, things like that - a little bit. I know it’s not drastic jumps I am expecting. Going 0-fer in a game doesn’t sit well with me.
DZ: I noticed your rebound and assist numbers are up from last year.
McCARVILLE: Yeah, but they’ve fallen off the past couple of games. I’ve got great shooters, I am just trying to get to the ball in good positions for assists, rebounds and getting in there and mixing it up as much as possible.
DZ: How would you describe your role on this team?
McCARVILLE: (pauses) Do the little things I guess, I don’t know - I don’t know. I am not the main scorer, but I am looked to be a scoring threat. I am not the defensive stopper, but I am looked to to make certain plays defensively. It’s not one go to name I would say for me, but just a little bit of everything.
DZ: Kind of like a utility player?
McCARVILLE: Yeah, utility player is great. I like that one, that is a good one.
DZ: How much different was it coming in this year versus last year?
McCARVILLE: A little bit easier just because I knew the plays, knew the practice format, the expectations, things like that. It made it easier - a little bit easier. But, you know, we still go hard, I still think we are one of the hardest working teams in the league and you’ve got to come in each and every day and prove it.
DZ: What was the biggest adjustment for you last year?
McCARVILLE: I would say getting to back to the speed of the WNBA, speed of the team. You kind of lose that going overseas. People don’t have the same fast break mindset or have as intensive of practices as we have here, so you kind of lose a little bit of it. Being out for two years was definitely one of the biggest things I had to overcome.
DZ: It’s been 10 years since the Final 4, what stands out after all those years?
McCARVILLE: Everything. I can relive that whole run. I think even Whay (Lindsay Whalen) - we joke about it sometimes. How it happened and how it unfolded still kind of joke with the players we’d beaten. Nobody really expected it. I love reliving it with Whay. On road trips and stuff, we joke about something that happened in Norfolk, how our families got together in New Orleans - a lot great memories with it. The basketball was cool, but the memories we made off the court with the team were just as good.
DZ: That (run) kind of put women’s basketball on the map in Minnesota - not just college, but pro too; do you guys think about that at all?
McCARVILLE: Not really. At the time we just kind of did what we were doing. We didn’t know we were having such a big impact on women’s basketball collegiately or professionally, it was just what we did. We loved it, we enjoyed and we enjoyed each other’s company. Now, looking back we can say before that women’s basketball wasn’t very popular in Minnesota, but after our little run people started picking to the Lynx and even more on the Gophers side. We definitely had a great following after that.
DZ: How cool is it to come back here and kind of just add to that and win championships and do your thing back in Minnesota?
McCARVILLE: Icing on the cake. Four years in Minnesota, never knew if I was going to be able to get back, but it worked out and obviously last year was a storybook ending for us, hopefully we’ll be able to add some pages to that story this year and keep it going.
DZ: I read that you said the Lynx were the only WNBA team you’d play for, is that true?
McCARVILLE: They are the only ones I wanted to play for. Being far away in Charlotte my first two years and New York, I think, the next three or four, it was just difficult…I am big on family. I was kind of missing out on people’s lives. After I took my two years off, it was hard to leave them again. Coming to Minnesota, where they can come and see almost every single game and if I get two days off, I can jet home makes life a little bit easier - having a life outside of basketball.
DZ: Do you let how things ended in New York motivate you, do you hold grudges or anything like that?
McCARVILLE: Naw. Everybody that was in New York when I was there is not there anymore. Maybe two people, Cappie (Pondexter) and Essence (Carson). The whole staff is gone, everyone is new and the staff that was there when I sat out is gone. So they’ve already gone through two or three staffs in the meantime. There’s nobody on that team I would have to hold a grudge for, everybody’s gone. So no, I don’t hold a grudge against New York or anything along those lines.