‘Dream On’ documentary spotlights ladies’s basketball legend — Andscape

For latest generations of girls’s basketball gamers and followers, listening to the identify Katrina McClain might not resonate.

Many gained’t play again a psychological spotlight reel or instantaneously affiliate the identify with basketball greatness. It’s a reputation some will swear they’ve heard earlier than, however can’t fairly place. Others might affiliate the McClain identify with a few of the high collegiate energy forwards within the nation, lots of whom grow to be finalists for the annual award that bears her identify and was first awarded in 2018.

However to look previous McClain’s identify is to move over an important determine within the sport’s historical past, probably the most dominant and proficient gamers the sport has ever seen. Stanford ladies’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer, who coached McClain on a number of USA Basketball groups, together with the 1996 Olympic staff, calls her one of many 5 greatest ladies’s basketball gamers.

And but, McClain’s identify doesn’t reverberate amongst ladies’s basketball circles with the identical fervor as Lisa Leslie, Daybreak Staley or Sheryl Swoopes, McClain’s teammates on the 1996 Olympic staff.

“She’s a multi-gold medalist and but there’s most likely numerous gamers within the league now which are youthful that simply don’t know who she is,” mentioned Marianne Stanley, who coached McClain as an assistant on the 1986 gold-medal-winning world championship staff. “Katrina was a type of quieter gamers that simply went out and did an important job at doing her job and didn’t search the limelight, however was pretty much as good an influence ahead as there was in her time.”

The premiere of Dream On, a brand new ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Crew’s storied run in Atlanta (Wednesday, 8 p.m., ESPN), presents a renewed alternative to reintroduce McClain, and her impression, to a nationwide viewers.

McClain falls into a well-known bucket for a lot of ladies’s basketball pioneers whose skilled primes predated the formation of the WNBA. The advantages of their contributions had been reaped by the generations that adopted, however their legacies had been muted by a scarcity of visibility.

McClain performed an instrumental function on the 1996 staff, which was a catalyst for the creation of the WNBA, a league that has since grow to be probably the most profitable ladies’s sports activities league. However it will be a league that McClain would by no means herself play in.

“Katrina doesn’t get sufficient publicity for what she’s finished, particularly as a result of she didn’t get to do it within the USA,” mentioned Bridgette Gordon, who gained a gold medal with McClain on the 1988 Olympic staff. “There’s a lot extra to who Katrina McClain was as a participant.”

Katrina McClain first gained gold for america on the 1988 Summer season Olympics. By 1996, she was certainly one of simply two returning Olympians on the staff together with Teresa Edwards.

Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Photographs

The 1996 Olympic staff was a wedding of the outdated guard and the brand new. There have been 10 first-time Olympians corresponding to Staley, Leslie and Swoopes, the way forward for the Olympic staff. Rounding out the staff was Teresa Edwards, who was enjoying on her fourth Olympic staff and McClain, enjoying on her third. McClain and Edwards had been the one two returning Olympians on the staff, and the one two who had skilled successful an Olympic gold medal.

The duo took it upon themselves to shepherd within the new era and put together them for what was to come back.

“It wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and we acknowledged that,” mentioned McClain of the trail to gold in Atlanta. “For us to drag collectively and assist convey alongside the youthful ones who didn’t actually perceive what it took, it was one thing that needed to be finished.”

However simply because the first-time Olympians had been making their changes, there was one facet of the staff’s Olympic preparation that McClain and Edwards had by no means skilled themselves. The 1996 Olympics could be the primary 12 months that the staff skilled for a complete 12 months main as much as the Video games, a choice made by USA Basketball following bronze medal finishes within the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and 1994 World Championships in Australia.

Beforehand, the Olympic staff had assembled simply weeks earlier than the beginning of the Video games, obtained on the street and, as McClain mentioned, began “kicking some butt.” However instances had modified on the worldwide stage. Expertise had improved and groups had gotten smarter in how they matched up in opposition to america.

“That’s actually completely different, that they had to purchase into that,” VanDerveer mentioned of the change in Olympic preparation. “I don’t know that there was prompt buy-in actually from anybody, myself included.”

McClain was a bit extra blunt.

“I didn’t prefer it in any respect,” she mentioned. “I made that very clear.”

The staff skilled collectively for 10 months and between October 1995 and July 1996 performed 52 video games in 5 international locations, together with a three-month NCAA tour within the lead-up to the Olympics Video games. It gained each single sport.

“We constructed an important staff, everybody spent numerous time collectively.” mentioned McClain, who performed in a minimum of 40 of these exhibitions (official stats had been saved for 49 of the 52 video games). “Tara actually labored us, and we actually labored arduous. We had been like machines that summer time.”

“When she obtained the ball, you’d be like, ‘Aww, they’re in bother.’ ”

— Crew USA’s Carla McGhee on teammate Katrina McClain

McClain nearly didn’t play on the 1996 staff. Following the bronze medal end on the World Championships in 1994, McClain mentioned, she and Edwards had been labeled as a motive the staff had misplaced.

“It actually harm,” mentioned McClain, who totaled 29 factors and 19 rebounds in a semifinal loss to Brazil. “I didn’t just like the vibes that we had gotten after ’94.”

“They obtained numerous flak, they did,” mentioned Carla McGhee, McClain’s teammate on each the 1994 World Championship and 1996 Olympic groups. “The criticism got here from the truth that we didn’t lose these kinds of tournaments. There was numerous blame gaming and throwing individuals beneath the bus. There have been unsaid rumors that … the staff ought to infuse new blood. It wasn’t truthful as a result of in the event you have a look at the stat sheet, Trina did all the things she was alleged to do.”

At that time, McClain didn’t have a lot curiosity in making an attempt out for the 1996 staff, as an alternative preferring to keep up her private peace than to proceed on a staff the place she would possibly really feel undesirable. McClain mentioned she had grown accustomed to the abroad life-style and the considered dropping that to then apply for a 12 months wasn’t very engaging.

The $50,000 take-home pay for every nationwide staff member paled compared to the $200,000-$300,000 that McGhee says gamers corresponding to McClain and Edwards had been receiving in abroad markets.

“Katrina was one of many high gamers on this planet,” McGhee mentioned. “I’m fairly certain she left some huge cash on the desk.”

McClain talked to a number of individuals earlier than making a choice, together with her brother and Edwards. In the end, McClain did determine to play – largely as a result of she wished to be part of pushing ladies’s basketball within the U.S. ahead.

It’s a choice McClain mentioned she was glad she made.

Katrina McClain (left) dominated on the 1996 Summer season Olympics, averaging 14.1 factors and eight.3 rebounds whereas taking pictures 73.9% from the sphere.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE by way of Getty Photographs

To look at McClain play was to have a front-row seat to what VanDerveer described as a “basketball ballet.” McClain’s sport had no wasted motion. It was easy and extremely environment friendly. Through the 1996 Olympics, she shot a whopping 73.9% from the sphere, averaged 14.1 factors and eight.3 rebounds, and began all eight of the staff’s video games. McClain led the staff in rebounding and was second on the staff in scoring behind Leslie.

McClain’s sport wasn’t fancy, mentioned McGhee, nevertheless it was as efficient and mastered as they arrive. McClain had a jumper she might knock down wherever from 12 to 18 toes. She might convert within the excessive put up and was nearly automated on the low block. Her command of the sport was so easy that it usually appeared prefer it got here simple for her.

“When she obtained the ball, you’d be like, ‘Aww, they’re in bother,’ ” joked McGhee.

McClain introduced a steadiness and sense of reliability to the 1996 staff. She was all the time prepared for the sport forward, displaying a stage of confidence that would calm the nerves of her teammates. McGhee mentioned each time the staff stepped on the court docket, they knew they might belief McClain to start out them off the appropriate means.

McClain’s constant performances supplied a lot wanted consolation for a staff that felt the load of the way forward for the game.

“I feel she gave everybody that form of confidence,” VanDerveer mentioned. “The boldness that there was no means she was going to let the staff lose. She would put that staff on her again. She didn’t have to be the star however she was able to step up anytime you wanted her.”

Maybe McClain’s most spectacular ability was her leaping skill, which made her a nightmare for opponents on the boards. McClain led every of her three Olympic groups in rebounding.

McGhee in contrast McClain’s knack for rebounding to NBA nice Dennis Rodman, emphasizing her magnetlike nature when the ball goes up. Gordon, who in contrast McClain’s leaping skill to a pogo stick, added that the arm span of the 6-foot-2 McClain made it really feel like she introduced extra like a 7-footer – residing as much as her nickname “Tree.” She performed with a quickness that made her arduous to field out, had nice timing across the rim and contained the explosiveness of a excessive jumper.

“There was form of a joke about Katrina,” VanDerveer mentioned. “She would soar excessive, after which larger. She could be up and also you assume she was happening however she saved going up.”

McClain’s dominance on the court docket was juxtaposed with an usually soft-spoken demeanor, a lot in order that many tagged McClain as being a form of silent murderer by the best way she might unassumingly take over each facet of a sport. Opponents usually had no concept how deadly McClain was on the court docket till they appeared up at a scoreboard or checked a field rating.

“You lookup and also you’ll be like, ‘Rattling, Tree had 22 and 15. When did she do this?’ ” recalled McGhee.

“If we had been enjoying a simple staff, she didn’t need any a part of that. Some individuals prefer to pad their stats; no, [not Katrina].”

— Former U.S. ladies’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer

McClain was the final word competitor, pushed by successful. It didn’t matter which nation she was in or which court docket she was enjoying on. If there was time on the board, a ball in her arms and a sport to be gained, she was going to offer her staff her greatest effort to finish within the winner’s circle.

However there was one situation.

“They needed to be good,” McClain mentioned. “I hated enjoying groups that weren’t going to compete or weren’t price enjoying.”

“If we had been enjoying a simple staff, she didn’t need any a part of that,” VanDerveer mentioned. “Some individuals prefer to pad their stats; no, [not Katrina].”

No opponent pushed McClain to her aggressive peak, nonetheless, than when she performed in opposition to the lads.

“After I performed in opposition to the fellows, I’m simply aggressive,” McClain mentioned. “It brings out all the things in me, it’s like I am going to a different stage.”

VanDerveer recalled a sport performed in Chicago in June 1996 in opposition to Russia, only a month away from the beginning of the Olympics. The sport had been one of many closest of the preseason, and the 2 powerhouses went all the way down to the wire. VanDerveer wanted an additional edge from her energy ahead.

“I keep in mind form of saying ‘Katrina, faux they’re guys; we’d like this one,’ ” mentioned VanDerveer, making an attempt to encourage McClain to play how she would in opposition to the male apply staff. “She simply performed arduous.”

Taking part in in opposition to the boys is the place her roots inside the sport had been constructed.

When McClain was rising up in Charleston, South Carolina, her mom all the time instructed her she needed to be again inside the home earlier than the streetlights got here on. On the identical time, she by no means needed to guess the place McClain was. Throughout the road, she’d discover McClain, the identical as every other day, hooping in her neighbors’ yard. Most instances it will simply be McClain and the boys.

McClain would go on to star on the College of Georgia from 1983 to 1987, the place she helped lead the Bulldogs to 2 SEC titles, two Candy 16 appearances, an Elite Eight and an look within the 1985 NCAA championship sport. McClain was the primary SEC Freshman of the Yr in 1983-84, the primary SEC Participant of the Yr in 1986-87, a two-time All-American (1986-87) and the 1987 Nationwide Participant of the Yr.

“I knew I had my work reduce out for me each time we’d play the College of Georgia,” mentioned Gordon, who starred on the College of Tennessee from 1985 to 1989. “That was who I used to be envisioning the nights main as much as the sport.”

Katrina McClain (proper) celebrates together with her Crew USA teammates, (from left to proper) Sheryl Swoopes, Jennifer Azzi, Lisa Leslie, Carla McGhee and Katy Steding, after beating Brazil within the gold medal sport on the 1996 Summer season Olympics.

Manny Millan /Sports activities Illustrated by way of Getty Photographs

In 1996, it had been 9 years since McClain had a possibility to play basketball in entrance of an American crowd. Her professional profession had allowed her to play in entrance of massive crowds in Japan, Italy, Spain and Turkey, however by no means in america, which was nonetheless and not using a viable league for professional gamers.

Taking part in with the nationwide staff throughout its NCAA tour and later for the Olympic staff in Georgia, the identical state the place she made herself a nationwide identify, was like a breath of recent air for McClain. To win a gold medal in Atlanta, the place she moved after school, in entrance of 33,000 on the Georgia Dome, made the second a real homecoming.

“It couldn’t have been extra good,” McClain mentioned. “The truth that my mother, dad and household obtained to see us play. For me that was extra rewarding than the rest. Our household obtained to be part of our success.”

Between the 12 months of coaching and the Olympic competitors itself, the damage and tear that got here with such a heavy coaching routine started to take a toll on McClain’s physique.

Following the Olympics, she returned abroad, enjoying for Galatasaray in Turkey. However whereas in Turkey, McClain wasn’t feeling proper on the court docket, hampered by a ache in her knee. It bothered her leaping to the purpose the place bending down introduced excruciating ache.

McClain returned house to america, the place she’d uncover she had torn her meniscus. As an alternative of getting ample time to rehab and get better from her damage, McClain returned to Turkey just some weeks later and was again on a court docket competing.

“It was downhill from there,” mentioned McClain who was clearly not at 100% upon her return.

McClain would be capable to play stateside – she performed one season for the Atlanta Glory of the American Basketball League. However the accidents wouldn’t subside. 

“I can get by way of an ankle sprain, I can get by way of a damaged finger, however when you’ve got knee accidents, each time I circled, that was tough,” McClain mentioned. “It was actually unhappy. I mentioned no, this isn’t me, I’m not having enjoyable anymore doing this.”

Katrina McClain was inducted into the Basketball Corridor of Fame in 2012.

Jim Rogash/Getty Photographs

McClain, who’s now an educator at Fort Dorchester Excessive Faculty in South Carolina, was by no means one who performed basketball for the limelight or the accolades. At any time when cameras had been round, McClain was not. She usually hid from that form of consideration or discovered herself strolling away as a result of she by no means cared for it. McClain performed the sport as a result of she cherished it.

Whereas part of her would have preferred to play in america a bit longer, McClain believes the time she spent enjoying was greater than rewarding.

“Some individuals ask me, ‘Don’t you want you may be enjoying at the moment once they’re enjoying on TV and the cameras are huge and ladies’s basketball has gotten to this point?’ and I say no,” mentioned McClain, who was inducted into the Basketball Corridor of Fame in 2012. “I feel I performed within the time after I was alleged to have performed. No matter assist that was to get ladies’s basketball on the map or put it the place it wanted to be, then I used to be in my proper time.”

For the generations that didn’t have the chance to observe McClain star on the 1996 Olympic staff in Atlanta or lengthy earlier than, it’s arduous to visualise the impression that she had on the staff and the game as an entire. Apart from some grainy YouTube movies of the nationwide staff throughout its NCAA tour, it’s arduous to search out footage of McClain’s dominance.

Coupled with the truth that McClain by no means performed within the WNBA like all of her friends from 1996 who are sometimes used at the moment as a measure of social relevance, it’s not a shock that McClain’s impression has largely been underappreciated.

“The factor that saddens me is that numerous the younger youngsters won’t ever know a Trina McClain as a result of she’s not going to toot her personal horn, she didn’t play throughout social media or related TV contracts. All you bought is field scores,” McGhee mentioned. “Children today, they’re of a era of ‘I want receipts, I have to see it.’ That’s the unlucky factor. Folks have to know Katrina McClain. She must get her flowers whereas she’s alive.”

Gordon, now an assistant coach on the College of Cincinnati, hopes that renewed recognition for McClain’s impression serves as a place to begin for the opposite pioneers and history-making groups of the game whose legacies haven’t been adequately celebrated.

“That might be my cry,” Gordon mentioned. “This 30 for 30, let it’s the start. Now return in historical past to all of the groups that got here earlier than 1996.

“We have to proceed to evangelise historical past and the pioneers of the sport.”

Sean Hurd is a author for Andscape who primarily covers ladies’s basketball. His athletic peak got here on the age of 10 when he was named camper of the week at a Josh Childress basketball camp.


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