Why Kayla McBride couldn’t wait to return to San Antonio Stars

Early Wednesday morning, before most people in San Antonio were awake, Kayla McBride was on the opposite side of the world celebrating with her team, Yakin Dogu Universitesi, after winning the Turkish League championship in a dramatic five-game series.

By Friday evening, she was in the AT&T Center, dressed in black and silver, and addressing the fans who showed up for the Stars home opener against the Phoenix Mercury. “Thanks for being our sixth man,” she told the crowd just before tip off. “We love you.” She then sat down on the bench and waited her turn to take the court. She didn’t wait long.

90 seconds into the game, McBride subbed in for fellow guard Sydney Colson. Her first play of the night was a turnover. It would be the first of the six she would make, an uncharacteristically high number for her. But she had multiple things working against her.

First, there was the travel and everything that comes with it. After winning the Turkish League Championship, McBride celebrated with her team, and was on a flight a few hours later. “I did about 20 hours of traveling,” she told reporters after the game. “Got here at 8:00 p.m. last night. Slept, got up at 8:00 a.m., had physicals, things like that, and then went to shoot around, slept again, and then came to the game.” When asked if she experienced jet lag, McBride laughed and responded, “By third quarter, just a little bit.”

PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 13: Kayla McBride

Second, there was the fact that in that tight return schedule, she had no time to learn the mechanics of her team. San Antonio Stars coach Vickie Johnson said, “K-Mac actually just got in from Turkey last night, took a physical this morning, and played tonight. So she has no idea about the defensive schemes or even offensive. But I thought she played well for us.”

Despite the turnovers, McBride did play well. She was the second-leading scorer for the Stars, putting up 14 points. This included the team’s final two of the night, which she made sprinting down the court after stealing the ball and laying it in with just under 9 seconds left in the game. In all, McBride, less than 24 hours after stepping off a plane, played over 28 minutes.

[More at The Summitt: PODCAST with Stars head coach Vickie Johnson]

It wasn’t enough. The Stars are 0-3 this season. McBride said she watched the first two games while she was overseas (“they might have been at 2 am but I watched them”) and her takeaway was that the team is figuring itself out. “Everything is new. Coach is new, we have new players. We don’t even have our point guards yet.”

The point guards she is talking about are Kelsey Plum and Moriah Jefferson, the one and two guards for the Stars who have yet to play this season. Plum, the number one draft pick in the league this year, is out with an ankle injury; her right ankle was wrapped on Friday as she sat on the bench. Jefferson, last year’s #2 pick in the draft, has right knee soreness.

Their absence has been a strain on the whole team and Johnson said it helps explain the team’s 16 turnovers. “Our two starting guards are on the bench next to me,” she said, “that can average in this system at least an assist a piece.”

To fill that hole, Monique Currie, a forward, has been bringing the ball up the court. Sydney Colson is starting but she “is our backup guard,” Johnson said. “We are asking her to do a lot of things against starters. I think if she came off the bench, you will see a very different Syd, a very relaxed, comfortable Syd.” So virtually everyone is playing out of position, or more than expected.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – JUNE 11: Kayla McBride

That’s about to change, starting with McBride, back in her comfort zone and uniform she wore en route to a 2015 WNBA all star appearance. But it’s been a long time since she wore a Stars jersey, her 2016 season ending in early July with a right foot fracture. “I was excited to put that uniform on,” she said, “It didn’t really matter how tired I was, I was happy to be out there with my teammates.”

The only way for the Stars right now is up. The team finished last in the league the last two years and sits in that same spot right now. McBride is looking forward and she is hopeful.

“When we do start adding these pieces, we do start getting to know each other a little bit better, that’s when we’re going to become better,” McBride said. “We’re going to be beating these team by six, eight points.”

When asked by The Summitt if Johnson expects Plum and Jefferson back on Thursday for their home game against the Dallas Wings, she said, “I’m praying for that but we’re very close, very close.” She certainly talked like she expected it: “I’ll be excited to see our team next week against Dallas. I think you guys will see the real Stars in action.”

“We know it’s a process,” McBride said, “We still have time to come together.”