Back in 2013, Taj McWilliams-Franklin began her coaching career with the Liberty. On Friday, she returns to New York as an assistant coach with the Dallas Wings.
McWilliams-Franklin played 14 years in the WNBA, and planned a post-playing career as a coach. However, those opportunities were few and far between. The Summitt caught up with McWilliams-Franklin late last month to discuss that pursuit.
McWilliams-Franklin, a Division II player herself, spent the last two years as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Post University in Connecticut.
But the move to Dallas staff allows her to spend more time with her youngest of three daughters, Maia. “I wanted to be with my 14-year-old daughter,” McWilliams-Franklin told The Summitt in a phone interview. “My other girls I didn’t get to see as much, so I wanted to make an effort to at least, to try.” McWilliams-Franklin and Maia will be closer to family in Texas. Her mother lives in Houston, while her husband Reggie has family in Oklahoma.
Although McWilliams-Franklin primarily works with the Dallas Wings post players, she gladly offers support to anyone on the team. Her task is to facilitate player buy-in. “I typically ask, ‘what do you want for yourself? What do you want to do?'”, she said.
A former player on staff contributes infinite support and legitimacy to a coaching staff. Despite this, McWilliams-Franklin found it difficult to secure her first opportunity on the other side of the sideline.
New York started the trend
When asked about the role of veterans of the WNBA can play in the league today, McWilliams-Franklin paused. “I am disappointed with the WNBA and the lack of [former] players who really want to be part of the league.” She believes the issue is lack of opportunity and access, as opposed to interest.
“I put in literally 60 applications as a third assistant in college,” she said. “I was not offered development, or any such thing when I was done playing. That was the reality.”
Over two decades of professional experience as a player was not enough to land a college coaching role, with broadcasting jobs more available instead. But Bill Laimbeer gave her that chance.
In 2013, the New York Liberty added McWilliams-Franklin and three other retired players to the coaching staff under Laimbeer. The former NBA player led the Detroit Shock to three WNBA titles before joining the Liberty five seasons ago. “Bill Laimbeer had Teresa Weatherspoon, myself and Barbara Farris—all former players—as his first coaches there in New York,” recounted McWilliams-Franklin. Liberty veteran Tamika Whitmore also served as a consultant in Laimbeer’s first season.
“I believe that the players know what’s happening out there, especially smart ones,” Laimbeer told The Summitt courtside at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, prior to the Liberty game against the Los Angeles Sparks. “They should be given the opportunity to be in the coaching ranks.”
Former WNBA talent can be found throughout the Liberty power structure, from associate head coach Katie Smith to director of player performance Teresa Weatherspoon and director of player development Swin Cash.
Weatherspoon takes pride in being part of an organization creating such opportunities. “That brings a smile to my face because I’m gonna always say, New York starts everything; it will always begin here,” said Weatherspoon.
The WNBA legend hopes the Liberty will inspire other teams to follow suit—something already happening, with Erin Phillips in Dallas, Tamika Catchings in Indiana and Penny Taylor in Phoenix all occupying similar roles to the one Cash has in New York.
Laying a foundation
The Wings are a young team with the opportunity to establish a franchise culture. “I had some conversations before I was hired about the culture change and how everything was going to be different from the previous year here,” McWilliams-Franklin said.
“Now it’s time for the Dallas Wings to establish what we’re going to be from this point on, and that for me was super exciting. To be part of it from the ground up, making it something that every free agent wants to come to, and every rookie wants to be drafted to.”
In five years, she hopes to see Allisha Gray or Kaela Davis in the MVP race. The building blocks are in place. Gray and Davis led rookies in six statistical categories, including minutes per game and points per game. Fellow rookie Saniya Chong leads the incoming class in steals per game.
Now, Madison Square Garden is more than just a famous arena. For McWilliams-Franklin, it’s where her new career started. She has the date marked on her calendar.
“That’s June 2nd, I only know because I get to see my family (laughs) they’re still in Connecticut, [my daughter’s] still in school up there. I’m so excited, I haven’t seen her [since April]!”