“I still want to be just like her”: Comparing the careers of sisters Erica McCall and DeWanna Bonner

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 31: Erica McCall
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 31: Erica McCall /

Another family affair

Former Indiana Fever forward Erica McCall has always been an entertainer. As a child, she teamed up with her younger brother Justin and a cousin to form “Jesus Stars,” a band that performed for family and hosted small local concerts. Erica played guitar and her bandmates played piano and drums.

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As an adult, she got to star in a slightly bigger concert when she was selected to perform with Carrie Underwood in Indianapolis last summer. McCall later told High Post Hoops’ Keith Geswein, “When I was singing, I was like, ‘This is something I have to do. I have to do this again.’ And it just shows that entertaining is something that I do, whether it’s on the basketball court or on stage with a celebrity.”

Despite her stellar performance, she had mixed feelings about the positive reception it received. “A piece of me still feels unsatisfied,” she wrote in a post published on High Post Hoops. “I’m a third-year WNBA player who is still trying to figure out her way in a tough league. As much as I enjoyed the high praise for my rapping, I wish that praise was coming from me performing well after a big game.”

McCall played in plenty of big games in college, helping Stanford to two Final Fours while averaging nearly 10 points and seven rebounds per game in her career. She was drafted 17th by Indiana in 2017 but was recently released after three seasons with the team. She averaged less than four points per game and the Fever never made the playoffs in her tenure.

As McCall looks to take the next step as a professional, she can look to two people in particular for inspiration and advice: dad Greg McCall, who is the women’s basketball coach at UC Bakersfield, and sister DeWanna Bonner, a two-time WNBA champion and three-time All-Star who joined the Connecticut Sun this offseason after 11 seasons with the Phoenix Mercury. “I wear [number] 24 because of my sister,” Erica said, “and I just always looked up to her. I’ve always wanted to be just like her; I still want to be just like her.”

Justin, four years younger than Erica, likewise looks up to both of his sisters. He is a junior on the CSU Bakersfield men’s team, wearing the same No. 22 his dad wore for the school in the early 1990s, and wants to follow Erica’s path at Stanford and DeWanna’s at Auburn. “Both of my sisters have played in the NCAA Tournament and I don’t want to be the odd one out,” Justin told The Bakersfield Californian last month. CSU Bakersfield got a bid to the College Insider Tournament in 2019 and was preparing to compete for the automatic NCAA Tournament bid out of the Western Athletic Conference this year until the coronavirus abruptly ended the season.

As I have done with other basketball families (most recently, with cousins Chennedy Carter and Jia Perkins), I am stacking up this trio’s accomplishments to determine who gets bragging rights at the family dinner table. First, I looked at DeWanna, Erica, and Justin’s respective college careers. Then I compared the first three years of DeWanna and Erica’s pro careers, which included DeWanna’s first WNBA title in 2009 with the Phoenix Mercury. The college statistics are from the Auburn, Stanford, and CSU Bakersfield team websites; the WNBA Draft information is from Across the Timeline; and the WNBA statistics are from Basketball-Reference. The top performance in each statistical category is highlighted.

Because the three players averaged very different amounts of playing time in college, I measured their production per 40 minutes instead of per game. Either way, though, Bonner takes top honors in most of the individual categories, starting every game of her career and scoring better than a point every two minutes. Per game, she averaged 17.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while shooting over 45% from the field and nearly 80% from the free throw line – a stellar career by virtually any measure.

However, Erica is the sibling who had the winningest college career, as Stanford averaged 29.5 wins against just 7 losses in her four seasons. She also led her siblings in rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, which may be expected given their respective positions on the court. Erica is a 6-foot-2 forward who plays primarily on the block, while DeWanna (6-4) and Justin (6-6) are guard-forward hybrids. Even with that caveat, Erica was an elite rebounder and shot-blocker in college, ranking in the top 3% of players nationally in rebounds per game and blocks per game as a senior. In 2015, DeWanna praised Erica to ABC News: “She is such a hard worker. You are going to get her best effort every night and I love that about her game.”

Justin, who had originally dreamed of playing at a Power 5 school like his sisters before choosing the hometown team, only topped his sisters in one category: the fewest turnovers per 40 minutes. But unlike his sisters, he still has a season to improve his stats—and get that elusive NCAA Tournament bid.

After DeWanna and Erica graduated from college, they embarked on professional careers both in the WNBA and overseas. DeWanna has played in Russia, China, and the Czech Republic, while Erica has spent the past three winters with Atomeromu KSC Szekszard in Hungary. This comparison will only consider their WNBA performances. As with their college statistics, many of DeWanna and Erica’s WNBA statistics are presented per 40 minutes because of their disparate amounts of playing time.

DeWanna had an extremely smooth adjustment to the WNBA, earning the Rookie of the Month award for the first month of the 2019 season. It helped that she went to a WNBA team that played a similar style to Auburn. “I don’t have to change anything,” she said in 2009 after learning that she would play for Phoenix. “I just have to do what I do.”

In her first three seasons, DeWanna averaged 11.3 points per game, or nearly 19 per 40 minutes, and had an effective field goal percentage of over 48%. Her player efficiency rating was a sparkling 20.1, well above the league average of 15.0. She even improved on some of her college statistics, including free throw shooting, assist-to-turnover ratio, and blocks per 40 minutes, and found the postseason success that had largely eluded her at Auburn, where her deepest NCAA Tournament run ended in the second round.

Erica’s WNBA statistics weren’t as dazzling for the Indiana Fever, but she was still a strong rebounder, averaging 3.7 offensive and 5.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. She also averaged 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes, just 0.1 shy of DeWanna’s mark, and improved her free throw shooting percentage by nearly nine points since college. And when Erica struggled to get playing time or make an impact on the court, she could lean on DeWanna. “She just tells me to always keep my head up, to have fun, to push through … when I have down days,” Erica said.

In the past three seasons, Phoenix and Indiana played nine times, and DeWanna’s Mercury won eight, including the past six. Erica and DeWanna haven’t guarded each other much, but when the time comes, Erica has a trick up her sleeve. “My dad told me the secret … to guarding her,” Erica said. “I can’t reveal that now, of course. But he told me and so one time I when I got [matched up with] her … I was ready.”

Erica recently returned home to California after her Hungarian season was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. She had to quarantine herself for 14 days, during which time she posted daily TikTok videos of her dancing on Twitter—sometimes with an assist from her family. But she is excited to get back to the entertainment that pays the bills. Last summer, she said of her sport, “I get to wake up and do what I love every day. I get paid for playing basketball. Like, who can say that? I never feel like I’m going to work.”

Additional reporting for this story was contributed by Keith Geswein and Kimberly Geswein.

Families previously featured in this series include Chennedy Carter and Jia Perkinsthe Jonesesthe Samuelsons, the Ogwumikes (Part 1 and Part 2), and the Mabreys.

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