The WNBA’s first generation of players was all underdogs.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, American women’s basketball players plied their trade across the globe, all while holding out for the promise of a professional league in their home country. When this promise finally was realized with the founding of the ABL and WNBA, uncertainty remained, as demonstrated by the failure of the ABL and the folding of multiple WNBA franchises. Nevertheless, these women persisted to establish the viability of women’s professional basketball in the United States.
Of this founding generation of underdogs, Taj McWilliams-Franklin was the ultimate. Her three-decade career exemplifies the challenges women often navigate to sustain success in professional basketball.
McWilliams-Franklin’s impressive WNBA resume suggests blue-chip beginnings:
- 2x WNBA champion
- 2x All-WNBA
- 6x All-Star
However, her professional basketball journey did not start in East Tennessee, Northwest Louisiana or Southern California. Instead, her post-secondary basketball career false-started at Georgia State in downtown Atlanta. And when the head coach who recruited the Augusta, Georgia, native was let go, McWilliams-Franklin found herself unwanted because the new head coach did not accept athletes with children.
During her senior year of high school, McWilliams-Franklin gave birth to a daughter, Michele. Sixteen months after the birth of Michele, McWilliams-Franklin welcomed a second daughter, Schera, into the world. As such, she now had to find a basketball family that would accept her expanding family.
St. Edward’s University, an NAIA school in Austin, Texas, the city where her mother lived, would serve as McWilliams-Franklin’s new college basketball home, offering her a partial scholarship that she supplemented with loans. To sustain her basketball career while surviving her academic and everyday obligations, McWilliams-Franklin gave Schera up for adoption.
“[It was] the best thing for her,” she later reflected. “I was going to St. Edward’s, taking out loans to pay for an apartment, lights, food, school, clothes, bus transportation. I had to make it stretch.”
Despite these stresses, McWilliams-Franklin excelled on the court, attracting the attention of Division I programs. Yet, appreciative of the opportunity, McWilliams-Franklin stuck with St. Edward’s. “After my first year when I did so well, I could have gone somewhere else, transferred to a D-I, but I felt loyalty is rewarded with loyalty,” she recalled.
She was named 1993 NAIA Player of the Year her senior season.
Roaming and raging to play
In need of money to finish school and support her family, McWilliams-Franklin headed overseas. She played in Wolfenbüttel, Germany (1993-94), Contern, Luxembourg (1994-95) and Galilee, Israel (1995-96), all with Michele in tow.
Hooping in far-flung locales did not strain her love for the game, instead confirming that…
Read More: WNBA: Taj McWilliams-Franklin is an underdog who exceeded expectations 2020-05-20 13:11:57