- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2012

Angel McCoughtry will have a homecoming of sorts when the Atlanta Dream visit Verizon Center on Friday night.

The Baltimore native and her teammates will face the Washington Mystics in the first of four meetings between the teams.

McCoughtry, a four-year veteran, has established herself as one the WNBA’s best players. The first overall pick in the 2009 draft, McCoughtry was chosen as the Rookie of the Year, made the All-Star team in 2011 and was named first team All-Defense each season.

It’s been a summer to remember for the 6-foot-1 forward, who leads the league in scoring (22.7) and steals (3.1). But McCoughtry’s most memorable moment was earning an Olympic gold medal in London with Team USA.

“It feels great. I feel like I’m on top of the world,” the 25-year-old said. “There is no greater feeling than this. I am going to wear my gold medal everywhere.” Described by many of her Olympic teammates as “the secret weapon,” McCoughtry said coming off the bench for the first time in her career gave her new perspective.

“Honestly, not starting has been the best thing for my career,” McCoughtry said. “I’ve gained discipline, and I think before I didn’t have the discipline. This took my game to another level.”

During Team USA’s undefeated run, McCoughtry was the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 10.9 points, and led the team in field goal percentage (.602) and steals (2.5).

Joining McCoughtry with the Dream (11-11) in their clash with the Mystics (5-17) will be guards Lindsey Harding, who spent two seasons in Washington (2009-10) and Laurie Koehn, who spent four seasons with the Mystics (2005-08). The Dream also have another Olympian in Erika de Souza, who played for Brazil.

“I don’t think one person can defend [McCoughtry],” Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said. “She’s one one the best players in the world, obviously, so it will depend a lot on our team defense. We spent a lot of time today [Thursday] working on our defensive rotations, staying in plays, finishing plays, boxing out, so it has to be a total team effort.”

In just their fifth season, the Dream have become an Eastern Conference powerhouse. They have reached the WNBA Finals the past two seasons, falling to Seattle and Minnesota.

It’s a stark contrast to Washington, which has has never made it to the championship round in its 15-year history. The Mystics reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2002, losing to New York.

But as Lacey points out, the team is rebuilding.

“We’re trying to develop our young players and trying to get better,” she said. “The rebuilding process takes two or three years. It doesn’t happen overnight.”