She’s the best basketball show in Louisville right now.
But what puts her on high this list of Kentucky Sports People of the Year is what she does away from the court, the number of girls she takes time to speak to, even the ones who come up to her for autographs after games. My favorite story about her this year is about a girl who listed her as a role model in one of those high school athlete Q&A pieces in the C-J Sports section.
McCoughtry tracked the girl down and wrote to her personally to thank her for following her.
I know I’m not ranking these things, but McCoughtry would certainly rank near the top of this group.
Below is a column I wrote about her in January of 2007.
McCoughtry reaching superstar status
Jan 7, 2007
You’ve got to go watch this woman play basketball.
One time. Trust me.
Don’t watch on television. Buy a ticket. Sit in the stands.
What’s the old saying? University of Louisville sophomore Angel McCoughtry is worth the price of admission.
Yesterday’s game was run-of-the-mill for her. She had 21 points and nine rebounds, close to her averages in both, in an 88-67 win over Seton Hall.
Here’s what else she did: She had 20 deflections on defense. By herself. On top of that, she had seven steals.
But those numbers aren’t why you’ve got to go watch her.
You see, players today are better athletes than they’ve ever been. And certainly, the 6-foot-1 McCoughtry is as athletic a player as you’ll find in the nation. She’s not far from dunking the ball in competition — nearly did it one-handed in a game last month. It might even have been enough to call a dunk, but everyone knows she’ll do it more convincingly later.
No, players today are better athletes, shooters, rebounders, ballhandlers, leapers, better at more things than ever. But very few of them put it all together.
McCoughtry is one of the few. She can take over a game with offense, as she did with games of 38 and 41 points in the past couple of weeks. Or she can do it with defense, with her quick hands and ability to anticipate. She can do it with rebounding. A couple of times this season, she has done it with all three. Against Cincinnati, in the second half alone she had 23 points, 13 rebounds, four blocked shots, three steals and a bundle of deflections.
Coach Tom Collen can’t suppress smiles when he talks about McCoughtry. He thinks you should watch her play, too. He just doesn’t want her teammates standing around doing it.
McCoughtry leads the Big East Conference in scoring, but Collen talks to her about forcing too many shots. She leads the team in steals and deflections, but Collen tells her that she gives up too many plays when she gambles for the steal and doesn’t get it.
“I’m telling you, she’s a terrific player,” Collen said. “She’s got an awful lot of upside. But she’s got an awful lot to learn before we start putting her at superstar status. She’s at 50 or 60 percent (of her potential). The physical part of the game is solid for her. … She’s got to improve her decision-making. She’ll go out and get double-doubles every night by getting steals and rebounds and working hard. My goal is to make her 10 percent better every week.”
McCoughtry would have read that last year and wondered what in the world Collen is talking about. Now she hears it and nods her head.
“I can improve — I know that,” she said. “Every time I come to the bench I think about what I did wrong and focus on not doing that the next time.”
‘She was a handful’
And, get this. Last year Collen wanted to send her home. She wouldn’t listen. He wasn’t getting through. The whole season was a struggle.
“She was a handful,” he said. “I read all the articles about (U of L men’s player) Derrick Caracter and all the potential he has. I’m telling you, last year Angel was Derrick Caracter. … Last year there were numerous times when I called (assistant coach Tim) Eatman in and told him to get her on the next train back to Baltimore. I probably had more patience than I should. … And she’s still making a lot of mistakes, but now our sideline discussions are less hostile. She’s listening now.”
McCoughtry’s not a superstar yet. She just plays like one in ever-increasing spurts.
You’ve got to go watch her. You’ll see.