Milestones continue for Lynx Mama Taj

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 9:26 AM

The 14-year veteran, who will be an assistant at Rice this offseason, hasn't decided if she will play again.

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Rebekkah Brunson celebrated with Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Every time Taj McWilliams-Franklin steps on the court, she seems to reach a milestone or set a record.

Last Sunday, McWilliams-Franklin played in her 500th game when the Lynx won at Los Angeles to sweep the Western Conference finals. Only two players in league history have played in more.

Sunday, the mother of three will play in her 61st postseason game when the Lynx face Indiana in the first game of the WNBA Finals at Target Center. Nobody else has played in more than 58. She is breaking her own record every playoff game.

McWilliams-Franklin -- "Mama Taj" to her teammates and to President Obama on the 2011 WNBA champions' recent White House visit -- turns 42 next Saturday. This is her 14th WNBA season and possibly her last.

"I'll decide in the offseason," she said. When the emotions and thrills of the season are tugging at her less.

She will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Coach Cheryl Reeve has said repeatedly that she hopes McWilliams-Franklin never stops playing. She is a poised leader and a valued role model.

She enjoys mentoring younger players and took a job requiring that this offseason. She will be an assistant coach at Rice University in Houston. "I get to stay home with my family," McWilliams-Franklin said. She and her husband have a home in San Antonio, but she usually plays overseas nine months.

The chance to coach excites her. "When you get to the pros, you have already established what your identity is going to be as a player," she said, "whether you are a scorer, rebounder, defender."

College players are still developing, said McWilliams-Franklin, whose forte is defense. Being in the right place, playing angles. She is still a good passer, too, and has been a solid rebounder throughout her career. Among WNBA centers this season, she was second in assists (2.5 per game) and third in blocks (1.39).

She became the all-time league leader in offensive rebounds Aug. 28 vs. San Antonio, grabbed her 3,000th rebound Sept. 14 at Indiana and scored her 5,000th point Sept. 20 at Los Angeles.

"After my career, I will think of all of those accomplishments," McWilliams-Franklin said. "Never during."

Assistant coach Jim Petersen, who works with the Lynx post players, marvels over McWilliams-Franklin.

"I retired from the NBA at 30," he said. "She is 41 years old. She has played 11 years longer after I retired. I just have a lot of respect for her and what she does for us. The way she uplifts us mentally on the floor. She does the little things all the time to help us win games."

McWilliams-Franklin won her first title in Detroit in 2008 with Reeve, a Shock assistant coach at the time. Her second came with the Lynx last year.

This team has nine holdover players from the 2011 championship team. Still McWilliams-Franklin has noticed a change in attitude and confidence. "We expect to pull out games and win in the end," she said. "Last year we won some games we didn't think we were going to win."

A handful of the Lynx's 31 victories -- 27 in the regular season, four in the playoffs -- have come when either the Lynx made a basket or their opponent missed a shot at the end.

McWilliams-Franklin prefers playing defense in those situations: "The look on your face, when you don't make that last basket that you need, is classic."

She never tires of seeing it. Nor does Petersen of seeing McWilliams-Franklin.

"I want what Taj wants, and if Taj still wants to play, we would be lucky to have her," Petersen said. "She is someone that is always welcome on the team."

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