Angel McCoughtry went to the Team USA women's training camp this winter looking to learn a few things.
The most important: How close is she to being back?
Really close, it turns out, but there is still work to be done.
"I learned that I need to get strong," McCoughtry said recently in one of her regular trips to Lynx headquarters this offseason. "I have a little ways to go. But I learned I still have all the tools."
McCoughtry is coming back from a torn right ACL sustained in training camp last season, when she was still with the Las Vegas Aces. It is the second knee injury McCoughtry has sustained, which has forced her to miss two of the past three seasons.
When the Lynx signed her to a free-agent contract in early February, they knew they were getting one of the fiercest competitors to have played the game, a five-time WNBA All-Star, named to six WNBA all-defensive teams. They knew they were getting a forward who, when healthy, can push the pace of a game and perhaps fill much of the void created by the fact that pregnancy and childbirth could keep Napheesa Collier out of action this season.
The Lynx also knew they'd have to be patient.
McCoughtry, too. "I may have limited minutes [when training camp starts]," she said. "And that should be the case when you're coming back from injury. I'll just continue to build myself up, like I know how to."
Right. She's been through this before. On the one hand it allows a player to know what to expect while recovering from knee surgery. The plateaus that will be hit, the occasional step back to take two steps forward. But, on the other hand, McCoughtry said knowing what was ahead after her 2021 injury was daunting.
"The first two weeks you allow yourself to be in that grieving moment," she said. "Like, what the heck? Why is this happening again? You give yourself that. It's OK to give yourself that. After that it becomes, 'I have a mountain to climb. Let me get to the top of that mountain.' "
At 35, McCoughtry said she is convinced that, when 100%, she can still be a major factor. In 2020, in Vegas, playing with MVP A'ja Wilson — and current Lynx wing Kayla McBride — McCoughtry came back from injury to average 14.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 51.8%.
That can happen again, she said.
And, while she will be playing with a new team, there are a lot of familiar faces. She and McBride made it to the WNBA Finals in 2020. She played with Lynx point guard Layshia Clarendon for multiple seasons in Atlanta and also played with Lynx forward Damiris Dantas there. She has practiced and played for years with Lynx center Sylvia Fowles with USA Basketball, where Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has coached.
"I will fit in well," McCoughtry said. "I know their games, and they know mine. Reeve is one of the best coaches in the league. I think it's going to be a great fit."
McCoughtry will be back in Minneapolis for the women's NCAA Final Four, where she hopes to be able to cheer for her alma mater Louisville, which enters the tournament as a No. 1 seed.
"I hope," she said. "I hope."