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Basketball - 12. March 2010.

USA - Angel delight

GDYNIA (2010 FIBA World Championship for Women) - There was a moment at the EuroLeague Women All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Gdynia, Poland, when American Angel McCoughtry jumped into the air, did a 360 and released the ball towards the basket to the amazement of everyone.

That includes the fans, her Rest of the World teammates and even coach Pokey Chatman.

The Baltimore native missed the shot and with a tinge of embarrassment, ran back up the floor to play defense.

“I usually make it in practice,” McCoughtry said to FIBA.com, “but I guess I got a little nervous.”

She missed, but it was still a highlight.

The 23-year-old had made a statement.

She had shown everyone that not only men understand what hang-time means.

It was not the only air-born McCoughtry moment.

On one trip down the floor, she floated into the paint, grabbed a teammate’s miss and scored on the put-back before landing.

During the half-time break, she and Candice Dupree decided to dunk for the crowd, albeit with a smaller ball than the Molten used in the game.

While Dupree slammed one with her right hand, McCoughtry burst into the lane and attempted a dunk but ended up throwing it off the back of the rim.

Let’s Go Europe

McCoughtry is a former standout at Louisville who also has a rookie campaign with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream under her belt.

But now, she’s in Europe and loving every minute of it.

Air Angel is on the books of Good Angels Kosice in Slovakia.

She was at the All-Star Game after averaging a team-high 19 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 3.3 steals in 12 European games with Kosice.

The experience in Slovakia has been wonderful.

“When I came to Kosice, it seemed like everything was (going) downhill,” she said.

“We were last in our EuroLeague group, but everyone fought, kept their heads up and kept working.”

Good Angels made it all the way to the Quarter-Finals before being eliminated by UMMC Ekaterinburg in two games.

Kosice nearly upset Ekaterinburg in Game 2 but lost at home 65-60.

“We went further than anybody in our region,” McCoughtry said, “so that shows you the potential the team had, especially playing with Candice.

“She's great. She taught me a lot this year.”

McCoughtry and Dupree have something else in common and it’s not the impromptu dunking contest at half-time of the All-Star Game.

Both were recently named in the USA Basketball 20-strong national team squad for 2010-2012.

“I didn't expect it,” McCoughtry admitted.

“I only started with USA Basketball my sophomore year in college, so I wasn't one of the originals.

“I had to work my way up.

“The hard work pays off, though, and I'm very excited to participate with Team USA.

“Hopefully I can make the team for good, the final roster. So I'm going to definitely work hard for that.”

McCoughtry believes that by playing in Europe, she has improved a lot.

“Oh my God, Europe has taken my game to a whole new level,” she said.

“To play with European girls and the best girls from the States, there's nothing like it. It's the best.

“In the EuroLeague, you have WNBA players over here and you get to learn different games, different styles of coaching, different refereeing, so it's taken my game to a whole new level, an international level.”

Remembering how it began

McCoughtry was in her element in Gdynia.

Numerous children showed up to participate in a clinic run by the players and coaches, something that brought back memories for her.

“I'm from Baltimore, Maryland, and I started playing basketball when I was eight,” she said.

“Some of these young girls today (at the clinic) are in the same position I was in. But I just enjoy what I do. I just love it.”

McCoughtry began to envision herself as a professional on the hardwood more than a decade ago.

“I was probably like 12 when I realized I could have a future in basketball,” she said.

“It comes natural. When you’re good, it's natural but you have to add the hard work to it as well. I added the hard work to my natural ability. I thank God for that.”

She’s played in the NCAAs with Louisville, in the WNBA with Atlanta and in the EuroLeague Women with Good Angels Kosice.

The ultimate for McCoughtry would be to don a USA jersey for the senior team in international competition.

She has a chance to make the team for the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women in the Czech Republic.

“It's the hardest team to make in the world,” she said.

“There are no guarantees, ever (with Team USA). You have to take it like 'I might not make the team, so I've got to bust it hard’.”

The person she’ll need to impress the most is Geno Auriemma, the coach of the national team and the legendary boss of the University of Connecticut women’s program. Auriemma was put in charge of the United States as the successor to Anne Donovan, who guided the Americans to gold at the Beijing Olympics.

When she was asked about Auriemma, McCoughtry lit up.

"You can quote me on this,” she said.

“Connecticut is the capital of women's basketball in the United States.

“So if Connecticut is the capital of women's basketball, he has definitely something to do with that."

The United States were favorites to win the gold medal at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Brazil but were upset by Russia in the Semi-Finals.

They will again be the team to beat, though McCoughtry and every member of the USA national team squad understands the importance of remaining humble before travelling to the Czech Republic.

“I don't want to say anything too much,” she said, “but I will say this team definitely has a lot of potential to win it.”

Jeff Taylor

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