Cappie Puts NY Basketball Back on the Map
WNBA superstar Pondexter will thrive in high-pressure environment.
by Ben York / @bjyork
New York isn’t for everyone.
The unrelenting pressure to win now, the incessant media circus, and progressively high expectations can either make or break a professional athlete. While many enjoy the bright lights, others prefer a lesser known (and more forgiving) place to play.
Cappie Pondexter not only embraces the challenge, she thrives on it.
Almost a year has passed since my first story on Cappie Pondexter for SLAMonline. In it, I focused on how everyone already knows what a phenomenal basketball player Pondexter is, but at the same time, she’s even better than you think. In hindsight, that article would actually make more sense if it were published now.
Simply put, Pondexter will prove how valuable she is in 2010. And never before has the “Dwyane Wade of the WNBA” label been more auspicious.
Even while playing next to Diana Taurasi, perhaps the most recognized women’s basketball player in the world, Pondexter made a name for herself and managed to create her own mass following. Still, the Mercury was considered “Taurasi’s Team” and Pondexter was (fairly or unfairly) known as the proverbial sidekick in spite of her continual brilliance. This certainly wasn’t a conscious move or thought by Taurasi or the Mercury; it just kind of happened. Even though Pondexter took the most shots on the team, Taurasi was still the face of the franchise. Sure, they were a unique 1-2 punch but the “1” typically was Taurasi and the “2” usually Pondexter.
Throughout their time together, they managed to set their egos aside and play amazing basketball as a team. Both Taurasi and Pondexter have maintained that any individual accolades weren’t as important as the success of the entire team.
“I’ve spoken with DT [Diana Taurasi],” Pondexter said. “No matter what, we’re still good friends. I wish all my former teammates nothing but the best.”
However, with Pondexter as a member of the New York Liberty, it is her time to shine. Pondexter is now the face of not just the Liberty, but to New York basketball as a whole. Immediately upon hearing news of the trade, Pondexter has received a hero’s welcome in New York.
“It feels awesome that I’ve been embraced the way I have been over the past few days,” Pondexter told SLAMonline. “That means excitement, and that’s what we need to build on going into this WNBA season. I’m very excited to be playing in New York City and in the best arena in the world. I couldn’t be any more content than I am right now at this moment.”
Contrary to popular belief of some Mercury fans, it isn’t that Pondexter didn’t want to play in Phoenix; it’s had more to do with turning a new chapter in her life and expand her business opportunities. There was no ill will, no hard feelings, and no contempt for the Mercury or their players; it was just time to embrace a new challenge and opportunity. Pondexter loved her time as a member of the Phoenix Mercury and appreciates to this day the amount of support she received from her fans.
“I mean, of course hearing and seeing the reaction from fans was both good and bad,” Pondexter said in reference to the reaction of the trade. “At the end of the day we just have to realize it’s a business and there will always be changes. I’m happy that I am a member of the New York Liberty, and I hope my fans are happy for me whether they’re from the east or west coast. Phoenix was a great beginning to my career. I enjoyed every moment of it. I just want the X-Factor to know you will always have a part of my heart.”
For Pondexter, the focus is now on helping the Liberty regain their elite status in the WNBA. They have all the necessary pieces in place to be competitive; Nicole Powell on the wing and Janel McCarville in the post. Pondexter’s role on the team will not only be scoring the basketball but being the focal point of the offense and facilitating the flow of the game.
“I love to score, no doubt,” Pondexter said. “But I also love to get others involved. In my eyes, I have no particular position. I will do whatever I need to for a win.”
Pondexter is a playmaker, and the Liberty has sorely missed one the previous few years. Like DWade in the NBA, Pondexter can beat you in numerous ways depending on what the defense gives her. If they choose to focus on her scoring ability, she is more than willing to dish the ball off to her teammates (3rd in the WNBA in assists in 2009). Or, if the defense is going to let her shoot the ball (not sure why anyone would), she can use her career 19.3 ppg scoring average to overwhelm you. Not coincidentally, look for her 19 ppg to be closer to 22-24 ppg in 2010.
“I see myself bringing in championship experience, from the WNBA and internationally,” Pondexter said. “I’ve competed at every high level possible and I see my role as a member of the Liberty is to bring that experience, as well as leadership, on the floor each and every night. I’ll expect nothing less than that.”
As Pondexter eloquently said, her move to New York represents a rebirth of sorts. In Phoenix, she won two titles in three years and blew fans away with her playmaking ability. Athletes of her caliber are always looking to the future and for the next challenge and New York certainly has its share of those.
“The next step for me is being as great as I possibly can, on and off the court,” Pondexter said. “Nothing changes, just a little wiser.”
Nothing may change for Pondexter individually, but there is little doubt she is leading the charge in helping New York be relevant again in the world of professional basketball.