New Mystics forward Erica McCall primed and ready for her fifth season in the WNBA

Erica McCall looks ahead to the 2021 WNBA season

With the 2021 WNBA season on the horizon and a year filled with uncertainty, unexpected change, and rapid adjustments behind her, Washington Mystics forward Erica McCall sounds as optimistic as ever. But for anyone who knows Bird, as those in her circle affectionately call her, this is no surprise.

Like the rest of the world, her life changed dramatically with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last spring. She sheltered-in-place with her family in Bakersfield, California, well into early summer. The Indiana Fever waived her in April, well before the season began on July 25. The Atlanta Dream picked her up in mid-July before cutting her 17 days later. The Lynx added her for the rest of the season at the end of July. And as it turns out, that signing led to her best season yet.

However, before all the good news in re-joining the league, McCall made the best of her time, broadcasting entertaining dance videos via Instagram and staying in shape as she awaited word on her fate in the WNBA. During the summer, she also participated in Zoom calls with her college team, Stanford, as the student-athletes spent an extended summer at home wondering about their season’s fate.

McCall’s college coach, Hall of Famer Tara VanDerveer, spoke about her former player’s season last October:

“Bird continues to fly. I just love her. She is awesome. I’m so happy for her. She was on one of our Zooms too. She was fantastic….She’s a special young lady…We’re really, really excited for her.”

If anyone knows McCall, it’s VanDerveer. The daughter of the head women’s basketball coach at Cal State Bakersfield, played in two Final Fours, and her standout college career gave her the leverage to follow in the footsteps of her older sister to the pros, two-time WNBA champion and three-time All-Star DeWanna Bonner, who is now with the Connecticut Sun.

“Erica will be a valuable addition to our post rotation. She is someone who is just starting to reach her professional potential,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said about acquiring her in a trade with the Lynx earlier this month. “We were impressed by her continued improvement last summer with Minnesota and feel like she will take another step forward with us this season.” 

Currently, McCall is playing in the Hungarian League for KSC Szekszard and will head home in the spring. While some WNBA players change teams and countries frequently during offseason careers overseas, McCall has only played in Hungary, a place that feels like a home away from home now. She has a core group of folks in the country who she considers family. Last week, she joined Hoopfeed via a Zoom session to give an update on her life now, her expectations for the season, and more. Fans can get a glimpse of her life overseas via snapshots on her Instagram: @birdstheword_24.

On having a chosen family in Hungary

I have a whole mama and papa here. And then my teammates are like my sisters. So, I have the whole setup.

On what kept her going last summer and how those things will help her this season.

I feel like I really had my faith and perseverance just going into that whole bubble season, and having to adjust to adversity, to change very quickly. I mean I was with Atlanta for two weeks and I had to hurry up and learn their plays. Then when I go to Minnesota, hurry, and learn their plays and just adjust to that. So, I definitely used my faith and perseverance when it came to that. Thankfully, it all worked out and now you know with Washington, they saw how I pushed through that season.

On last season overall

I consider [it] my best professional, at least WNBA season that I’ve had, thus far. So, I’m glad that everything worked out and Washington recognized that.

On being in the playoffs with Minnesota

Oh, such an exciting time! You know I’ve worked three years to get to the playoffs. And so, in a sense, it just made it even better, when you really worked for it as opposed to you know if I just got in my first year, it would just become the custom thing. But for me to have to work for it and go through all the ups and downs that I went through when I was with Indiana, it just made it a really sweet moment for me.

On being embraced by Sylvia Fowles and Lynx teammates, especially during the playoff run

I got to do it with super amazing teammates, you know, even though so Syl was out for the majority of the season, you never felt like she was away from the team. She was constantly encouraging us. Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield all just made me feel super welcome, and they knew that it was my first time making the playoffs so they made it a very exciting time for me.

On wanting to live up to expectations with Sylvia Fowles out

Sometimes I felt a little extra pressure because she just is just an amazing player and she does so many great things on and off the court. But, in a sense, she really calmed my nerves. She talked to me a lot throughout that whole season, things that I can do to just make sure that I’m fulfilling my role. You know I don’t have to be so Sylvia Fowles when I’m on the court, you know, just be Erica McCall and with that advice, it really helped me just calm my nerves and just play my own game.

On the similarities between her senior year of college, getting upset early on by Gonzaga, enduring other defeats, and being an underdog to reach the Final Four in 2017 during your last season where she told reporters “we worked our tails off. We got here for a reason.”

“You know when all that happened in Indiana you know I definitely felt like a lot of people doubted me. Of course, you know I have an amazing support system but once you’re out of the league it’s hard to get back into it. I think the average career in the league is like three years so that would have been my time to end. So, I definitely use that to show people that I’m here to stay, I belong here…. I belong in this league.”

On working out with her dad and brothers during the lull and getting encouragement from them and her sister.

We worked out almost every day. For me, that was a huge confidence builder because I’m playing with guys that are ten times faster than me. My brother can jump out of the gym…They showed me how to trash talk a little bit so when I came back to the league, I used that mindset I had because I was like ‘if I can play with the guys that are just faster and stronger, I can definitely you know, hold my own in this league.’

My dad was constantly reminding me, working out, how great of a player that I deserved to be back in the league, along with my sister. She just constantly gave me, text messages encouraging me that I’m going to be back in this league.

On working out with her dad to improve her perimeter game over the last year

It was very uncomfortable for me just because that’s not what I’m accustomed to. It challenged me not only with my ball handling and physically but mentally, I had to push through a lot. It was very frustrating at times when I couldn’t do moves…It was just really frustrating time for me, but it showed me that that I can do anything if I put my mind to it…. So that’s some of the stuff that I’ve been trying to add to my game, my ball handling and attacking the basket.

Things that she looks forward to playing for Washington

First thing is just getting to meet my teammates and playing with them. I mean, we have a stacked roster…. I’m really excited to be able to compete with them every day and then have them on my team now because I had to play against them for so many years. I always say that Elena Delle Donne was the hardest player that I ever had to play against so I’m so excited that she’s on my team now.

Washington is just an amazing place to be. I mean I love the history of it all…countless museums, countless statues that you can visit. And so, I’m really excited to just immerse myself in that culture.

On being a part of Tara VanDerveer’s legacy and achievement as the winningest coach in women’s college basketball

To be able to have been coached by Tara and to say that she’s the winningest coach, I was a part of those wins, right, it just it’s super dope to be a part of. I knew she was going to do it because that’s just the coach that she is, and she constantly recruits players that she knows can fulfill her expectations. Shout out to Amy [Tucker] and Kate [Paye] and Tempie [Brown] when I was there and all the rest assistant coaches that have helped her along the way but she’s just like she’s officially the greatest of all time to now. I’m just so proud to be able to say that I got to play for her…it definitely affirms that I was meant to go to Stanford. It was between Stanford and Connecticut, and I thank God every day that I chose Stanford.

On what she learned from her college experience that helps her to stay focused and learn plays so fast

My experience at Stanford helped me tremendously just in the way that we learned things. We had to pick up things fast at Stanford…. It was kind of like, ‘hey, you’ve got to learn, and we’ve got to move on because we have a lot of stuff to go over.’

My [pro] teammates are like ‘man you pick up things so fast and I definitely have to give a shout out to Stanford for that and just the way that they groomed us in the way that they showed us how to accept things, internalize them, and then be able to apply them on the court.

On how the onset of the pandemic has affected her outlook on life and the game

We appreciate the game so much more just because there was a time when we all had to sit down and just soak in on what life was really about.

Being in the bubble. I mean, it was like basketball on one thousand, you know. It reminded me a lot of my AAU days and we were just playing just playing ball. And so, it took me back to that and it made me really appreciate me growing up playing ball because that’s what it felt like, the atmosphere. You had all your friends that you grew up with playing basketball. You see them every day, in the same city…. It just reminded me a lot of my childhood and made me appreciate the game of basketball and how much I love it.

On being an aunt to her sister’s twins

You know hearing their laughter and their giggles and to get to see them grow up, it’s a beautiful experience. Something that you don’t really know what it’s like until they come into this world…. They just light up my world.

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