February 14, 2021
“I’m geeked”: Why Erica McCall is excited to join the Washington Mystics
McCall is ready to bring her trademark energy and added versatility to the WNBA
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In the days after the Washington Mystics traded for Erica McCall, McCall’s father Greg couldn’t contain his excitement. “He kept calling me,” Erica told The Next. “Just didn’t say anything, just smiling … for like a minute.”
Unbeknownst to McCall, the Mystics had been interested in acquiring her last July when she was waived by the Atlanta Dream. But the salary cap math didn’t work out, and instead, McCall joined the Minnesota Lynx, where she further impressed the Mystics. Her statistics didn’t leap off the page—just 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in under 10 minutes per game—but she brought nearly unmatched energy and effort. McCall, a 6’2 forward, averaged nearly a double-double per 40 minutes and grabbed a career-high 15.8% of available offensive rebounds when she was on the court.
McCall felt good about her accomplishments with Minnesota, but entering the offseason, she didn’t know whether the team would have room for her in 2021. That uncertainty grew when she saw longtime Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker sign with the Chicago Sky. “Oh, this is just going to be a wild, wild season,” McCall said to herself. So she and her agent had conversations with multiple teams, including the Lynx, about her next steps.
One team McCall had interest in was the Connecticut Sun, which would have allowed her to play with her older sister, DeWanna Bonner. The Mystics were not on her radar until Feb. 4, one day before the trade was complete.“The Washington opportunity came out of nowhere,” McCall said, “and I definitely had to take them up on that offer.”
Because McCall was a restricted free agent, Minnesota had the right to match any contract she signed, but head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve was willing to sign-and-trade her for the Mystics’ third-round pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft. McCall received a two-year contract that will pay her $72,000 in 2021 and $74,000 in 2022, a few thousand dollars above the veteran minimum.
McCall’s career averages of 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.4 blocks in 99 regular-season games are relatively unassuming, but Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault believes that she is poised to have a big season. “He told me that he sees my potential going up as a pro,” McCall said. “… I’m super excited to hear that because it’s been a long journey in the WNBA. … For him to tell me that, it’s really encouraging.”
Thibault also told McCall that she may get minutes at both the power forward and center positions, playing power forward in some three-big lineups and spelling centers LaToya Sanders and Tina Charles in smaller lineups. Conveniently, McCall played alongside Napheesa Collier and Sylvia Fowles in some three-big lineups with the Lynx, which should make the adjustment to the Mystics’ system easier.
In what will be her fifth WNBA season in 2021, McCall hopes to combine her relentlessness in the paint with an ability to spread the floor and attack the basket. She worked tirelessly on her guard skills with her dad and brothers while quarantining at home last spring—“[I] literally didn’t work on any post moves,” she said—and has continued to hone that part of her game overseas this offseason.
The Mystics will be McCall’s fourth WNBA team, and in some ways, the trade has her feeling like a rookie again. She will be learning a new system and playbook, surrounded by a veteran team that has six players who are at least 31 years old. She also doesn’t know any of her new teammates—and she admitted to being a little star-struck by 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne.
“When Coach told me that he had talked to Elena [about the idea] that I was going to be coming to the team and she said that she was excited for me, I kind of fangirled,” McCall said. “I kind of squealed. I hope Coach didn’t hear me.
“… I always tell everybody, when people ask me who’s the hardest person to guard for you in the league, it’s always Delle Donne. So I’m a little, of course, nervous to first get there and to guard her because she’s such an amazing player, but on the other end, I’m so excited to get to learn from her.”
Charles is another Mystics player whom McCall has long admired. “She has that shot that she shoots behind her head that I kind of have, too,” McCall said. “So I’ve always loved Tina.”
McCall has been inspired by how Charles has carved out her own path, both on the court and in the music and filmmaking industries. McCall is similarly interested in the arts—she memorably sang on stage with Carrie Underwood in 2019—and hopes to learn from Charles’ example.
“A lot of people just portray us as just basketball players, so to be able to see that she does things outside [basketball] and really focuses and homes in on her filmmaking abilities, I’m super excited to be able to pick her brain,” McCall said. “… And hopefully, she can put me in her next film!”
McCall plans to reach out to some of her new teammates while she is overseas to start to build rapport. First up may be fellow high-energy forward Myisha Hines-Allen, as McCall and Hines-Allen have several mutual friends. McCall called Hines-Allen “an up-and-coming star in the league” and believes that the two of them can bring a double dose of energy on the court: “I’m super excited. I’m geeked, as I say.”
McCall also intends to do her homework early when it comes to learning the Mystics’ plays, which was a luxury she didn’t have with the Lynx this summer. According to The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings, Reeve called McCall at 5:21 pm on July 30 to welcome McCall to the team—and to ask if she could be on the team bus to that night’s game by 5:35 pm. McCall told The Next that learning “[what] seemed like a million plays” as a college player at Stanford prepared her well to learn new playbooks as a professional, but in an ideal world, she always wants to get the playbook “super ahead of time.”
“It’s definitely a long process to be able to adapt to a team,” McCall said. Beyond the first step of mastering the playbook, she will need to learn her teammates’ tendencies and get comfortable with the Mystics’ pace and style of play.
Playing overseas, as the majority of WNBA players do in the offseason, gives McCall yet another team and playing style to learn and another opportunity to develop her game. She has played in Hungary for the past four offseasons, the first two with Atomeromu and then most recently with KSC Szekszard. She has been remarkably consistent while playing a bigger role than she does in the WNBA, averaging between 13 and 15 points and between seven and nine rebounds per game each season.
This year, of course, there has been the added wrinkle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the WNBA to hold its season in a bubble and has prompted some changes overseas. McCall is not in a bubble in Hungary and has only gotten tested for COVID-19 a few times, but she and her teammates are prohibited from eating in restaurants and have an 8 pm curfew. “I think I’ve just gotten used to it. It’s just a new normal now,” McCall said. “… When things start to open up, [it] will probably be a big culture shock.”
Despite playing halfway around the world the past four offseasons, McCall had previously been hesitant about playing for an East Coast WNBA team because of the distance from her family in California. But now, McCall is ready to make the move to the nation’s capital. She is excited to be just a few hours from Bonner in Connecticut—and on opposite sides of a Mystics-Sun rivalry that burned hottest in the 2019 WNBA Finals. “Last year was my first time ever beating her, so I’m hoping to keep the train rolling,” McCall said.
She also looks forward to all that DC has to offer off the court, including its history, media and arts opportunities, and political significance. Although she said that having a different political administration would not have impacted her desire to join the Mystics, McCall praised the Biden Administration, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, and expressed hope that she could contribute to the brand-new White House Gender Policy Council or similar initiatives. “I’m super excited to be able to be under that whole atmosphere of change and new history,” McCall said.
In addition, McCall has been outspoken about social justice and is eager to build on that in 2021, especially with teammates in Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud who have been leaders in that fight. (Notably, the Mystics’ other new addition, Alysha Clark, expressed similar sentiments about working with Cloud on social justice in her introductory press conference.)
“The impact that they’ve had on the league and this country has been incredible,” McCall said of Atkins and Cloud. “ … To be able to have that impact with them is going to be really, really important for me. I think it’ll be really special to be a part of this team that truly cares about social justice, Black Lives Matter, the Say Her Name campaign.”
As the WNBA showed in 2020, the players’ success on the court gives them a bigger microphone to affect change off the court, and McCall hopes to contribute on both fronts. She has learned that she plays her best basketball when she doesn’t set detailed goals, as those goals can feel like added pressure. With the Lynx last summer, she decided, “I’m just gonna go play, have fun, and just be a part of this team and get wins,” and she plans to take a similar approach with the Mystics.
“Effort, energy, and championship—those are the goals,” she said.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.