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PALMETTO, FL- AUGUST 16: Monique Billings #25 of the Atlanta Dream handles the ball during a game against the Chicago Sky on August 16, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida.
On the latest episode of “She Got Next”, Pepper Persley is joined by Monique Billings of the Atlanta Dream. The two discuss Billings’ breakthrough 2020 season, particularly focusing on her elite rebounding, along with Billings’ work on racial justice and her advice to young Black girls. Then Pepper discusses the impact Kobe Bryant has had on her generation. Listen and enjoy!
PEPPER PERSLEY: Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of "She Got Next" with me, Pepper Persley. This episode will feature a fun, amazing, and incredible conversation with Monique Billings of the Atlanta Dream and the effect that Kobe Bryant had on me and women's basketball. But before that, a summary of the first half of this WNBA season.
PERSLEY: Thus far in the WNBA season, records have been broken and expectations have been set. But basketball is not the most important topic this season. The WNBA's activism and social justice initiatives have been very much needed and inspiring. The players are wearing "Breonna Taylor" on the back of all of their jerseys, along with supporting the Say Her Name campaign every game. Second, with the Storm, Aces, Sparks, and Sky high in the standings, the MVP race is on. Breanna Stewart has been showing her skill level is still high, especially because she's coming off of an Achilles injury. A'ja Wilson is proving that even as a third-year, she's MVP-worthy because she's in the top three in points and rebounds the season. Candace Parker has been having a great season and is reminding everyone that she's a former MVP and champion. And my buddy, Natasha Cloud, who knows a thing or two about being a WNBA point guard, said, "I'm just gonna say this here. Courtney Vandersloot's name needs to be at the top of the list for MVP candidates." Third, this season's play has been at a very high level, considering the players only have one day of rest between games for the most part of the season. Now, my interview with Atlanta Dream forward Monique Billings.
PERSLEY: Hi everyone, and welcome to "She Got Next" with Pepper Persley. Today, I'm here with Atlanta Dream forward Monique Billings. I'm really looking forward to speaking with you today. Thank you so much for being on my show.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: Thank you for having me.
PERSLEY: No problem. I'm — are you ready to get into the questions?
BILLINGS: Let's get it.
PERSLEY: Awesome. I wanted to begin by asking you to discuss the state of the Dream. What is your team doing well, and what do they need to work on?
BILLINGS: So we're a relatively very new team. So there's two returners from last season, me and Elizabeth Williams. So there's a lot of new pieces to the puzzle. So we're just trying to learn each other, and it takes time. So learning on the fly is what we have been doing. What I think we can do well, we've been talking about taking care of the ball as a team. And that's all of us. Everyone's taking care of the ball and not getting as many turnovers, so that'll be important. And what I think we've been doing well is, like I said, learning on the fly, having to figure each other out, figure out how to get in close games, and today, just figure out how to win.
PERSLEY: I know you mentioned you and Elizabeth Williams are the only Dream players returning from last season. How have you helped the other players who are getting used to Coach Collen's style?
BILLINGS: Just the communication, I would say. I had a great vet my rookie year who helped me, and so I just want to always be that for someone else. So staying poised and calm, and just trying to lead in any way possible. And yeah, just, I mean, I've been here for two years, so having a good understanding of what my coach wants and trying to execute that and relay that to my teammates.
PERSLEY: Awesome. I've definitely seen you being out there, being able to hear you a little bit more since there are no fans. And you are having your best — [BILLINGS: Well thank you!] — Yeah. You are having your best season, statistically speaking. Why do you think you and your style of play has been so effective in the league this season?
BILLINGS: Well, I think it just comes with maturity. You know, I think every year people should be able to advance the game and get better. That's my focus. I spent a lot of time in the offseason in the gym working on my weaknesses, trying to get better in many different ways. I have a very long way to go, but I'm just focused and want to keep going and be great for my team.
PERSLEY: Also, speaking of ... your great playing this season, you're top-10 in the league for rebounding. What makes you such a strong rebounder?
BILLINGS: That's a great question. I think it's just my God-given gifts. [laughs] I think that's what I bring to the court, I know that, and so I just try to get as many rebounds as I possibly can.
PERSLEY: [laughs] And I spoke with you during your rookie season, as I mentioned, and you told me that one of the biggest differences between College and the WNBA was the speed. What have you done over your seasons on the Dream to adjust to the quickness of the league?
BILLINGS: Well, I'm already a pretty quick player. So for me, I have to figure out how to use my speed to my advantage. I have to change speeds, I can't keep playing at just one speed. Sometimes you gotta go back, sometimes you gotta slow down just a little bit. So just learning how to use your speed to your advantage.
PERSLEY: And one second, just to kind of find my question.
BILLINGS: You're fine.
PERSLEY: And I know that — you mentioned that everybody's just adjusting and trying to learn on the fly. And I know that part of the reason you have to do that is because you have rookies and a young team. And speaking of rookies, you play with the rookie everyone is talking about: Chennedy Carter. What is it like playing with her?
BILLINGS: What I love most about Chennedy is just seeing her development and her growth. Every single game, she just looks more and more like a pro. And she's having to learn on the fly, and she has a tough job. So she's doing a fantastic job [inaudible].
PERSLEY: And I was talking to Coach Collen earlier this season and she said that Chennedy Carter is unguardable. What are your thoughts on that quote, and do you believe that?
BILLINGS: Totally. I mean, the work speaks for itself, that's all I'ma say on that.
PERSLEY: [laughs] Awesome. And I'm gonna switch things up and focus on activism now. I have three questions for you. And my first one is: What does Black Lives Matter mean to you?
BILLINGS: Good question. Black Lives Matter to me is what I embody every day. I mean, I'm Black, and my life matters. So it's just me living out my purpose, being a light, and allowing the rest of the world to see that.
PERSLEY: Well, I think that's advice for all the Black girls and women out there. That was awesome. And why do you think it's so important for the WNBA to continue to Say Her Name?
BILLINGS: I think it's important because we have a voice and there's a lot of people in the world who don't have voices, and so we're the voice for the voiceless.
PERSLEY: And what are you hoping to accomplish this season dedicated to Say Her Name and the Black women who are victims of police brutality?
BILLINGS: I guess, kind of just combining both of my last two answers. So being the light on and off the court as much as I possibly can, and then being the voice for the voiceless and letting people know that we see them, we hear them, we feel them, and we're standing right here with them.
PERSLEY: Yeah, I can say that I am truly inspired by your activism and the league's activism. And I know you are, of course, the self-care queen. [BILLINGS: Mm-hmm!] What are you doing to take care of yourself in the wubble during these challenging times?
BILLINGS: [laughs] I see you've done your homework. Taking care of myself in the bubble is so important. And for me, a lot of that is talking to my family. That's therapeutic for me. Having good mental things, so making sure I'm reading good things. I haven't [inaudible] one time since I've been in the bubble. And that isn't because — I've been busy, I mean, we're playing every other day, so I've been focused, but just trying to be really conscious and aware of what I'm intaking mentally. I think that would be really important. So self-care, there's so many different forms of self-care. Of course, I'm doing my face now, all that good stuff, but there's a lot of different forms of self-care, just making sure I feel balanced and grounded.
PERSLEY: Well, I know self-care is so important, and I most definitely learned that from you. I have one last question: What do you want people to know about Monique Billings that they might not know?
BILLINGS: Hmm, that's a good question. I've been kind of private lately, I've been kind of low-key lately, so I don't know what I want people to know. But I guess that — that's a good question, now you've caught me off-guard. I don't know. I want people to know that — I think people know that I'm a blue-collar worker and I work hard, bring the energy, and I'm gonna do the best that I can in every single way possible. So I think people know that, but I want people to keep knowing that.
PERSLEY: So that's a great way for us to end this interview. I want to thank you again for your time and for being on my show.
BILLINGS: Oh, my pleasure. Keep up the good work, Pepper.
PERSLEY: Thank you so much, Monique.
BILLINGS: You're welcome. Bye.
PERSLEY: Good luck in the rest of the season.
PERSLEY: Big thank you to Monique Billings and the Atlanta Dream.
PERSLEY: To end this episode, I want to talk about Kobe Bryant. This past weekend was his birthday. He sadly passed away on January 26, 2020. I found out in a car ride home from basketball practice and was speechless. The first thing I said was, "Is his daughter okay?" Sadly, Gigi Bryant was amongst the people who passed in the tragic helicopter crash. I got home and turned on some NCAA games and the alert of his passing kept popping up. It was terrible. I couldn't believe it. He was a girl dad and a basketball legend. His death was a terrible loss not only for the sports world, but specifically for the women's basketball world. He went to NCAA games and WNBA games with his daughter, Gigi, and made connections with several of the WNBA and college basketball players. I believe that we can never truly fill the gap of his loss, but we can most definitely continue his legacy.
PERSLEY: As always, you can find me on Instagram at @dishwithpepper. And please subscribe to The Next to continue to listen to awesome podcasts like this. And please tune in to my episode next week. Thank you so much for tuning in.