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McGhee right where she belongs

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


To be honest, when the Orlando Miracle's season ended in August, Carla McGhee was sure she was saying goodbye to the city with the Magic Kingdom.

McGhee is a 6-foot-1 forward who has played six professional seasons in Europe and two in the United States, including one with the ABL Atlanta Glory.

But her inaugural season with the Miracle was less than spectacular. She averaged 1.5 points and 1.5 rebounds coming off the bench in 30 games.

That, she thought, was unacceptable. She assumed the Miracle thought the same thing.

"I won't lie to you; I thought I would be with a new team this year," McGhee said. "My agent talked to coach (Carolyn) Peck, and she knew about the progression I was making overseas. Right before the draft, my agent said I wasn't going anywhere. It was really up to me to decide my own destiny on this team."

McGhee didn't realize that Peck wanted more from her than baskets.

"A lot of times players are tougher on themselves than the coaches are," Peck said. "Carla brings a maturity to our team and has been a definite spark off the bench. She is a strong defensive player, she's got great endurance, and she takes great pride in being in great shape. And with the uptempo ball that we play, that definitely is a great value."

McGhee spent the off-season in Turkey. She sustained a thigh injury in December and missed four weeks while rehabilitating. She returned to the United States on March 28 and said she's a much better player.

"The last time I played a full season overseas was in 1994," McGhee said. "I wanted to really work on my jumper, my shot. I knew I needed to do that because I would be very hesitant in a game and I needed to start having a quicker release, not having that fear of taking a shot.

"I would think, "Oh, if I take a shot and it doesn't go in, they are going to snatch me out.' I needed to be on that court playing and conditioning. I wanted to come into training camp and let the coaching staff know that I don't know if I'll ever be the old Carla McGhee from my glory days; I am getting up there in age. But I wanted to let them know that I do have that veteran experience that can help this squad." McGhee won two national championships at Tennessee. At 32, she says, she has lost a step or two.

That she is still playing at all is impressive. In 1987 she was injured in a car accident that put her in a coma for 47 hours. Doctors believed she would never walk again. This season McGhee is averaging 1.1 points, 1.1 rebounds and 6.6 minutes per game, but she believes she will be able to contribute more as the season progresses. "For us to go and make a run for that championship, everybody has to be sharp," she said. "You are only as good as your weakest link, and I don't want to be the weak link."

STAY IN SCHOOL: Leaving school early is common in men's college basketball, but Miracle forward Nykesha Sales said that four years at Connecticut made her a better pro player.

"I know if I didn't stay in college the time I did, I wouldn't be the player that I am," Sales said. "My freshman and sophomore years, I don't think I was (ready). If I didn't have those two more years to really learn, I would not be able to play in this league. Those four years really helped me. Each year, I got better and better, I felt more comfortable about my game and more comfortable about having the chance to play in the WNBA."

Sales said that the way the WNBA season is structured -- a season of less than three months -- leaving college early isn't a bright idea.

"Right now, I don't really think it's worth it, anyway," she said. "You lose an education for a summer job. That's really what it is. You give up your degrees and your chance to make a lot of money working for just a summer job, like a summer internship."

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