Angel McCoughtry has learned that chasing her dreams doesn’t have to come at the expense of her mental and physical health, and she’s determined to share that lesson with anyone who will listen. The 31-year-old WNBA player and Olympic gold medalist took a break from basketball in 2017 to recharge and focus on herself. She left toxic relationships behind, and opened an ice cream shop (McCoughtry’s) in Atlanta along the way. It was a bold move for the five-time All-Star who had gotten used to playing basketball year-round, as a result of the WNBA season and playing overseas during off seasons.
The Atlanta Dream forward returned to the WNBA for the 2018 season, signing a multi-year deal with the team. With the return of their franchise player, who scored a career-high 39 points against New York earlier this year, the Dream has had one of the best records in the league this season. But McCoughtry’s comeback season came to an early end after she tore ligaments in her knee earlier this month. Now, she’s cheering on her teammates in the playoffs from the sidelines (“I’m going to give them all the energy I have for them to be successful and accomplish them winning a championship”).
“I was in a slump for the last two days and I was just like ‘Damn, why is this happening,’ ” McCaughtry said, while resting in her home just days after the “devastating” injury. Taking what she’s learned from her time away in 2017, McCoughtry is now calling the forced break a “blessing in disguise.” While she recovers and prepares for what she believes will be her greatest comeback yet, the 31-year-old with a sweet tooth for ice cream and a passion for inspiring the next generation of athletes hopes to figure out what’s next for her beyond the WNBA.
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Shondaland: Why was it important for you to take time off in 2017?
Angel McCoughtry: It was just something my spirit told me to do. I did it to recharge a lot of things, and I think I got to see a lot of things in my life that were wrong and right that I needed to change. When you’re always on the go you don’t have time to really reflect and think or see anything. I had a lot of toxic people around me. After I took off I separated from a relationship that was toxic. It really, really helped me to readjust and reevaluate my life [to be] the way it’s supposed to be.
SL: How have you learned to incorporate time for recharging into your busy schedule since your break?
AM: I know now how to get some peace of mind. You can think when you have quiet [time]. You can learn [about] yourself when you’re by yourself. Now I take more time to do that. Before, I was always on the go and overseas for eight years straight. Even now with my injury, I gotta learn how to just sit down.
SL: You’ve talked about being worried to tell your grandma that you were taking a break and how she was ultimately supportive of you doing what was best for you. Have you found that that continues to be the case with family and friends?
“People want us to live our truth. They want to see our struggles.”
AM: Sometimes we do so much living for others. I was so worried about, “Oh, my family isn’t going to [be able to] watch me. They love watching me play.” But, what about me? You have to live for yourself. For example, I did the ESPN Body Issue [in 2014] and I was so worried about what my dad was going to say. I was going to turn it down but I said, “You know what, I’m going to just do it. I can’t worry about what they’re going to say.” And it was so tastefully done. I got so many compliments. Everybody loved it, [and] even my dad went, “Well, I didn’t want you to do it, but it was alright.” The thing about it is people want us to live our truth. They want to see our struggles. We don’t have to hide that.
SL: You have such a positive outlook following your injury, but you’re still a competitor. Returning to the court only to then get injured has to be frustrating.
AM: I’m devastated. We have a chance in the playoffs. This [was] a chance for me to win my first ring. This is a setback, but [I’m focused on] how I’m going to come back from this. People are watching. And I’m going to show them that it’s not over.
SL: You opened an ice cream shop, McCoughtry’s, in Atlanta with no financial backers during your time off. How did that idea come about?
AM: I love ice cream. I can eat it every day. I [figured this is] a way to give back to the community, give jobs to the kids and put smiles on people’s faces. I was in Turkey about three years ago and I started doing research on it. It took about two years to get it open. I put all my financial backing into it. I didn’t have help from anybody, but here we are. I would say it’s definitely not easy but people have accepted it, they love it, and I think it’s been something really great for the community.
SL: What’s your favorite ice cream?
AM: At my ice cream shop we have an apple pie flavor and it’s so good. I’m not a big fan of apple pie, but this ice cream is delicious.
SL: What’s next for McCoughtry’s?
AM: We got an offer from the University of Louisville where I went to school to open up the ice cream shop there. I’m definitely working on that to hopefully open up a franchise in next spring. Fingers crossed.
SL: What have you learned as a businesswoman that you’ve been able to transfer to your role as an athlete?
“We’re fighting for the younger generation that comes up in the WNBA to get paid what they deserve.”
AM: One thing I learned is I want my employees to do well so people will come back and buy ice cream. That’s the same thing with us [as players on the Dream]. We have owners that want to sell tickets. We have to perform at a high level. We have to put a smile on their faces and show that we’re happy with what we’re doing. I never knew that until I got a business. I’m like, wow, I have to give 110 percent every night on that floor because we have people backing us out of their funds to make sure we have a women’s team in this city. We don’t sell tickets like the men; I feel like we deserve [to] but we don’t. [Owners are] putting money into us every year and maybe they’re not always breaking even.
SL: You’ve been open about the burnout that occurs from playing year-round, as well as wanting to see an increase in WNBA wages. Why is speaking out about that so important to you?
AM: I was on TMZ and they asked me about [WNBA wages] and I said I want to get paid more in my own country. I got all of these evil messages from guys. “You’ll never be like the NBA. You’re stupid. Get back in the kitchen.” Where do these comments come from? I never said I want to make millions like the NBA players. What I said was I want to make more in my own country.
SL: Those comments haven’t discouraged you from continuing to be vocal about the issue.
AM: We’re fighting for the younger generation that comes up in the WNBA to get paid what they deserve. I may not get that salary. I make $100,000 dollars in the WNBA. I’m the No. 1 draft pick. So [are] Candace Parker [and] Mia Moore. They make the same. There’s no negotiation. But we’re fighting so that the girls five to 10 years from now can get their first million-dollar contract. That’s what I want to see. This is for them.
SL: You can’t play basketball for the next six to eight months. What will you do until you can get back on the court?
AM: I’m going to work on me. This is a good challenge. I want to do some basketball camps. I want to do some hosting, maybe some broadcasting and a little bit of acting. I’m in the process now of diving into [acting]. I think that I’m funny. I just think I want to have another hobby to express myself. I’ve always thought if [basketball] stopped right now, what am I going to do? I could never figure it out — now I have no choice but to.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jewel Wicker is an Atlanta-based reporter covering entertainment and culture. Her bylines have appeared in publications such as Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed, Billboard and Atlanta Magazine.