Have your hands ready.
That is what Indiana Fever center Teaira McCowan recalls hearing the most from experienced forward, Candice Dupree, during her first training camp with the team in 2019.
After a few preseason games and her first WNBA training camp wrapped up, the No. 3 overall selection in the WNBA draft and the Fever began the 2019 regular season on the road at the Westchester County Center against the New York Liberty.
“I was pretty nervous with it being my first regular season game,” McCowan said. “It was typical rookie feelings, such as not wanting to mess up or forget a play. I tried to relax as much as I could.”
At the 3:29 mark in the first quarter, the 6-foot-7 rookie checked in for her first WNBA regular season action and immediately made her presence felt on the offensive end. After a missed baseline jumper from Dupree, it was McCowan under the basket – with hands ready and able – to pluck the offensive rebound down and score her first regular season field goal.
“As soon as I go in a game, if I get an offensive rebound, I’m going right back up with it,” McCowan said. “I knew I needed to go in and score, finish and grab another (rebound).”
As her offensive game steadily gained confidence during her first minutes as a pro, the defensive end of the floor presented a different challenge by guarding seven-time WNBA all-star, Tina Charles.
“I watch her all the time and all of a sudden I’m really about to go in and guard her,” she said. “Defending her was a challenge, but I felt like I held my own in my first game.”
The crafty post player, Charles, grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled by McCowan with 5:07 remaining in the game. With McCowan in foul trouble, she went to the bench in a back-and-forth game, which featured both teams leading by double digits at one point in the 2019 regular season opener.
The final minutes ticked away with McCowan on the bench hoping her teammates would secure the first win of the season. Charles went back to the free throw line and went 2-for-2 from the charity stripe with seven seconds remaining to give New York an 80-79 lead.
After a timeout was called, McCowan checked back in during the most pivotal moment of the game.
“We just put that play in and it was almost too much to think about at the moment,” McCowan said. “I’m thinking I’m just going to move to the opposite side when someone drives the lane.”
Fever guard Erica Wheeler received the inbounds pass near the top of the key and found Dupree on the right side of lane near the free throw line. Dupree drove left with Charles hounding her the entire time.
With two seconds remaining, McCowan positioned herself on the other side of the lane as her veteran teammate told her earlier in training camp to do so.
“I thought Candice was going to shoot it. I turn around to box out hoping to get a rebound and she calls my name and I happened to get the ball up in time. As soon as I see the ball sit on the rim, I’m just hoping it goes in,” she said.
The first regular season game for McCowan ended in the middle of a group of her ecstatic teammates in celebration of the 81-80 buzzer-beating victory.
It is a game McCowan said boosted her confidence knowing she could play at the highest level with the best in the game. It is also a game she knew she would not forget, even in the most critical juncture, what her veteran teammate reminded her of more than anything.
“I knew my hands would be ready.”