By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
It was a trip down memory lane for WNBA’s Dallas Wings Head Coach Vickie Johnson. Johnson, the only Black female coach for the WNBA this season, coached the Wings to victory during the league’s season opener on May 14 as her team defeated the Los Angeles Sparks 94-71 in Los Angeles. The victory also marks Johnson’s debut as head coach of the team.
The win was special for the former WNBA player turned head coach, because the WNBA has been celebrating its 25th anniversary. Johnson first began playing for the league as a guard for the New York Liberty during its inaugural season in 1997. Her team came face-to-face with the Sparks and defeated them.
“We set the pace because we were down in the first quarter because of turnovers and the turnovers really hurt us,” Johnson said.
The game started with the Sparks leading in the first quarter by 14-7 with 4:52 remaining but eventually the Wings were able to catch up in the second quarter and by halftime the Wings were up 44-41. The Sparks dominated the first quarter, but the Wings were able to take a 13 point lead in the third quarter against the Sparks with a 62-49 lead at one point and played with energy and fire throughout the game which helped them get the win.
“But we played together and we shared the basketball,” Johnson said. “Our defense was amazing. We still had mistakes but they only shot 36% from the field and 26% from the three point line which is huge for us. We kept them off the offensive board. They are very good on the offensive board. I felt as a whole we did a great job and offensively I can’t speak enough about our offense. It is important for my team to understand the importance of sharing the basketball, making an extra pass, giving up a good shot for a better shot and enjoying it. Enjoying every aspect of it. They really enjoyed themselves tonight.”
The Wings shot 53% from the field and 27% for three pointers.
“We got 25 rebounds which was huge,” Johnson said. “I set a lot of goals for them and we met all our goals besides the turnovers, so it was a great win overall.”
The Wings outrebounded the Sparks by 20 as well.
The team was led by guard Allisha Gray who scored 23 points with four steals, four assists and nine rebounds.
“I am just playing my game and it makes you feel good when coach VJ makes me play my game and it makes me really comfortable on the court,” Gray said.
Wings forward Isabelle Harrison believes this maybe the year her team makes some noise.
“Coach VJ is a very defensive minded coach and she got the best out of us because she tries to push us to our potential,” Harrison said. The first practice we had, Coach VJ said we are not playing to hopefully get into the playoffs, we are playing to get into the playoffs. I completely agree with her. It has been a long time coming and Dallas needs to get back into the playoffs. We have a lot of players and pieces and we just have to make sure we start the season off really, really strong. We are going to be able to stretch the floor out this year because several of our players can shoot the three.”
Johnson explained how the team’s first victory will set the tone for this season.
“I think it was important for my young team to understand what I am trying to do and my philosophy on how we are going to play this season everybody is going to get to eat,” Johnson said. “We win together as a team, we lose together as a team, we play hard, we play our minutes hard and whatever happens we live with it but it was good for them to see the things that we have had as coaches. We scored 94 points and we had 26 turnovers. And we shot 53% from the field. That is kind of scary. I am excited and proud of my team but this is just one game. We have a lot of stuff we need to work on and we are going to watch film and break down film. We have high expectations for our team and I don’t care if people say that we are young, they are young but they have a lot of talent. And if they do it the right way, which they will, we are going to be very successful this season.”
Rookie Center Charli Collier, who was the Wings first overall pick in the WNBA draft this season, said the opening day win was huge for the team since the Wings have a new head coach, a new system with several young players.
Collier also had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds in the team’s victory against the Sparks.
“It was a great win and a great statement win and it is going to set us up for a lot of things,” Collier said. “We have to play Seattle at home and so we are just going to take it game by game but this was definitely a great win and a great game for this organization and I feel like there is many more to come. Also, as a team it was an amazing effort how we rebounded tonight. I feel like we were having fun and when you are having fun playing basketball it just makes everything so much easier because you know you are not in your head, you’re not caught up in yourself but you are having fun with everybody and you’re cheering on your teammates so that’s what’s making it fun. I just feel like we had a lot of energy tonight.”
The Wings next game is their home opener at the College Park Center arena in Arlington on Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Seattle Storm.