Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas have both reached the All-Star break of the WNBA, but some of their former teammates are just getting started with their seasons overseas. Both Trinity Baptiste and Dominique McBryde debuted in the inaugural season of New Zealand’s new league during the first week of July. GJ Gardner Homes Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa kicked off its second round of play on Thursday.
Aari McDonald and the Atlanta Dream
Year two continues to be a much better season for both McDonald and her team. The Dream are 10-12 on the season which places them fourth in the Eastern Conference and tied for sixth overall. That puts them squarely in playoff contention.
McDonald has appeared in all 22 of her team’s games and has made six starts this season. She is averaging 11.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals in 26 minutes per game. She is shooting 42.7 percent from the floor, including 34.1 percent from 3-point distance. From the line, she is hitting 88.9 percent of her free throws. The lone knock on her play this season is the 2.5 turnovers per game.
The addition of a new coach, a stable management team, and an almost completely new group of teammates has made all the difference for the second-year reserve.
“My friend, Tanisha (Wright), is her coach,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “She was a point guard and a really good defender in college. So, Tanisha came and had spent some time with me. So, I knew that Aari was going to flourish under her because of the type of player Tanisha is. So, I am not surprised at all, but I’m just happy. She’s worked really hard in the offseason. I’m just happy she’s gotten some opportunities, and she’s made the best of it.”
Sam Thomas and the Phoenix Mercury
While Thomas hasn’t had the same organizational disruption in her rookie season as McDonald did last year, Phoenix has been far from a settled franchise.
The Mercury agreed to a “divorce” from off-season signing Tina Charles. Charles has since landed in Seattle.
There have also been public spats between point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith—who landed in Phoenix after forcing a trade from Dallas two years ago—and various members of the team and coaching staff.
Diggins-Smith had a public dispute with Diana Taurasi on the bench a few weeks ago. Then, last week, she tweeted out a clown emoji over a clip of her head coach criticizing the All-Star snub of Taurasi. Reports have circulated that the team has shopped Diggins-Smith, but whether that’s true or not, she is still with the franchise.
It amounts to Thomas spending her rookie season on a team with an inexperienced coach and some very vocal teammates who don’t seem to get along. Add the Brittney Griner situation, with Griner pleading guilty to drug charges in Russia this week, and it’s not a settled environment.
On the court, Thomas has reached the break with 15 appearances in 24 games. She is averaging 4.6 MPG in those appearances.
The team currently sits outside the playoffs in ninth place out of 12 teams. The top eight make the postseason. If the Mercury do not make the playoffs, Thomas will be on her way to Italy to play for Dinamo Sassari after the WNBA regular season ends on Aug. 14.
Trinity Baptiste and Mainland Pouakai
Baptiste has been strong in her first two games in New Zealand. She is playing for Tully Bevilaqua, a close friend and former teammate of Arizona head coach Adia Barnes, and Bevilaqua likes what she sees.
Barnes played matchmaker for Baptiste and Bevilaqua much as she did when Thomas was looking to get into a WNBA training camp.
“My friend became a coach there and was looking for a player,” Barnes said. “First, I thought Dominique, but she was already going to another team there. And I said, ‘You need to take Trinity.’ Tully is like one of my best friends. And then next thing I know, they both text me the same day. I connected them and it worked out, so I was so happy.”
The team opened on July 2 with a 73-63 win over Hoiho. Baptiste, who had just arrived after playing in a league in South America, had a relatively quiet offensive game with six points, five rebounds, and one assist. She also struggled to take care of the ball, turning it over six times in 19 minutes of play.
For Arizona fans, though, the big game was on July 5 and Baptiste rose to the occasion. On Tuesday, she went up against fellow former Wildcat McBryde.
McBryde’s team got the upper hand with a 74-66 victory, but Baptiste was the individual star of the show. She showed a kind of offensive dominance that most Arizona fans wouldn’t expect.
Baptiste played just over 32 minutes in the game against Whai. She scored almost a point per minute, ending the contest with 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting. She went 1 for 3 from the 3-point line and 8 for 9 from the free-throw line. She also threw in eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals while only committing one turnover.
Baptiste leads Pouakai with 17.5 ppg in two games. She is shooting 91.7 percent from the field.
Her team next takes the court on Saturday, July 9 against Kahu. On July 12, they face the Tokomanawa Queens.
Dominique McBryde and Whai
McBryde’s team got their first win of the season when they hosted Pouakai after opening with a close loss to the Tokomanawa Queens. They are one of two teams that have already played three games and stand at 2-1 at the top of the standings.
Like Baptiste, McBryde has been a much stronger offensive threat for her team than she was at Arizona. When the two Wildcats faced off, though, Whai had the more balanced offense.
McBryde scored 15 points in the team’s opening game, an 82-78 road loss to Tokomanawa. She added six rebounds, two assists, and six steals in 38 minutes.
When the team’s home opener rolled around, McBryde played almost 39 minutes. She was one of five Stingrays in double digits with 12 points, but she had some difficulty with efficiency. She went 3 for 10 from the floor.
It wasn’t just about the scoring, though. McBryde stuffed the stat sheet, finishing just shy of a double-double with nine rebounds. She once again contributed six steals and added three blocks for a huge defensive effort as her team took the 74-66 victory.
Whai faced Hoiho to begin the second round, winning 65-38 in a low-scoring affair. McBryde’s scoring fell in the team’s third game, as she accounted for just four points on 1-for-7 shooting in 31 minutes of play. She still had four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block for a solid statistical night.
The team next plays Kahu on July 13.