Teaira McCowan is a tough competitor. She had to be.
Growing up in Brenham, Texas, she was the only girl—and the eldest sibling—in a house filled with seven brothers. Between them and a slew of cousins, also all male, she found herself enveloped in daily battles that built up the toughness and competitiveness she is known for on the basketball court.
“We went at it all the time,” the 25-year-old says. “We’d go outside and play so rough, and my grandmother was like, ‘OK, it’s time to come in the house T.’ And I was like, ‘Why do I have to come in the house? I’m the only one who has to come in the house? There is no way! If I’m coming in, everyone’s coming in. I will not be singled out!’” McCowan says with a laugh. ”No matter what it is, I am always competing. I never say it out loud, but you can see me focused. Whenever I am doing anything, the simplest thing, I am focused.”
McCowan, her focus, and her competitive edge will be on full display this season as a member of the Wings after Dallas acquired the 6-foot-7 center from the Indiana Fever in a bid to beef up the team’s interior post presence. The Wings also received the seventh overall selection in this year’s draft, plus the Chicago Sky’s first-round selection in the 2023 WNBA Draft, which was previously acquired by Indiana. In return, the team sent Indiana their two first-round selections—fourth and sixth overall in this year’s draft—plus their first-round selection in the 2023 WNBA Draft.
Losing some of their prized draft picks was a price the Wings were willing to pay to get a player Coach Vickie Johnson called “a walking double-double.”
She’s not wrong. Over the last three seasons, McCowan has recorded 28 double-doubles, the third most in the WNBA behind only Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones (33) and Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles (31). Her scoring average rose for the third straight year to a career-best 11.3 points per game, but her biggest impact came without the ball in her hands. Her 9.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in 2021 ranked third and fifth league-wide, respectively. Both skills will be huge additions to a Wings team that was middle of the pack in rebounding and dead last in blocks per game.
“The one thing that really hurt us last year was the fact that we didn’t have a true inside presence,” Johnson says. “We saw some cracks in our foundation, and I think Teaira is one of the players that can fill some of those cracks.”
Trading for McCowan allows the Wings to take a huge leap forward in putting the best possible team on the floor to win now after being in rebuild mode since trading Liz Cambage after the 2018 season. The structure of the deal also allowed them to move draft capital without trading out of the first round entirely in either 2022 or 2023, something general manager Greg Bibb calls “another great element of this trade for us.”
With the addition of McCowan, the Wings now have a large contingent of post players, including three former top-five selections over the past two drafts in Bella Alarie (No. 5 in 2020), Charli Collier (No. 1 in 2021), and Awak Kuier (No. 2 in 2021). That naturally leads to speculation over who might be the odd woman out on a team that currently has not lost a single player from last season’s roster. Both Bibb and Johnson claim that won’t be an issue, with the GM emphasizing that McCowan’s addition is “not a statement against the players that you already have.”
“When you have the opportunity to get a Teaira McCowan, you get Teaira McCowan, and you figure the rest out later,” he says.
For her part, Johnson says she sees parallels between the center mix and the team’s situation at shooting guard, where Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey form one of the game’s elite pairings.
“I don’t look at it as Teaira versus Charli or Charli versus Bella,” she says. “I look at them as one, and how do we compete with the Sylvia Fowles? There should be no gap. We should dominate at the five position like we dominate at the two position with Arike and Marina.”
Since arriving in Dallas last season, Johnson has envisioned a fast-paced team that gets out and runs the court. McCowan’s presence fits right into that vision, particularly as an offensive rebounder and a passer out of double teams. The latter is a particular point of pride for the Mississippi State product—“I love seeing the joy in my teammates when they score,” McCowan says—and a skill she’s willing to adapt to fit her new surroundings.
“If I am on a team with a lot of young guards and they like to run, it’s all about me kicking it to them and letting them go down and do what they do on offense,” she says.
At the same time, Johnson is quick to note that the team can and will need to “be smart” now that they employ a 6-foot-7 center who is developing into one of the league’s most productive at her position. “If we do have to set up in the half court, then we do have the inside presence to go to, and she can finish and make great things happen,” she says. “Teaira is going to be Teaira.”
McCowan is ready to dive in the moment she returns from Turkey, where she’s currently playing for OGM Ormanspor during the WNBA offseason. “I kept saying to myself all day [the day of the trade], ‘You’re really going to play in Dallas. You’re back in Texas,’” she says. She’s ready to join a new team, help them get to the next level, and get to play in front of her family and friends, which she says is a major bonus to the trade.
“My mom was the first person I called,” McCowan says. “She said, ‘You get to come home. We get to come to more of the games.’ I’ve had so many people hit me up already telling me to let them know when the games are. It’s a great opportunity for the people in my family who haven’t gotten to see me play live in the pros yet. They can come down to Dallas. The atmosphere will be great.”
And those brothers and cousins she used to battle with?
“Words can’t describe how proud they are of me,” McCowan says. “They call and text every day, checking in. ‘Are you really coming to Dallas? We can finally come to your games.’”
When they do, they’ll see the player they helped create: tough, competitive, and ready for action. “Teaira McCowan is coming into town,” she says. “So be ready for this season, because we’re going to get after it.”