May 4, 2011 - Over the last year at Atlanta - maybe the last two - there's been a sight in the stands that always brings a smile. I'm not guaranteed to see it this year, but I hope I might.
Across from the Dream's bench, at the other side of the court, there are a few fans who proudly display the Brazilian flag, with its motto "Ordem e progresso" ("Order and progress"). The motto comes from a quote from Auguste Comte - "Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress as the goal." In which case Brazil's motto could serve as the WNBA's motto as a whole. Love of the game as the principle. Organization as the basis. The progress of women's basketball as the goal.
The flag, however, is not so much to celebrate the nation of Brazil or the principles of Auguste Comte's positivism as it is to celebrate the two Brazilians on the Atlanta Dream - Erika de Souza and Iziane Castro Marques. These two players, born in Rio de Janeiro and São Luís respectively, are the only active Brazilian players in the WNBA. This leads to an amusingly brief definition of the Atlanta Dream - "it's the team with the Brazilians on it."
In Brazil, they are simply known as Erika and Iziane. Calling them Erika and Iziane solves a lot of problems. Many Brazilian athletes choose to go by one name (Ronaldiho, Pele) for a variety of reasons; in the press in Brazil they are known as Erika and Iziane. Furthermore, it avoids the question of whether Iziane's last name Castro Marques or just Marques? Or Castro-Marques? And isn't Erika de Souza actually Erika de Souza Machado, and why do we leave the Machado off? So I call them Erika and Iziane and shorten Iziane's name sometimes down to Izi.
There are only two players left on the Atlanta Dream's roster who have been there since the very beginning, since 2008 - Erika and Iziane. I usually give Iziane seniority. Erika was out that first game. But Iziane was there for the very first Atlanta Dream game, scoring nine points on 4-for-8 shooting in a 100-67 loss to the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville.
Who made the first basket in a regular season game for the Atlanta Dream? Iziane. Who made the first steal for the Atlanta Dream? Iziane, 18 seconds later off of Amber Holt. Who made the second basket for the Dream? Iziane, in the six seconds that it took her to get down the court. Izi went 2-for-6 for the rest of the game but it was clear that she intended to make an impact. Hey, this was the WNBA, there was no guarantee that Atlanta would have a team very long anyway. Why waste time?
Meadors wanted Iziane from the start but Izi wasn't initially on the Dream's roster. During the expansion draft, Meadors took Roneeka Hodges from the Houston Comets. She then pulled Iziane out of Seattle, sending Hodges there along with the #4 draft pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft. (This is how Seattle got Swin Cash: they swapped the #4 pick that the Dream gave them for Swintayla, and the Shock picked Alexis Hornbuckle with the #4 spot they got from Seattle through Atlanta.)
Of course, Meadors knew Izi quite well. After Meadors lost her job with the Charlotte Sting, she headed south and took a job as director of scouting for the Miami Sol. According to Jayda Evans at the Seattle Times, Meadors first saw Izi while watching a tape of the Brazilian national team.
"I watched the first crossover, called her agent back and said 'we'd take her," Meadors said.
"[Meadors] always said that if she got a coaching job, I'd be on her team," Izi said.
It's very frustrating watching Izi play. She lives and dies by the modified fastbreak. This seems to be her strategy:
a. Run the ball on the fastbreak, hoping to beat any opponent to the hoop.
b. If opponents can't be outrun, shoot before they can get completely set in their defense.
c. If the opponents are getting set, shoot anyway and hope that one's teammates get the rebound if she misses.
It's always aggravating to watch.
I always call it "one-on-three" shooting where you'll see Izi vs. three defenders who look (to the naked eye) completely set in their defense. Maybe they're not set at all, though. Furthermore, Izi is quite comfortable in shooting the running jumper - there's no slowdown in her motion and it looks like Izi chucks the ball freely to the hoop in mid-stride. Bob Corwin calls Iziane Atlanta's "quick striker" and that's what she is: a threat to any opponent hoping for someone who will patiently work the perimeter. Izi's the classic cavalryman, a raider looking for the weakest parts of the enemy's wall, hoping to hit-and-run before the foot soldiers can turn the cannons on her.
The player Iziane's most statistically similar to is Sophia Witherspoon.
Izi's lifetime shooting percentage is 41.1 percent and her effective FG percentage is 46.8 percent - she shoots 33.2 percent from behind the arc. However, she doesn't do well on traditional metrics. Her lifetime PER is 13.24, a sub-average rating. Her lifetime Adjusted Wins Score is -56.1 (Adjusted Wins Score has a strong correlation to team winning percentage). However, such metrics don't take into account Castro's contributions on defense. She's generally been a perimeter defender, even though she has said in the past that her defense suffers in the off-season (in Europe) because she doesn't play much defense there.
I suspect that Iziane would rather attack than defend. In chess, for example, there seems to be two kinds of players - players who like to launch an attack from game start and threaten continuously and those who like to turn the center into a traffic jam of pieces and watch you tie yourself into knots. Izi's not the kind of player to give the opposing team enough rope to hang themselves. She'd rather hang them first.
You'd expect an attacking player like Iziane to have a certain type of arrogance, to be someone bold and brash. In the United States, we've never seen that. Every time I've spoken to Izi, she's been very calm, unfailingly polite and very thoughtful and intelligent in conversation - almost the opposite of the kind of player you'd expect to explode for thirty points, more Clark Kent than Superman.
The Brazilians have seen another side of Iziane, where her very place in Brazilian basketball seems roiled in controversy. Iziane played for the Brazilian national team, but during an Olympic qualifying game against Belarus that went into overtime Iziane had been put on the bench after she and Brazilian coach Paulo Bassul had a verbal altercation. When the game went into overtime, Bassul called Iziane back onto the court. She refused to go, and made it clear that she'd not play on the team as long as Bassul was coach.
It was a battle of wills, involving Bassul, Iziane, and Hortência Marcari - one of Brazil's greatest players and a representative of Brazilian basketball who served as mediator. It would be Bassul who would lose the battle, and Iziane and Erika both played for Brazil during the 2010 FIBA championships.
But in America, Iziane has been a true team player. Atlanta is her fourth team and if she completes the season her tenure with the Dream will be the longest of her tenures with any WNBA team. Yet suffice it to say, Iziane will likely be in Atlanta as long as Marynell Meadors is head coach and as long as she cares to play in Atlanta.
If I recall correctly, Iziane faced some heat from the press in Brazil for calling herself a "star". If she did, maybe Iziane was thinking about the Atlanta Dream - in Atlanta, the only stars are on the logo.