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Hoops Happening: Today in women’s basketball (and beyond) — Saturday May 26, 2018

IT’S LIZ CAMBAGE’S WORLD. The 6-foot-8 center with the Dallas Wings recently spoke with LaChina Robinson on her ‘Around the Rim’ podcast about why she left the WNBA, what she did in her year away from basketball and how it feels to be back.

Liz Cambage at Burning Man art and music festival in Black Rock Desert, NV on Sept. 4, 2017.
Liz Cambage via Instagram

Drafted by the Shock at age 19, Liz Cambage recently told LaChina Robinson on the Around the Rim podcast that she was “looking for a place to grow and develop” with a WNBA team but felt “thrown in the deep end” with expectations that she be a franchise player right away.

“The organization wasn’t in the greatest place,” Cambage said. “And I was dealing with teammates who weren’t being the greatest teammates to me and it really just turned me off from basketball in America in general.”

After departing America, Cambage played on the Australian National Team in her home country as well as in China during the offseason. But she suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon “a week before the World Champs in Australia.” Although the injury dampened her spirits, she bounced back and made the push towards the 2016 Rio Olympics, which left her drained mentally, physically and spiritually.

Cambage took a year off from basketball during which she traveled and did things she had been wanting to do for a very long time, including dabbling in what she called “side jobs” that keep her creative mind happy. Cambage is a self-described designer and DJ who opened a concert in Australia for Mary J. Blige in April 2017.

Not bad for a “side job.”

Cambage also attended Burning Man art and music festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada on Sept. 4, 2017. And her Instagram feed is filled with evidence of her hard-earned relaxation: pools, oceans, resorts and, yes, bikinis.

Clearly, Cambage was making up for lost time — doing the fun things she had been missing out on while immersed in a life of basketball and hotel rooms from age 15.

But this wasn’t mere exhaustion.

Cambage described this period in her life as an “existential crisis” during which she no longer understood her purpose. “I needed to step back, reset and reevaluate everything I was doing and the people around me,” Cambage said.

The time away from the game proved beneficial, as now Cambage claims to enjoy being back on the basketball courts of the WNBA. She credits Dallas Wings Head Coach Fred Williams as playing an integral role in her return to the league by being patient, but staying engaged, while she was doing other things “on the other side of the world.” She marvels at Skylar Diggins-Smith’s transformation into a dominant force in the league, and credits both Diggins-Smith and Glory Johnson for making it easy for her to return.

But perhaps it is Assistant Coach Erin Phillips who provides Cambage a piece of Australia in America. She said that as an only child she has struggled to be away from her mother and grandmother and, therefore, appreciates Phillips’ presence, who she views a being “like an older sister.”

If timing is everything, Cambage makes her return to the league at the perfect one. She is rested and mentally and physically restored — ingredients needed to contend against WNBA teams with a very different look than when she last played in the league. The league is no longer treating the center position like an afterthought. With more big girls emerging through the ranks of college basketball programs and from abroad, WNBA teams are having an easier time of putting big women, like Cambage, in the paint.

In a recent interview with ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, Cambage said:

“I love Brittney; I’ve watched her develop since her rookie year. It’s good for us going against bigger bodies more games, rather than chasing around those undersized [power forwards]. They get away with everything.”

Oh, those pesky power forwards!

But to prepare for the other bigs, namely Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles, Cambage trained against men which did not prove wholly successful in preparing her for the size and strength of the big women in the league.

“Nothing can get you ready for this league,” Cambage concluded.

Whether Cambage felt ready for the first tip of the season or learned to hang with the league’s bigs by doing, one thing is clear: Liz Cambage is ready and has already made a major impact for her Dallas Wings’ team, averaging 17.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Next up, Cambage and the Wings face the Dream in Atlanta — today, Saturday May 26 at 6 p.m. EST on WNBA League Pass. In the teams’ first matchup of the season on May 20, the Wings claimed a dominant victory behind scoring from Cambage and Diggins-Smith, who combined for 46 of the team’s 101 points.

Game results

The Minnesota Lynx got the win in New York but the Liberty kept it close.

Seattle Storm claim come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Sky in OT.

Today’s games

Up next in the WNBA:

Previews are forthcoming later today.

Other happenings in women’s hoops

What is going on with Shoni Schimmel?

The once WNBA All-Star MVP returned to the league after a year away to grieve the death of her grandmother and rehab injuries. Upon return, she claimed to be ready mentally and physically, but was waived by the New York Liberty. She was picked up quickly by Bill Laimbeer (her former Liberty coach) and the Las Vegas Aces.

Schimmel was waived by the Aces on Wednesday May 23 — news that does not appear to have been reported anywhere thus far. With many of the team’s guards still playing overseas, it’s likely Laimbeer sought to fill a void temporarily. But Schimmel pre- and regular-season performances obviously did not impress either the Liberty or Aces enough to inspire them to have her continue into the season.

So, what is going on with Schimmel, and what does this mean for her chances of restarting her professional basketball career in the WNBA?

More importantly, what is going on with her personally? She was waived by her first team, the Atlanta Dream, for her inability to stay at a decent playing weight. She landed in New York but didn’t play long for the Liberty before taking a self-induced leave of absence. At the time, the reasons were undisclosed. But in an interview with the AP during the Liberty’s training camp, Schimmel mentioned the death of her grandmother and the need to recover from a severe concussion.

Schimmel is a person the league should not let fade into obscurity. Whatever is going on with her, let’s hope she is surrounded by people who can and will offer her the support she needs to reclaim her place in the WNBA if that is, in fact, what she desires.

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