May 28, 2024

Not many people look eye-to-eye with Dallas Wings starter Teaira McCowan.

But one of them is teammate Kalani Brown. The 6-foot-7 centers are both from the 2019 draft class. They started their pro careers elsewhere, but have come together as two of the tallest WNBA teammates and have bonded this season in Dallas.

“They’re sweet and sassy, right?” Dallas coach Latricia Trammell said, grinning. “That’s what they like to say. They’re a force to be reckoned with.”

The No. 4 seed Wings trail 2-0 in their best-of-five semifinals against the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces. Dallas must win Friday in Game 3 (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App) at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, to extend the series. The Wings’ center combo could help them do that.

Along with Dallas forwards Satou Sabally, who won the WNBA’s most improved player award, Natasha Howard and Awak Kuier, McCowan and Brown helped make the Wings the league’s top rebounding team. McCowan averaged 11.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in the regular season, while Brown put up 7.8 and 4.5. Brown, a lefty, also stood out for her efficiency. Her 62.9 field goal percentage ranked second in the league for players with at least 100 field goal attempts.

Brown also became the second WNBA player to shoot 60% from the field and 80% from the free throw line in a season (minimum of 80 attempts each) since Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike accomplished the feat in her 2016 MVP season. Brown shot 65.4% from the field in her 27 games off the bench, the best in WNBA history with a minimum of 100 attempts.

In the playoffs, McCowan is averaging 12 points and 12 rebounds and Brown 7.5 and 2.5. McCowan turns 27 on Thursday and Brown is 26. The business of pro sports is such that they can’t know for sure if they will be teammates after this season. McCowan is signed with the Wings through 2025, while Brown — who is on a hardship contract with Dallas — will be a free agent.

“Kalani has shown she can be an impact player in this league,” Dallas general manager and CEO Greg Bibb said. “I’d love it if we can find a way to bring her back.”

But the players are enjoying their time together, and what they have meant to each other and to the Wings has been one of the best stories of the WNBA season. Brown and McCowan first met in high school when both were at a camp at Baylor. As teammates, they’ve quickly developed an almost telepathic communication. They share clothing tips for very tall women. (Brown said she’s more into brighter colors, while McCowan is “a little edgier.”) And they have formed a mutual support system.

“If something is bothering either one of us, we can just look at each other and be like, ‘We’re OK,'” McCowan said. “We’re both outgoing, we’re both fun people who just live life to the fullest, and nothing can get us too far down.”

Or as Dallas assistant coach Courtney Paris, a former WNBA center, puts it, “They compete with each other in practice, but also feed off each other’s energy. They are always lifting each other up and being positive.”

There are just three players in the WNBA this season taller than McCowan and Brown: 6-10 Han Xu of the New York Liberty, 6-10 Bernadett Hatar of the Indiana Fever and 6-9 Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury. Only Griner appeared in double-digit games (31).

McCowan and Brown are also just the third pair of teammates in the WNBA to be 6-7 or taller. McCowan was in one of the other pairings, with Hatar in 2021 with the Fever. The other was 6-8 Katie Mattera and 6-7 Alison Bales in 2008 with the Atlanta Dream.

“They say no one likes big posts anymore, but they’ve found a home. It’s good to see them flourish.”

Aces star A’ja Wilson on the Wings’ Brown, McCowan

But the Wings teammates are the only 6-7 or taller duo to appear in the playoffs. McCowan and Brown don’t often appear on the court at the same time — 33 minutes during the regular season and 2 minutes in the playoffs — but their ability to sub in and out for each other is a luxury for the Wings.

“Obviously, the game is changing. But that narrative of the ‘true center’ supposedly going away has been around for years,” said Paris, who won a WNBA title with the Seattle Storm in 2018. “It’s cool to see them doing what they’re doing this year while also being great teammates.

“There is always some give and take for players their size. Someone might pick-and-roll you, but you can also dominate them in your areas. They do a great job of doing what dominant post players are good at.”

The Wings’ arena is about 210 miles north of McCowan’s hometown of Brenham, Texas, and 98 miles north of Waco, where Brown starred for the Baylor Bears. Brown won the national championship at Baylor as a senior in 2019, while McCown played in the NCAA final in 2017 and 2018 with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

In the 2019 draft, Indiana picked McCowan No. 3 overall, while Brown went at No. 7 to Los Angeles. McCowan spent three seasons as a part-time starter and consistent low-block presence with the Fever. She wasn’t always sure things were clicking as well as they could in Indiana. Still, her first thought upon being traded in March 2022 was, “What did I do wrong?”

That was soon followed by the realization that she was headed back to her home state and to a team that saw a clear role for her.

“I’ve come back home,” McCowan said. “I’m more comfortable in Texas. My family is so excited I’m here. I feel I outgrew where I was in Indiana, and I came here to plant roots and take it to the next level.”

Brown’s path has been bumpier, which left a chip on her shoulder that motivates her. She played in 28 games as a rookie with the Sparks in 2019, then was traded to the Dream in February 2020. But she tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival at the WNBA’s “bubble” in Bradenton, Florida, and had to quarantine alone in a hotel. She ended up playing 10 games off the bench for the Dream.

“The pandemic year was tough, and I also felt I didn’t show up ready,” Brown said. “That’s on me. But I’ve really worked these last couple of years to change that image and get in the best shape I can.”

In 2021, she was waived by Atlanta after one game. She signed a training camp contract with the Aces in February 2022, but was waived before the season began. Initially, the same thing happened this year with the Wings.

But Bibb — who was impressed by how Brown played overseas — told her when she was waived before Dallas’ season opener to stay ready, because odds were likely a spot would open due to other players’ injuries. Brown ended up playing 32 regular-season games.

“I’ve had times when nobody was calling my phone to play the past few years,” Brown said. “There were people who said I didn’t belong in the league, that I’m too slow for this league. I think the dominance that me and Teaira have shown proves that stigma against centers is wrong. It’s always personal when a team passes on you.”

Since Las Vegas was one of those teams, Brown came into the semifinals hoping the Wings could pull an upset of the No. 1 seed and defending champion. McCowan wanted the same thing. But no matter how the semifinal turns out, it’s been an important season for both players.

Las Vegas star A’ja Wilson, who played for the South Carolina Gamecocks and had multiple faceoffs with McCowan in their SEC days, came into the WNBA in 2018, one year before McCowan and Brown. They are opponents in this series, but Wilson is a fan of both.

“They vibe off each other, and I love it,” Wilson said. “If you feel right from within, nothing will stop you. If you understand your strengths and have confidence, the sky is the limit. I’m glad they’ve found a team that welcomed them and utilizes them. They say no one likes big posts anymore, but they’ve found a home. It’s good to see them flourish.”

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.

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