Chennedy Carter Is Bringing ‘Hollywood’ to the WNBA

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If you’re into scary movies, go to YouTube and type in “horror short films.” Once you do that, grab a few snacks and get comfy on the couch because you’re going to be there for a while.

This rabbit hole of 15-minute hair-raisers is a good distraction after a long day of work or during a lazy weekend. And if you’re a 22-year-old Texas native playing pro ball in Turkey looking for something to do after a game, you couldn’t ask for a better escape.

“I’m going to check that out,” says Chennedy Carter, peeking from underneath a black Bathing Ape hoodie on a recent Zoom call. “I like all scary movies. With the pandemic, it took me away [from visiting the theaters]. I used to go to the movie theater like every Friday. I didn’t miss Annabelle or The Quiet Place.”

For much of the early fall, Carter played international ball in Elazig, Turkey, a history-rich city of about 300,000 residents that’s roughly a 12-hour drive from Istanbul. Not a whole lot of late-night shenanigans going on in Elazig, so Carter whiled away her free time by playing Call of Duty, doing some shopping and watching creepy flicks.

“I’m such a movie person,” says Carter, who’s appropriately called “Hollywood” by friends and fans—though the moniker has much more to do with her flashy style of play than it does her penchant for streaming. “I love to lay down and just watch different movies. That’s me. I’m chill. I don’t really need too much to keep me company. My [PlayStation 4] game system, my Netflix and my Hulu and I’m good. That’s how I’m lasting over here.”

It can be terrifying being so far from home, especially with coronavirus fears very much alive. Still, Carter braved the unfavorable conditions to play in Europe. She felt she had no other choice.

“I just knew in order to make money—and to provide for myself and my family—coming out of school, it was something I would have to do,” she says. “I was prepared for it. I just got off the phone with my agent. He was checking to see if my mental health was good and that I’m OK. I was like, Yeah, I’m doing the best I can.”

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You can say that again. Through Elazig’s first three games, Carter averaged 16 points a night. She looked especially comfortable during an October 10 contest when she went off for 26.

Unfortunately, that game proved to be Carter’s last time in an Elazig uniform. Less than one week after our interview, Carter and the team abruptly parted ways. At press time, we hadn’t heard the official reason for her departure and couldn’t confirm social media rumors about her possibly playing for another overseas club this year.

We won’t speculate as to what happened in Turkey. All we know is that wherever the super-smooth Carter has played previously, the team benefitted from her presence. She graduated from Arlington’s Timberview High School in 2017 as a McDonald’s All-American and espnW’s No. 6 overall recruit with a 70-4 record over her junior and senior seasons.

Carter took those dominating ways with her a few hours south to Texas A&M. While in College Station, Chennedy carved her place in the record books (school highs for single-season average, 23.3, and most points in a single game, 46) and etched her name onto numerous trophies (National Freshman of the Year in ’17-18; three-time All-American), all while regularly slashing through SEC defenders with Michael Myers-like precision.

“Chennedy’s ability to create for herself and others is what separates her,” says assistant coach Kelly Bond-White, who’s entering her 19th season on the Aggies staff. “What makes her special is her true desire to want ‘the moment’ in clutch situations.”

Coach Bond-White points to A&M’s second-round match-up in the 2019 NCAA Tournament with Marquette as a perfect example of Carter’s killer instincts. The game was a back-and-forth tussle between evenly matched squads—until you add in the Carter factor, of course. Chennedy exploded for 30 points and 9 rebounds, showing off an arsenal of skills—a nice touch, timely passes and tight defense—in the crucial moments of the 2-point victory. (Oh, after your horror movie marathon, give “Chennedy Carter highlights” a go on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.)

That must have been one of the games the Atlanta Dream saw because the franchise didn’t flinch when it came time to make its first-round selection in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Chennedy and her family to the ATL,” Dream head coach Nicki Collen told reporters after taking the 5-9 Carter with the fourth pick. “Chennedy is a gifted scorer, possessing great speed, skill and strength with the ball in her hands… We believe Chennedy has a chance, with time and commitment, to be a special player in Atlanta.”

Now, that’s a frightening thought.

Not sure if Chennedy watched the horror short Other Side of the Box yet. It’s a creepy lil’ flick about a couple who’s gifted a box filled with an eerie surprise that, whenever you take your eyes off of it, gets closer and closer to you. It’s strange as hell.

The same premise basically applies to Carter’s game. The blur of a combo guard can be dribbling at the midcourt line one minute, but if you take your gaze off her for even a second, she’ll have zoomed right past you for an acrobatic layup the next.

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“[Atlanta] coaches did a great job of getting my game accustomed [to the professional level],” says Carter. “They said, Before we get to the [WNBA] bubble, we gotta increase your pace. We gotta make sure when you make a move that you’re creating space. We know you’re used to going by people in college but, in the League, it’s a little bit different. You gotta create a little more space on your crossover. I think that my coaches really did a good job of making my transition easy because they believed in me.”

The NCAA-to-WNBA jump can be daunting. The intense practices. The across-the-board speed. The physical toll in the paint. The A’ja Wilsons. The Brittney Griners. It’s a lot. But if you’ve been paying attention, you know that Chennedy Carter is a different beast altogether.

“I just feel like, once I was three games deep, I was good,” says Carter, who averaged a Dream-high 17.5 points a night. “Those first three games were kinda my testers, the icebreakers. Everybody was tuned in [to the games]. Everybody was like, Yo, what are they gonna do with the rookies? Once I got comfortable, I started to find myself.”

Ask Washington about her. The Mystics and Dream met only once in the wubble. Mystics guards are probably still having night sweats about the 26 points that the rookie scored on them in the Dream’s season finale.

And she didn’t just terrorize the League’s meager teams, either. In a meeting on August 6 with the eventual champion Seattle Storm, Carter had a 35-point showing, making her the youngest player in WNBA history to score 30-plus in a game. Easy to see why she was a unanimous WNBA All-Rookie selection.

The season did present its challenges, though. An ankle injury sidelined Carter for roughly two weeks. Chennedy was forced to helplessly watch as the Dream went 1-5 in her absence, solidifying the team’s second-straight losing season.

A lack of talent isn’t Atlanta’s central issue. In Carter, Elizabeth Williams and the League’s Most Improved Player, Betnijah Laney, they have plenty of hellraisers on the roster. The young squad just needs more time on the court as a unit.

“I think we gotta have more practices together,” says Carter. “We got a lot of people that came late because of COVID [related issues]. That does something to your body. It was a challenge for them to get back out there and get their legs back under them and really get used to the pace.

“I feel like if we could have a normal season and we could really spend time in practice together and get to know each other a little bit better—and it’s not so quickly put together—I think we’ll be on that level.”

But if the Dream are to fully exorcise recent playoff demons—Atlanta has missed the postseason in four of the last six campaigns—Carter will have to lead the way. “I just wanna add more sauce to my game, more unexpected [play],” says Carter, who admits to spending some of her Netflix time repeatedly watching The Last Dance documentary series.

“If I’m going to the rim, you think I’m going to go for a layup, but I end up doing a fadeaway stepback or something. Just being more unpredictable, that’s what I’m going to add to my game. Even though I’ve only played one year, I still want to change everything I’m doing. When I come back, I’m going to change it and expand it the best way I can—whether that’s defensively or offensively.”

Adds Coach Bond-White, “I expect Chen to keep being open to learning. She is surrounded by the greats in our game. She is a sponge, even when it may seem she’s not listening or taking notes. She’s learning and will add every bit to her arsenal.”

WNBA, consider this your lone warning because once Chennedy Carter figures it all out, she’s coming for blood.

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DeMarco Williams is a SLAM contributor. Follow him on Twitter @demarcowill.

Photos via Getty

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Published at Fri, 04 Dec 2020 17:14:09 +0000

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