DREAM A LITTLE DREAM: Atlanta’s WNBA team climbs from worst-to-first

The Atlanta Dream started with  promise in the 2008 inaugural season. But despite the amount of excitement surrounding the team, the Dream went on to win a total of only four games out of a 34-game schedule. Atlanta’s horrendous season set the record for most losses by any WNBA franchise, and appeared to doom the Dream to nothing but further disappointment.

However, a revamped Atlanta team finished the 2009 season with a playoff berth and an astounding 18 wins. This season, the Dream currently are atop the Eastern Conference with 14 wins at the halfway point of the season. Atlanta’s miraculous rise to the top of the Eastern Conference from being the worst team in the WNBA just two years ago can be considered one of the best recent turnarounds in professional sports.

The Dream’s historic improvement is on par with the 1991 Braves or the 1998 Falcons. Atlanta fans have become accustomed to teams rising from the ashes to achieve victory, and in just the three short years, the Dream have indeed gone from worst to first in the women’s professional basketball world.


In 2008, the Atlanta Dream came into the WNBA as an expansion team. In the inaugural season, the Dream did not win a single game until July 5, with a 91-84 win over the Chicago Sky. The win against the Sky became the only win for Atlanta at home in Philips Arena all season. Little improved for the Dream as they went on to only win three more games by an average of seven points. Needless to say, the state of Dream basketball did not appear well at all.

“We were playing with all expansion draft players, which were role players on their respected teams,” said head coach and general manager Marynell Meadors about the slow start. “We had no starters coming from any other teams. Basically, what we had was a bunch of young players that played hard but were just not good enough yet.”

The lock of experience and talent on the roster clearly showed as the Dream lost an astonishing 30 games and was the laughingstock of the league.

Meadors saw the problems with the type of players in Atlanta and quickly overhauled the roster in order to bring about a chance for success in the league.

“We were able to sign a couple of free agents that had tremendous experience and we got the No. 1 draft pick also, in Angel McCoughtry,” said Meadors. “I thought that was a huge plus for us.”


Atlanta was able to sign free agents Michelle Snow, Coco Miller and former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw before the 2009 season.

“Four wins is not good,” said McCoughtry about coming to the Dream. “I knew it might have been a struggle coming in but we wound up winning 18 games and having a very good season last year.”

Atlanta also picked up the dominating inside presence of Sancho Lyttle in the expansion draft, adding a key element of depth to the young Atlanta roster.

In that second season, the Dream clinched a playoff berth by more than quadrupling their win total from the year before. Although the Dream would fall to Detroit in the conference semi-finals, Atlanta had pulled off the second-biggest single season turnaround in WNBA history. McCoughtry won the Rookie of the Year award for her efforts and Meadors was named the 2009 WNBA Coach of the Year. With all-stars Sancho Lyttle, Erika de Souza, and Izaine Castro Marques in place for the 2010 season, the seeds for future success were planted within the Dream.


Despite entering the 2010 season without former stars Snow and Holdsclaw, the Dream’s expectations for further improvement remained high. Those high expectations were easily met, and surpassed, with a franchise best 6-0 start and a one-game lead in the Eastern Conference going into the All-Star break. During this season, Atlanta has become known as a defensive rebounding and running transition team. With Lyttle and de Souza dominating inside, the Dream are currently the league’s best rebounding team, averaging 39.4 rebounds a game. De Souza and Castro Marques are the only two remaining players on the Dream’s current roster from the 2008 season.

“That first year we couldn’t run as much cause we couldn’t rebound as well,” said Meadors. “This year we do rebound the ball exceptionally well and that means we can run. We love to run, this team loves to run.”

Running requires a team to be quick and athletic. Angel McCoughtry believes that the Dream’s ability to easily meet those requirements is a big difference between this season and last season.

“We’re really fast and athletic causing team’s problems to keep up with us,” said McCoughtry, “last year, we were a bit on the slower side.”

Atlanta’s transition quick type scoring offense is set up by a tenacious defensive approach.

Castro Marques believes that the success of the Dream is not only from added talent to the roster, but superior coaching as well.

“A lot of the change came from the players but coach wise too,” mentioned Castro Marques. “We changed the second assistant coach from the first season. I think that was a big key too, because the coach we have now (Carol Ross) has a defensive mentality that brought us where we are right now. That made us the run team that we are.”

Talent, as important as it is to the Dream’s success, is only as good as the coaching behind it. The Dream have demonstrated that with the right combination of talent and quality coaching, success can be achieved.

From just a four-win team in 2008, Atlanta’s turnaround is truly remarkable. With more than 15 games left in the season, the Dream have the opportunity to easily surpass their win total from the previous season, and continue a historic transformation from a hopeless team in 2008, to the dominate winning face of the WNBA. By adding quality talented players and successful coaching to the makeup of the franchise, the Dream have found the formula for success. This formula appears to not only have achieved victories; but, transformed a once terrible franchise to legitimate title contenders. From worst to first, the Atlanta Dream have truly become a team to believe in.

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