Erica Wheeler is known for her energy and passion. We saw that on full display in 2019, when she became the first undrafted player to be named All-Star MVP in WNBA history. After a strong 2019 campaign, Erica was poised to take a huge leap but a positive COVID-19 test in July of last year kept her out of the game for the 2020 season. Now Erica is back on the court and ready to make an immediate impact in her new team.
Candace Parker chose to play in her hometown and Chelsea Gray went to play in Vegas. LA is looking to reinvent themselves. By bringing back Te’a Cooper and now adding Erica to the mix, the Sparks are looking to keep it exciting in Tinseltown. From a basketball standpoint, Erica feels like it will be a perfect fit. With her and Kristi Toliver, she says teams are going to have to pick their poison. With Kristi attacking off the pick and roll and Erica moving without the ball looking to score, some tough decisions are going to have to be made on the defensive end.
While Erica is looking forward to this new chapter, leaving Indiana wasn’t easy for her. The Fever was where she got her chance to prove herself in the league. She said making that call to Tamika Catchings was extremely tough. Catch was Erica’s teammate in 2016, then went on to become GM, so they’ve built a bond over the years. But Erica said Catchings was nothing but supportive. Indiana is the place that Wheeler was able to thrust herself into the limelight. After her historic performance in the All-Star game, Erica’s profile rose exponentially. Her main focus now is to stay consistent and live up to her newfound status. If we know anything about Erica, it’s that she’s a relentless worker, so there’s no doubt the future will be bright.
Erica recalled her early struggles in the W. She said getting cut by Atlanta was tough and she promised that would never happen to her again. She got another opportunity later in the 2015 season with the New York Liberty. Erica played well there in limited action, caught on with the Fever the next year and the rest is history. Playing with that added motivation has helped Erica craft out a good career to this point and now playing for a premier franchise like the Sparks, one can’t help to think she has lofty goals for herself on the court.
When asked what she will bring to the west coast, Erica says her passion will be at the forefront of everything she does. She’s also eager to learn her new teammates and take on a leadership role with the franchise. Erica sees herself as a natural leader and says those duties fall to her regardless because of her responsibilities as a point guard. Oddly enough, her most dramatic growth as a leader came at a time when she wasn’t able to join her teammates between the lines.
While sitting out last season, she still communicated with her team regularly and was able to be an instrumental piece in the development of Julie Allemand and Kathleen Doyle. Erica says that having to be relegated to a hands off approach helped her improve her communication and delivery. Those skills will definitely be essential moving into a new situation and having to learn 11 new personalities.
I asked Erica if she’s had a chance to soak everything in and reflect on her journey thus far. She says it hasn’t hit her yet, but at some point when she has time to sit in her thoughts, she’s sure it’s going to be an overwhelming feeling. Erica is just excited, grateful and happy to be in this position and is ready to get to work.
With this being the second year of the CBA, WNBA free agency is officially becoming a thing. We’re starting to see players move in a way that was foreign to the W in previous years. On the heels of Candace Parker’s decision to leave LA, Erica was asked about the importance of player empowerment and these ladies having the opportunity to guide their careers in whichever way they saw fit. She said of course that leaving Indiana was very difficult but she wanted to do something for herself. Sacrifice and selflessness have defined Erica’s career up to this point and she felt like it was time to operate within her best interest.
This season has already provided some fireworks before one shot has been taken. It will be interesting to see Erica spread her wings in LA and move into this next chapter of her career. We wish her nothing but the absolute best. The summer can’t come fast enough. This year in the W is going to be one for the books.