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Shakira Austin: Homecoming Queen

For most young hoopers, from the first moment they pick up a basketball, the ultimate dream would be to rock their hometown team’s jersey with their friends and family cheering in the stands. On April 11th, 2022, everything came full circle for Shakira Austin, a native of Fredericksburg, Virginia as she was drafted with the 3rd overall pick to the Washington Mystics. She grew up roughly 50 miles away from where the Mystics conduct their business and now she’s in the fold. After a winding road, she finds herself back in familiar surroundings where the hoop dreams first began to take shape.

Shakira’s roots are firmly planted in the DMV. She played high school ball at Riverdale Baptist, a national powerhouse with a litany of WNBA players amongst its alumni. A list that includes the likes of Jonquel Jones, Tianna Hawkins, Kaila Charles, and many more. Austin left Riverdale as decorated as anyone who preceded her. She was selected as a McDonald’s All-American in 2018 and she was the 4th ranked player in her high school class. She then took her talents up the road to the University of Maryland – College Park. Austin had two successful years there, setting a single-season school record with 89 blocks in her freshman year. She was also named to the All-Freshmen and All-Defensive teams as well. After garnering Second Team All-Big Ten honors in her sophomore season, she fled the nest for the first time in her basketball life. She went to Ole Miss and spread her wings even further. She wrapped up her college career with back-to-back First-team All-SEC selections and was named a two-time Gillom Trophy winner. Oddly enough, it was Shakira’s odyssey down south that got her right back to where she wanted to be. Home.

The Mystics are a seemingly natural fit and when they traded down to get the 3rd pick in the draft, it was all but apparent that they wanted to make Austin a part of the family. A long, rangy defender that can guard up and down the depth chart. And offensively, she offers versatility and a multifaceted skill set that will allow Coach Thibault to throw her out there with a multitude of lineups. Getting the chance to put the full range of her abilities on display at the professional level is more than Shakira could have ever hoped for.

Having the chance to do that in her backyard is beyond the realm of her imagination. Basketball is undoubtedly her top priority but going to the Mystics opens up a world of potential with off-the-court opportunities as well. Shakira has a magnetic personality and she plans to put it on front street as she looks to further her brand. She’ll need that level of bravado because there is no shortage of it on this team. Her new coach is one of the most colorful in the league and between her and Tasha Cloud, I’m not sure who will produce the best soundbites throughout the season. Shakira and Tasha might be the most entertaining duo in the W this year. The on-court possibilities are endless but between the tunnel fits and their flair for the dramatic, they’re going to set social media ablaze. Get your popcorn ready because this is about to be a show.

While there was no doubt Shakira was ready for the challenge of being a pro, the universe didn’t waste any time in allowing her to prove it. Her second game in the league was indoctrination by fire in every sense. It was her first road game, her first start and the person standing opposite of her just happened to be one of the greatest to ever play at her position. You don’t get to this point without being an ultimate competitor but it would be far from an indictment on any rookie to be somewhat shaken by having to lock horns with Sylvia Fowles when your professional career is 40 minutes old. But Shakira said “What pressure?” and straight-up outplayed the legend to the tune of 10 points, 13 rebounds, 6-8 from the field, and the all-important dub. Austin still had a rookie moment during the game when she got yelled at by assistant coach Latoya Sanders for helping Fowles off the floor after a little dust-up but you can’t blame the rook. Come on, it’s Sylvia Fowles. But at the very least, we know Shakira follows directions because I haven’t seen her help up an opposing player since. And what was her reward for going toe to toe with a legend, an immediate date against a legend in the making. Hell of a stretch for a rookie to go from guarding Sylvia Fowles to A’ja Wilson. No rest for the weary I suppose. Austin saw limited time against the former MVP but getting these lessons early has definitely helped the learning curve for Austin.

But her most demonstrative performance to date came in last night’s victory against the Phoenix Mercury. The Mystics let one get away from them against this same team on Sunday and they were determined not to duplicate that effort. It’s only fitting that Shakira would be staring down another legend at such a pivotal moment in the season. But when the ball is tossed up, it’s time to eat and last night, Tina Charles and the Mercury were on the menu. And Shakira made sure she dominated in every aspect of the game. She won the opening tip. She won her individual matchup. She won the fashion show, playing in the soon-to-be-released KD 15. Most importantly the Mystics won the game and just to make it abundantly clear that it was her night, Shakira won postgame media across the league with her fiery interview with Holly Rowe. Holly asked her how she seemed so prepared for these big moments against some of the greatest players the league has produced so early in her career and Shakira simply replied, “I’m just like that.” If you’ve spent one second around Shakira, it should be no surprise that sticking a camera and a microphone in her face after a performance like that produced what’s probably going to be the viral moment of the season. And no truer words were ever spoken. Shakira posted 16 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. But even more than her stat line, her overall presence, and demeanor in the game set the tone from the outset. She battled, she talked her talk, and when Tina went back at her, she didn’t back down. If you go toe to toe with a former MVP and scoring champ and come out on top in a dominating win, “I’m just like that.” is a very apropos way to start off your post-game interview. When Shakira subbed out of the game for the final time, she was greeted with a standing ovation and uproarious cheers from the home crowd. And never missing a moment to resume her role as the league’s greatest hype woman, Natasha Cloud let the crowd know they weren’t loud enough and gestured for them to turn it up even more to show appreciation for the rookie’s big-time performance. She’s surely taken her lumps and had some rookie moments in these first 16 games but the potential is undoubtedly there. Once she puts it all together, we might be seeing her name mentioned alongside some of the greats she’s already laced them up against in her young career. But that’s a little way down the road. Let’s just enjoy the ride for the moment.

Shakira making her way back to the DMV is a fairy tale progression in an already captivating story. Being able to start her professional life in familiar surroundings will assuredly ease the transition. While this next phase will be challenging, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who will handle it with as much grace as her. The draft night fit was flawless. The interviews exuded supreme confidence. And the joy and excitement that Shakira displays while embarking on this next chapter in her journey lets you know she is ready to get her hands dirty. Fireworks usually don’t make their way to the nation’s capital until the 4th of July but they came through a little early this year. We can’t wait to see what Shakira brings to the Mystics and wish her nothing but the best for the remainder of her rookie season.

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Hoops Enthusiast. Self Proclaimed Genius. Native Washingtonian. And I know the first and last names of every character on The Simpsons. I have a deep passion for the game of basketball. I have played, reffed, coached and now reporting / blogging.

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