How the Atlanta Dream's roster came together

With 10 newcomers of the 12 on the roster, each new player had a different path to joining the team

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Guard Shekinna Stricklen, pictured here during a game against the Atlanta Dream last season, is one of the 10 new players on the Dream’s roster for 2020. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Nicki Collen keeps describing her roster as an expansion team.

Of the 12 Atlanta Dream players — nine of whom are currently in training camp at IMG Academy — only two, Elizabeth Williams and Monique Billings were on the Dream’s roster in 2019. A third, Blake Dietrick, played for Collen in Atlanta in 2018 and went through training camp with the Dream last season. Everyone else is brand new.

“We’ve got [an] expansion team here,” Collen said Wednesday. “Right now, 10 of our 12 players are new to the Dream, so just figuring out who fits where and when and really put them in the best situation to be successful individually, which then makes us the most successful collectively. A lot to figure out there.”

For each of the players who are new to the roster this year, the process of getting the call from Collen and has been different. Some, like Dietrick, Shekinna Stricklen, and Glory Johnson, signed with the team in free agency, though even in those signings there were differences. Others, like Alexis Jones and Betnijah Laney, came to Atlanta after being waived by another team.

Even among the Dream’s three rookies — Chennedy Carter, Brittany Brewer, and Jaylyn Agnew — there were different routes to the team. Carter and Brewer were selected by the Dream in the 2020 WNBA draft at No. 4 overall and No. 17 overall, respectively, while Agnew was drafted by the Washington Mystics and then waived before the Dream picked her up.

“After being waived by the Mystics, I didn’t know if there was going to be a second chance, at least this year,” Agnew said. “So, when I got the call from Nicki, I was just super grateful and ready to take and do whatever comes at me. I’m just thankful and grateful that I’m here and able to compete with the best of the best.”

For Jones, who comes to the Dream fresh from rehabbing a lingering knee injury and subsequent surgery, getting the call from Collen validated her efforts to get better and get back on the floor.

“Getting that call from Nicki was amazing,” Jones said. “I was super excited from talking to her. She made me feel comfortable. I was already hungry and ready to have the opportunity, but I was just thankful and happy that she believed in me. She didn’t have to pick me up because I was hurt, so I was just thankful that she went out of her way to take the opportunity to be like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna trust in you that you’re going to be back prepared and ready to go before anything.’ ”

The underlying theme in every newcomer’s thoughts on joining the Dream is feeling like Collen truly wanted them on the team. Naturally, any coach trying to sign a player is going to do their best to make them feel wanted, but it comes across as the full truth for the players new to Atlanta.

When Stricklen was entering free agency and making her decision about what came next, Collen was the first coach to reach out. Collen had coached Stricklen in Connecticut as an assistant coach and Atlanta general manager Chris Sienko was the GM in Connecticut when the Sun traded for Stricklen, so Stricklen already knew that the staff in Atlanta liked her. Collen being the first coach to call in free agency just cemented that.

“[Collen] was like, ‘I’m hitting you up. We really want you. I know we’re going to have to wait and see your decision with Connecticut and everything,’ ” Stricklen said. “But from the get-go, her and Chris were there [and they] were talking the whole way. Knowing them both, Chris as the GM, he’s the one that did the trade and got me to Connecticut, so knowing that they wanted me again [helped]. … It really wasn’t a hard decision.”

Dietrick’s path back to the Dream echoes Stricklen’s feelings. Dietrick played for Atlanta in 2018 and spent time with the Dream in the preseason in 2019 before being waived and signed by the Seattle Storm. After the 2019 season, Dietrick was a free agent again, and there was only one team she was willing to join.

“I told [Collen] even before free agency, before anything like that, I told her I wanted to play for her,” Dietrick said. “She, quite frankly, was the only coach I wanted to play for. I just felt like she appreciated me as a player and understood what I brought to a team both on and off the court.”

Each newcomer has varying levels of experience with Collen and her system. Some, like Dietrick and Stricklen, have played for her before. Others are getting their very first exposure to how Collen does things right now.

It’s a unique situation with only nine players currently practicing and putting things together as a team will take time. But Collen has been positive about the direction the team is trending as they start to fit together, and each newcomer will play an important role if the Dream is going to find success this season.