Coming off an outstanding rookie season with the Washington Mystics, which ended with the team returning to the playoffs and a spot on the WNBA All-Rookie team, Shakira Austin is clearly a force on the court. We sat down with the Fredericksburg native, 22, to discuss her relationship with basketball, influences on the court, and the future of women’s sports.
What were your thoughts going into draft day?
I was really excited. I just really wanted to come back home. I felt like that was what God had planned for me. I always just wanted to represent the DMV. And for me to come back full circle from being at Maryland to now playing for DC is just something me and my family were really excited about — with the opportunity to bring a championship back home. A lot of people never really get the opportunity to do that, so it was something I was definitely excited for. I definitely wanted to go No. 1, but God worked everything out the way I needed it to.
When you were a kid, did you always think you’d be a professional basketball player?
I had a weird childhood relationship with basketball. My dad started me off young, probably 5 to 6. And honestly, he said I didn’t like it. He said it didn’t seem like I had a lot of interest towards it, so I actually stopped playing. And I probably went through every sport you can imagine: soccer, track and field for like 15 years, volleyball, softball. And by the time I hit 6’3” and I was in seventh grade is pretty much when I figured out ‘OK, let me try this basketball again.’ And that’s just when I figured out that I was really going to be good at it. And I knew at a young age that I was different from everybody else, so I knew that the talent that I had, and the height, would allow me to pursue anything I wanted with basketball.
Growing up, who were some of the players you looked up to and modeled your game after?
I think Candace Parker was pretty much the player I looked up to on the women’s side the most. Just with her versatility, the energy that she brings on the court, nobody can stop her. That’s something that I always mirrored. Even on the men’s side, Anthony Davis — just versatile players who can do anything they want on the floor. That’s what I hope to be.
Last season was the first year college athletes could profit off their name and likeness. How did that change affect you, and do you see that rule increasing viewership for women’s sports and expanding opportunities for female athletes?
This opportunity to make money is really big for women. It definitely had an impact on me — I was about to stay another year in college. If it wasn’t for me not liking the education part of college, I would probably be there. Being able to make as much as I can make in a rookie year is going to change the game and hopefully for the best. But I think it’s also going to have a negative impact with players just wanting to stay and make money. But there’s opportunity for brands to actually invest into women and actually put the money out there. I’m hoping that it’ll translate to the [WNBA]. We need those endorsements, too … But I think it’s great for the game right now, just to help bring more media attention and more coverage, because it’s just something we deserve.
Where are some of your must-visit spots when you head back to Fredericksburg?
I’m gonna go with Carl’s Ice Cream. I just got it a couple of days ago. It’s just a hometown spot, but they make some great, homemade ice cream.
This story originally ran in our September issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.