She’s called “Hollywood” for a reason. No one shines brighter than Atlanta Dream guard Chennedy Carter when the lights are on.
With the glitzy nickname she picked up in high school because of her popularity on and off the court, Carter has embraced the tenets of stardom. She turns it on when the pressure is at its highest and, after a captivating run at Texas A&M, appears on her way to becoming one of the W.N.B.A.’s biggest names. But unlike the famous 45-foot tall white letters that spell out her moniker, which can be seen for almost 30 miles south of Los Angeles, the rookie is still waiting for the world to truly see her.
“They have always slept on me,” Carter said, referring to coaches and others who she felt overlooked her ability. She added, “Listen, I can be young, I can be a rookie, but I also can accomplish anything.”
“I came in here with a chip on my shoulder,” Carter said, “even with being picked fourth, and I feel like that chip has been there my entire life.”
Drafted early by an Atlanta team that finished last season 8-26, Carter came in with high expectations, in a season where the team has not met them. Through Sunday, Atlanta was 3-11, with a 10-game losing streak that ended on a narrow win over the Minnesota Lynx.
But Carter had been stellar even amid that gloom. In a loss to the Phoenix Mercury on Aug. 4, she dropped 26 points; two days later, she tallied a 35-point and 7-assist performance that broke the franchise’s record for most points scored by a rookie and the W.N.B.A. record for the youngest player to score more than 30 points, at age 22.
She averaged 19.4 points and 4.3 assists in her first seven games before going down with a sprained ankle minutes into her eighth on Aug. 10, which has kept her out since. She was expected to be back in the lineup on Friday against the Minnesota Lynx.
That chip on her shoulder was expected to be back, too.
“You have to respect it,” Courtney Williams, her Dream teammate, said. “I feel like it would be one thing if she wasn’t producing, but she’s producing so at that point, keep doing what you’re doing because you’re backing it up.”
Call it cockiness. Call it arrogance. Or, just call it swag. Whatever “it” is, it’s too good to go unnoticed and Carter knows it.
That attitude has been a part of Carter’s identity going back to her time at Texas A&M. She’d dreamed of playing for the Aggies since she was a 13-year-old hooper growing up in Arlington, Tex., inspired by the 2011 championship team that featured the current Chicago Sky guard Sydney Colson.
Carter made her mark in Aggieland and ensured it would remain long after her departure. Not only was she the highest drafted player in the program’s history, but she finished in the top 10 of multiple statistical categories and ended her collegiate career seven points shy of the program’s all-time scoring leader (1,983 points). The team went 22-8 and was ranked No. 18 when the season was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s fair to say that had there been an N.C.A.A. tournament this March, Carter would have eaten that scoring record for lunch.
She might also have had a chance to swing the spotlight with a postseason run. Despite being an early draft pick, Carter still felt overlooked and underappreciated given how much of the media attention this year has been on Sabrina Ionescu, the Oregon star who was drafted No. 1 over all by the Liberty.
“I think Chennedy is misunderstood,” Dream Coach Nicki Collen said. “I think she wants to win and she wants to be the best, but I also think she felt a little bit overshadowed by Sabrina in the draft, and it’s very hard in that scenario.
“Don’t get me wrong — that kid earned everything she received, and Oregon had the better record, but I think this is a stage that Chennedy can shine on and I think she can be a Hall of Fame player.”
It all goes back to the first time Carter picked up a basketball, at the age of six, to compete against her three brothers.
“I remember once they even lowered the rim to try and dunk on me,” Carter said. And while her brothers cut her no slack, she credits her father, Broderick, for pushing her beyond her limits to become such an exceptional player.
“Me and my dad, we’d work out no matter what. Whether it was raining, snowing, pouring outside, it didn’t matter,” Carter said. “He is my biggest supporter.”
Carter recounted the countless hours her father would practice with her, run drills with her, making her dribble with a tennis ball on the dirt and other unorthodox methods to train her to become one with the basketball. “I even used to play without shoes on the concrete, just to get my feet and my handles right, and get my legs up under me,” she said.
She’s often said her success is also her father’s success. The two share a special connection, one of the reasons it was difficult to learn of her paternal grandfather’s death the earlier this month.
“It was tough being in the bubble,” she said, of receiving the news by phone while in Bradenton, Fla. “It was tough on my dad. He wanted to be there right with me in the moment telling me. So I just went to my room, really just to be with myself. I had a lot of tears and a lot of pain. But I really appreciated my teammates coming to me and having conversations with me and just being there for me.”
It’s almost become a pattern for Carter: She doesn’t shy away when the going gets tough.
Even after being sidelined by the ankle injury for more than two weeks, she is still determined to finish out the season as strong as she started it. “We can be really special and go really far. So I’m working every day and just pushing myself to make it happen,” she said.
“Chennedy is going to be a work in progress,” Collen said. “There aren’t a lot of players that can get 35 every night, and I think the pressure of that can be very real.”
Collen added, “She’s going to show some frustration, she’s going to show some emotions, but she’s also not afraid of the big moment, and that I think is non-quantifiable.”
Chennedy balances that pressure from within and from opponents and naysayers who think she can be stopped. It’s not uncommon to see her rapping Lil Wayne lyrics on the sideline with Williams during practice, secretly singing a line from a Beyoncé song, or showing off her extensive shoe collection on social media. Her swag isn’t restricted to the hardwood.
“Chennedy is just cool. She’s chill. That’s just who she is,” Williams said.