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And One with Rui Machida: WNBA transition and idolizing Sue Bird

(Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Have you ever thought about having a regular conversation with a WNBA player? Say, over coffee or just hanging out at a backyard barbecue? That’s the kind of vibe I’m aiming for with And One — a regular series for Just Women’s Sports involving 10 questions. I ask about basketball things, of course, but also about their lives off the court so you can get to know the players of the WNBA a little bit better.

The first thing I noticed about Rui Machida during our Zoom interview is that she smiles a lot. Sitting next to her English translator, Mikki Takei, at a conference table, she fielded every question and dished out answers as comfortably and as swiftly as she passes the ball on the court. She also giggles often, and it’s easy to see why her Washington Mystics teammates enjoy her presence both on the floor and in the locker room.

Machida, 29, has played for the Fujitsu Red Wave in the Women’s Japan Basketball League since 2011. When head coach Mike Thibault reached out to her with an opportunity to join the Mystics this season, she jumped at the chance. The women’s basketball world was first introduced to Machida in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. She raised her profile even further at the Olympics last summer in her home country of Japan, where the 5-foot-4 guard set an Olympic record with 18 assists in Japan’s 87-71 semifinal win over France. With the fifth-place Mystics this season, Machida has averaged 12.9 minutes off the bench in 28 games and dished out 2.4 assists per game.

We talked a little basketball and non-basketball, and shared plenty of laughs.

1. Why did you decide to play for the Mystics?

First of all, I got offered from Coach Thibault. And then the way they play basketball, I really liked it. I heard that the Mystics were such a good team, so that’s why I decided to join this team.

2. How is the WNBA different from the Women’s Japan Basketball League?

I felt that their heights and lengths and powers are totally different than the leagues in Japan. I realized that Japan is more like high-tempo basketball, and here in the WNBA they have their own play style. Each team is different. And also, skill-wise — shooting percentage is kind of a singular way of playing in Japan. But here, individual skill and one-on-one is more talented than play in Japan.

3. As a smaller point guard in the league, how have you been able to leverage your quickness against taller guards?

To be honest, I haven’t fully used my quickness or speed (laughs). I need to focus more on, like, change of pace on the court. So that’s what I’m trying to focus on right now.

4. How do the Mystics play differently when Elena Delle Donne sits out for a game?

So, obviously when Elena can play, the team is really good on both ends of the floor. But without Elena, [Natasha Cloud] and Alysha [Clark] try to take that responsibility to lead the team and bring the momentum. That’s what I realized without Elena.

5. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far from playing in the WNBA?

To be honest, there are a lot of things I’ve learned so far from the WNBA. Like I said, their heights and lengths and physicality are totally different. So I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m able to play in a limited space. And also, I’ve been trying to find my own play style. There’s no easy game in the WNBA. So when the game is close, I’m able to learn from the coaches and players.

6. Who’s been the hardest player to guard on the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team?

(Laughs) So — Sue Bird.

7. What kind of music do you like to listen to and who’s your favorite group?

American music or …? You probably don’t know them, but I prefer listening to slow music. Kind of like chill music. And the artist I like is Shota Shimizu, and also Aimyon. Really famous artists in Japan.

8. What do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?

Drive (laughs). I have a Rav 4 SUV. When I’m not in a hurry, I don’t care about the traffic. I just listen to music.

9. What’s something WNBA fans would be surprised to know about you?

I have two siblings but I don’t think that’s a good answer (laughs).

Let me think for a moment…

I used to play baseball from kindergarten to second grade in elementary school. Then I started playing basketball instead. I still go to the batting cages to hit balls sometimes.

10. Who’s your favorite all-time WNBA player?

Sue Bird. I watched her before I came to the WNBA. I watched her for the first time before going to Rio for the Olympics. And in Rio I was able to match her, like play against her, just a little bit. But it was a fun experience.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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