I wasn’t very long into Thursday’s WNBA draft before the reality of this year’s senior class was right there in our faces. We could talk during the season about this or that person being somebody who “could help” a WNBA team, or how if she worked hard on her game and went overseas maybe someday she could crack a WNBA roster.
Then, the draft started … and fairly soon, teams were picking people whom you thought, “Hmm … I wonder if she really can help them?”
OK, so it wasn’t a deep draft. It wasn’t even a semi-deep draft. It’s too harsh to say it was as shallow as a plastic kiddie pool. But maybe it was as shallow as one of those back yard above-ground pools. As I mentioned to my editor at ESPN.com, thank goodness the draft no longer went four rounds, as it did years ago. Because if there had been a fourth round this year, I think the pro teams would have had to draft a few of the school mascots to round out their selections.
Between injuries, defensive questions, offensive questions, mindset questions, size, strength and probable need to change positions, there is more to wonder about than be certain of with this year’s group of seniors aspiring to be pros.
Added in there, of course, is Epiphanny Prince, who bypassed her senior season and is already a pro. What we don’t know about her is that we basically haven’t seen her for a year to judge how much her game has grown. But that will become obvious soon enough.
Tina Charles is a given star. I think Monica Wright will become a very good player. Prince probably will, too. But after that … we see a lot of question marks. It’s not that we don’t also see a lot of talent … but is it good enough to last in a 12-team league with 11 spots on a roster? And if so, for how long?
Some of it is going to be about how much the individual really wants to pursue this lifestyle: The compact and physically taxing WNBA schedule, followed by months overseas, hoping you’re with a reliable organization once you’re there.
Some will really want all this, but they just won’t be able to make the cut in the WNBA. They may find a life playing overseas exclusively really does work for them. Some people will discover fairly soon none of it works, and they’ll go to the next thing in their lives.
One thing that stands out to me is confidence. It’s a charming part of women’s basketball how many true team players there are _ people who really don’t care about getting credit or standing out statistically. And that’s all fine, but those people who want to make it as a professional do need to know that they’re really good.
I saw a quote from Iowa State’s Alison Lacey about how it was hard to put herself on the same level as past Iowa State greats. But I hope Lacey deep down believes – or will come to believe very soon – what Bill Fennelly just flat-out says: She’s the best pro prospect Iowa State has ever had. There’s a reason she’s the first Cyclone to be taken in the first round. Her game really should translate at the next level. She has to believe that, though.
And the thing is, there are players who very much do believe in themselves _ but still won’t make it in the WNBA. Draft day itself can seem a happy whirlwind for the first-timers going through it _ and it should. But for those of us who’ve watched the WNBA evolve, we know that as soon as the draft is over, the clock is ticking on some people getting really tough wake-up calls.