Thursday, May 28, 2020

A bit of everything

WNBA news:

A start to the season is more about data than dates, but a plan is starting to take shape.

Will we see a WNBA season?

WNBA team news:

How rosters look after final cuts.

WNBA player news:

Danielle Robinson says there’s no point in doing anything if you do it half-speed.

Kaila Charles is a rare second-round pick who made a roster.

Three stars from Iowa stuck with their WNBA teams.

Will Maya Moore return to the Lynx this year?

NCAA news:

The NCAA has extended the dead period in all sports through July 31.

College news:

Following the death of an African-American at the hands of Minneapolis police Monday, the University of Minnesota will limit ties to the agency.

College player news:

Central Michigan players are coping and connecting during the pandemic.

Sam Thomas graduated early, but there’s no way she’s missing next season at Arizona.

College coach news:

Lance White is laying a base for a revival at Pitt.

Shalon Pillow is the new head coach at Florida A&M.

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey has announced her coaching staff, which includes the new addition of Coquese Washington.

Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said the Orange will have a memorable season next year.

Muffet McGraw is starting her next chapter.

Analyzing this spring’s coaching changes.

Basketball Hall of Fame:

This year’s enshrinement ceremony will be pushed to 2021.

Bonus:

It’s time to give Cynthia Cooper her due.

“Exonerated” Dream co-owner and Sen. Kelly Loeffler may still be in trouble in Georgia.

Lauren Jackson has unveiled a plan for the Canberra Capitals title defense.

WNBA roster cuts are at the point of ridiculousness

WNBA final roster cuts are brutal every year. But this season they were especially harsh considering that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented all of the draftees from trying out for their teams. And this came after a round of earlier cuts that left out some favorites from the last few years. There are so many great basketball players out of a job right now that is is painful.

What’s even worse is that it won’t be getting better anytime soon. League commissioner Cathy Engelbert said last summer, her fourth day on the job, that the WNBA wouldn’t see expansion teams until its remaining 12 franchises were financially stable. Then came COVID-19, and the indefinite postponement of the season. Even if a partial season is revived, which has yet to be decided, women’s sports are taking a hit – and just when they were gaining momentum.

Further, overseas leagues might be limited or shutdown this coming winter, depending upon the progress of the pandemic. These leagues have been the bread and butter for every cut player, every undrafted athlete who loved the game too much to stop, and for WNBA players who needed to supplement their meager salaries. South Korea and Australia have already said no to foreign players next year. What if others around the world follow? U.S. hoopers would be forced to fall back on their college degrees sooner than anticipated – and in a job market that some have said will be the worst we’ve seen since the Great Depression.

What can be done to create more professional basketball opportunities for women in this country?

One site had all the rosters and all the cuts:

Atlanta Dream

Monique Billings
Brittany Brewer
Kalani Brown
Chennedy Carter
Blake Dietrick
Tiffany Hayes
Glory Johnson
Alexis Jones
Renee Montgomery
Shekinna Stricklen
Courtney Williams
Elizabeth Williams
Cuts: Elina Babkina, Alaina Coates.

Out for season: Maite Cazorla (elected to sit the 2020 season), Mikayla Pivec (elected to sit the 2020 season), Kobi Thornton (elected to sit the 2020 season).

Chicago Sky

Sydney Colson
Kahleah Copper
Diamond DeShields
Stefanie Dolson
Ruthy Hebard
Jantel Lavender
Cheyenne Parker
Allie Quigley
Azurá Stevens
Courtney Vandersloot
Gabby Williams
Cuts: Japreece Dean, Alexis Prince.

Out for season: Kiah Gillespie (personal reasons).

Connecticut Sun

DeWanna Bonner
Kaila Charles
Natisha Hiedeman
Bria Holmes
Briann January
Jonquel Jones
Brionna Jones
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Theresa Plaisance
Alyssa Thomas
Jasmine Thomas
Cuts: Valeriane Ayayi, Jacki Gemelos, Jazmon Gwathmey, Megan Huff, Juicy Landrum.

Dallas Wings

Bella Alarie
Allisha Gray
Megan Gustafson
Tyasha Harris
Isabella Harrison
Moriah Jefferson
Marina Mabrey
Astou Ndour
Arike Ogunbowale
Satou Sabally
Katie Lou Samuelson
Kayla Thornton
Cuts: Morgan Bertsch, Kaela Davis, Luisa Geiselsöder, Karlie Samuelson.

Trades: Kristine Anigwe (to Los Angeles Sparks).

Out for season: Imani McGee-Stafford (law school).

Indiana Fever

Natalie Achonwa
Julie Allemand
Kennedy Burke
Lauren Cox
Kathleen Doyle
Candice Dupree
Betnijah Laney
Stephanie Mavunga
Teaira McCowan
Kelsey Mitchell
Tiffany Mitchell
Victoria Vivians
Erica Wheeler
Cuts: Jessica January, Paris Kea, Erica McCall, Kamiah Smalls.

Las Vegas Aces

Lindsay Allen
Liz Cambage
Dearica Hamby
Kayla McBride
Angel McCoughtry
Kelsey Plum
Danielle Robinson
Sugar Rodgers
Carolyn Swords
A’ja Wilson
Jackie Young
Cuts: Lauren Manis, Raisa Musina, Avery Warley-Talbert.

Out for season: JiSu Park (personal decision).

Los Angeles Sparks

Kristine Anigwe (via trade from Dallas Wings)
Seimone Augustus
Chelsea Gray
Marie Gülich
Chiney Ogwumike
Nneka Ogwumike
Candace Parker
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt
Brittney Sykes
Kristi Toliver
Sydney Wiese
Riquna Williams
Cuts: Tynice Martin, Dominique McBryde, Beatrice Mompremier.

Out for season: Maria Vadeeva (overseas, with plans to rejoin team in 2021), Leonie Fiebich (overseas).

Minnesota Lynx

Kayla Alexander
Rachel Banham
Lexie Brown
Bridget Carlton
Karima Christmas-Kelly
Napheesa Collier
Crystal Dangerfield
Damiris Dantas
Sylvia Fowles
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
Shenise Johnson
Cecilia Zandalasini
Cuts: Linnae Harper, Erica Ogwumike.

Out for season: Maya Moore (personal), Jessica Shepard (ACL recovery), Odyssey Sims (personal).

New York Liberty

Rebecca Allen
Layshia Clarendon
Asia Durr
Sabrina Ionescu
Jazmine Jones
Kia Nurse
Leaonna Odom
Kylee Shook
Kiah Stokes
Megan Walker
Jocelyn Willoughby
Amanda Zahui B
Cuts: Brittany Boyd, Reshanda Gray, Tayler Hill.

Out for season: Han Xu (overseas), Marine Johannés (overseas), Stephanie Talbot (personal decision).

Phoenix Mercury

Jessica Breland
Nia Coffey
Sophie Cunningham
Skylar Diggins-Smith
Brittney Griner
Bria Hartley
Alanna Smith
Diana Taurasi
Brianna Turner
Kia Vaughn
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough
Cuts: Sara Blicavs, Te’a Cooper, Olivia Epoupa, Stella Johnson.

Out for season: Yvonne Turner (knee injury).

Seattle Storm

Sue Bird
Jordin Canada
Alysha Clark
Natasha Howard
Crystal Langhorne
Jewell Loyd
Ezi Magbegor
Epiphanny Prince
Mercedes Russell
Breanna Stewart
Morgan Tuck
Sami Whitcomb
Cuts: Haley Gorecki, Joyner Holmes.

Washington Mystics

Ariel Atkins
Tina Charles
Natasha Cloud
Elena Delle Donne
Tianna Hawkins
Myisha Hines-Allen
Kiara Leslie
Leilani Mitchell
Emma Meesseman
Aerial Powers
LaToya Sanders
Cuts: Jaylen Agnew, Rebecca Greenwell, Alecia “Sug” Sutton.

WNBA and players union seek safety in return to play

WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson, Layshia Clarendon, Nneka Ogwumike, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Chiney Ogwumike after the league and the union announced the new CBA Jan. 14. WNBA photo.
WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson, Layshia Clarendon, Nneka Ogwumike, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Chiney Ogwumike after the league and the union announced the new CBA Jan. 14. WNBA photo.
WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson, Layshia Clarendon, Nneka Ogwumike, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and Chiney Ogwumike after the league and the union announced the new CBA on Jan. 14. WNBA photo.

More than a week past when the season was to begin, the WNBA is weighing options for a late start, as the status of the coronavirus pandemic changes daily.

But whatever date, and whatever venue scenario might be chosen for a possible partial or even full season, one thing is for sure: the Women’s National Basketball Players Association and its athletes are putting safety first.

Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBPA, said the six-member executive board of players wants to ensure athletes are protected before play resumes.

“Let’s make sure we’ve got the supports in place – not just physical health, but mental health, social health,” Jackson said. “The executive committee and board of player reps are listening to each other and raising all these questions and suggestions.”

Jackson said the board, which includes president Nneka Ogwumike, first vice president Layshia Clarendon, vice presidents Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Bird and Elena Delle Donne, and secretary Elizabeth Williams, is in touch with those that they represent.

“They’ve got a wealth of information,” Jackson said. “They understand that players want to play, but players want to be safe. They want to see how they can do this, by positioning the league and the teams well.”

Though all professional sports leagues are grappling with season resumption or start questions, WNBA players might be uniquely more attuned to virus containment issues, according to Jackson.

“These conversations are really helpful, because these players have lived similar (isolation) scenarios when they go overseas and are away from their families,” she said. “Those situations are very similar to what everyone is going through now, and that can help inform the league.”

Athletes playing in China and South Korea over the winter had an early indication of the respiratory illness that eventually proliferated the world. Just weeks after the WNBA and WNBA reached a groundbreaking new Collective Bargaining Agreement in mid-January, COVID-19 took hold in both Asian countries.

“Coming out of negotiations, we felt pretty good as a union, and we were all really looking forward to the 2020 season,” Jackson said. “But we started hearing from folks overseas that they were playing games without spectators.”

Both the Chinese and South Korean leagues shut down shortly thereafter.

Jackson and first-year WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert had developed a good rapport during CBA negotiations, and they continued to communicate as coronavirus spread to Europe, North America and other continents. The league announced April 3 that training camp and the season would be postponed.

Jackson told players to read their contracts thoroughly to fully understand their obligations off the court, and she advised them to use their down time wisely.

“I brought to their attention that the contract says you are to show up (for training camp or the first practice) prepared and arrive in good playing shape, and that you must be prepared to participate in practices and games,” she said.

“Additional duties include being a spokesperson for you and for your league, and to respond to media requests.”

Athletes took the edict to heart, and have been finding places to work out and get in some basketball practice under nationwide stay-at-home orders. They have also conducted dozens of interviews and participated in workouts on Instagram, they have been interviewed via Zoom conference calls, and they have made videos sharing encouragement and messages to remain safe. Nneka Ogwumike led a movement in publicly thanking health care workers.

Jackson is pleased.

“Not one game has been played, but nevertheless, you are working,” she said. “You are working from home with all the IG lives and appearances, the interviews. This is the most active, engaged and visible that WNBA players have been in an offseason in a long time. And it’s at a time when we really, really needed it.”

Engelbert, in the meantime, is considering whether to have all games in one locale or in 12, among other options. MGM Resorts in Las Vegas offered the WNBA and NBA a quarantined block where games could be played. Walt Disney World in Florida is rumored to at the top of the NBA’s list for a single league game location, and the amusement park said the WNBA is also welcome.

Player agent Mike Cound favors having all games in one place because it is the safest solution.

“It doesn’t make sense to send 12 teams to 12 different locations to have training camps, and everything that entails,” said Cound, president of the Cound Group. “But I’m not saying it won’t happen. If testing was super-efficient, things would be different. But for every possible solution you’ll have 50 questions about what could go wrong. I guarantee you there won’t be anything perfect.”

SIG Sports founder Boris Lelchitski said it’s difficult to make plans when so much is uncertain, and as each area of the United States re-opens businesses at a different pace.

“It’s going to depend on the many states that are re-opening to some degree, and then what happens after that,” he said. “We don’t know what that is yet.”

If the WNBA does opt for a partial season, Lelchitski has many safety concerns that stem from the league’s salary caps, which allow for a maximum of 12 players on a roster.

“Say you have a couple people roll ankles and – God forbid – another one or two test positive (for coronavirus), then what do you do?” Lelchitski said. “How do you bring in someone else? How quickly can you bring a sub into that bubble situation, with a quarantine? How is that going to work? How many positive tests do they need to pass to be able to join a squad?”

“There are so many questions.”

Lelchitski said he is not alone in his uneasiness.

“I know some of my clients are really not comfortable even now talking about playing,” he said. “They’re very concerned.”

“Imagine during a game that someone on the other team is coughing or sneezing, or whatever. It’s a contact sport and you’re defending someone who doesn’t feel good. It may be the coronavirus, or it may be a simple cold. But what happens in a game when a player says, ‘I’m not comfortable defending that player.’ You cannot play this sport in a mask – there’s no way.”

Jackson said that she and Engelbert continue to talk daily.

“What we envisioned four months ago is different than four weeks ago, which is different than four days ago, which is different from today,” Jackson said. “We are ‘watching the data and not the dates,’ is what Cathy says.”

“What’s impressed me is that the league wants to make this a really good experience for players. They want to hear about how they want to live.”

The pace of the coronavirus pandemic will also shape overseas play, where most WNBA athletes go in the winter time for more earnings. South Korea and Australia have already closed their leagues to foreign players for 2020-2021. American players are signing contracts with leagues in other countries, but Lelchitski said nothing is guaranteed.

“Any contract that is signed right now is really hypothetical, because we’re six months at most from overseas season, and no one knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “National leagues may happen, especially in small countries, because you can travel by bus.”

“But if a league is crossing borders into other countries, as some leagues do frequently, and that country has their own set of rules and regulations…it might not work.”

The CBA guarantees salaries to free agents, which would mean many younger players would likely have to get other jobs next winter if overseas play is stopped or limited, according to Lelchitski.

“It’s really complicated,” he said. “We can all have different ideas, but no one knows. This virus will dictate what happens.”

For now, the WNBA and WNBPA will monitor the pandemic and whether or not it is safe to begin the season.

“The league continues to state that playing some games this year is the goal, so press on is where we are,” Jackson said.

A good sign for sports?

NCAA news:

The NCAA Division I Council voted today to allow voluntary on-campus activities for women’s basketball, men’s basketball and football as of June 1.

The Division I Council approved a resolution that outlined its intention to adopt by January a comprehensive legislative package creating uniform, modernized rules governing eligibility after transfer for student-athletes in all sports.

The decision could effect Kentucky basketball.

Deneé Barracato, Northwestern’s Deputy Director of Athletics for Operations & Capital Projects, begins a five-year term on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, starting in September.

College team news:

Louisville and UConn have canceled next season’s neutral-site match up.

How Penn State is embracing Tik Tok to build its brand.

Virginia Tech’s incoming class paints a bright picture for the future.

College player news:

Former Cal guard McKenzie Forbes has transferred to Harvard.

College coach news:

Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors went all in on his dream job.

Clemson coach Amanda Butler and her wife adopted two boys, and their lives changed.

Brandy Manning is a new assistant coach at Old Dominion.

Lindsey Spann will be an interim assistant coach for Maryland next season.

WNBA player news:

Katie Lou Samuelson discusses her mental health journey.

Chennedy Carter could be the star of the draft.

Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook wait for roster cut decisions from the New York Liberty.

WNBA players have no time for the underdog role.

Who will make the Mystics roster?

Maya Moore is a finalist for the ESPN Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.

Retired great Taj McWilliams-Franklin was the league’s ultimate underdog.

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