Let’s translate NCAA tournament success to a springboard for WNBA’s 25th

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Great. Outstanding. Unforgettable. Scintillating. Game-changing. Emotional. Raw. Real. Women.

All words that can be connotations when describing this year’s NCAA tournament.

Caitlin Clark’s early-round success combined with the meteoric rise of Paige Bueckers’ superstar status has sparked a conversation as to if freshmen should be permitted to go to the pros early.

The stories of how DiDi Richards and Tiana Mangakahia battled adversity to get to this point are inspiring stories that transcend the realm of women’s basketball.

And there were so many unbelievable games that took places as well. The early-round upsets from BYU, Wright State and Belmont, how teams like Georgia Tech and Texas A&M staved off upset bids from Stephen F. Austin and Troy, Texas stifling what appeared to be a runaway Maryland team in the Sweet 16, Arizona denying UConn and Geno Auriemma another chance at a championship and eventual champion Stanford’s instant classics in the Final Four with both South Carolina and Arizona.

For years, prior to the debut of the WNBA, casual fans would tune in to watch women’s basketball around the time of the conclusion of the tournament, then completely disappear from the sport until the following March or April. Since the arrival of the WNBA, fans are increasingly following all of the women’s basketball scene then are translating what they saw from collegiate players into rising interest in the pros.

Memo to everyone who thought that was it for women’s hoops until next March or April – you guessed wrong.

The careers of many of these same players we saw during March Madness is about to take that next step – into the WNBA. Nowadays, the careers of women’s hoopers do not conclude (or go out of sight and out of mind) with college. They simply elevate to that next level.

If you liked what you saw out of Aari McDonald, Charli Collier, Rennia Davis, Arella Guirantes, Natasha Mack, Chelsea Dungee, Dana Evans, Jasmine Walker, Kiana Williams or DiDi Richards, one is in luck. All are projected to be first-round draft picks into the WNBA according to Lines.com’s latest mock draft – shout out to Todd Roman.

That mock, by the way, now has McDonald going second overall to the Dallas Wings along with Charli Collier (projected to go first overall also to Dallas).

Not to mention – that draft is only in 10 days. That is right – 10 days. This provides a perfect opportunity for the league itself to capitalize on the success of this tournament into more eyeballs to the W. Baylor’s DiJonai Carrington and Syracuse’s Tiana Mangakahia are also projected to be draftees into the WNBA as well.

The next two weeks will likely provide a cavalcade of W news and happenings. In addition to the draft, we know we are going to get an official release of the special City Edition and Rebel Edition jerseys that will be sported at select WNBA games this season. Our guess is that we will also (finally!) at long last get a schedule release as well.

The WNBA could not have asked for a better springboard to draw NCAA viewers from the tournament over to its draft – and ultimately its 2021 season that will also celebrate a quarter-century of the W. In addition, the league will make its triumphant return back to home arenas, which means we will finally see New York Liberty basketball at Barclays Center, Atlanta Dream hoops at Gateway Center Arena, the returns of Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles at the Washington Mystics and Candace Parker ball out in front of her hometown fans in Chicago.

Not to mention, this year will also be the first year of the Commissioner’s Cup, the return of an All-Star Game and the Olympics all in one. The first step for the W is to get those viewers that loved what they witnessed in March and April into a regular season sure to excite as well.

And it is also on us to ensure that anyone who said that they saw the ball played in the central Texas bubble and loved it to know that these same players are going pro to the WNBA as early as next month.

Granted, the WNBA has a history of fumbling the bag on occasions like this, but there is momentum here and this has shown that even these unusual circumstances are not slowing the momentum women’s sports has.

If anything, the momentum continues to accelerate and the conversation that took place inside and outside of the San Antonio-Austin bubble about equal treatment for women in sports is entirely within the WNBA’s wheelhouse.

We have reached the part where the conversation can easily shift from the players that had great showings this tournament to where those players will land in the draft and how they fit well with which WNBA team. The league announced this year’s draft, similar to last year’s will also be happening in a virtual format and last year’s virtual draft was special given it occurred at the height of the pandemic.

In the case of women’s basketball, momentum is only as good as the next day’s level of conversation. Luckily for women’s basketball, there is plenty of opportunity for that momentum to be maintained and surpassed into a summer that is sure to be a banner one for the women’s game.

As many coaches will tell their players – all gas, no brakes.

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