The exciting – and painful – realities of WNBA training camps

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

With the draft now in our rear-view mirrors, WNBA aficionados from Connecticut to Seattle, Minnesota to Atlanta and New York to Los Angeles are looking ahead to the start of the season to witness if their teams are contenders or pretenders. 

The contenders or pretenders mindset is also present in another marquee time on the WNBA’s schedule – WNBA training camps. 

For many at these camps, this is their chance to prove that they belong on a roster. There is almost no need to attend a training camp is one’s name is Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson or Jonquel Jones because they will make their respective team rosters in their sleeps. 

But for many putting on a WNBA uniform for the first time, there is a lot less certainty. 

Remember that WNBA draft? Yeah … there were a lot of draftees that heard their names called by commissioner Cathy Engelbert at Spring Studios in New York City that may not make their respective team rosters following all of that pomp and circumstance. 

And this draft was a deep draft with a large number of top-tier college talents who were not selected until the second and third rounds. 

*cough*Naz Hillmon*cough*

*cough*Destanni Henderson*cough*

Christyn Williams – second round selection by the Washington Mystics in the very trade that netted the Atlanta Dream the No. 1 overall pick. Kianna Smith – a second round selection by Los Angeles Sparks. Elissa Cunane – second round selection by the Seattle Storm in a trade with the New York Liberty. Lorela Cubaj – second round selection by the Storm whose rights were eventually acquired by the Liberty. Olivia Nelson-Ododa – another Sparks second round pick. Evina Westbrook – another Storm selection. 

There is a chance that a good number of those players who were recently picked may not make the final 12-woman roster when those are unveiled. There are, for now, only 12 teams in our WNBA and 12 roster spots per each team. Last time we checked, 12 x 12 = 144. 

The WNBA is ELITE. Global. Scale. ELITE. Only the best of the best of the best of the best on the planet get to bask in the glow of hooping in the world’s premier professional women’s basketball league. A lot of players who were selected in this previously completed draft will see their hoop dreams take a hit once all is said and done. 

And it is not like those have been and still will be cut by our 12 W franchises are no names with a trace of basketball experience. Many of these same players were likely McDonald’s All Americans or they were former Miss Basketballs in their respective states. Some may have won four state championships as incoming South Carolina Gamecock Ashlyn Watkins did during her days at Cardinal Newman School in Columbia. 

And yes – one cannot have a conversation about the lack of WNBA roster spots without bringing up expansion. We understand that expansion, especially for a league as seemingly stuck in its ways as the WNBA is, may be a daunting chore. But at the very least, it may be easier to expand the number of roster spots per team from maybe 12 to perhaps 15. NBA rosters already require teams can carry 15 roster spots. 

Erica Wheeler is one of the greatest examples of a basketball rags to riches story. After all, she was the All-Star Game MVP from 2019 in Las Vegas after being undrafted. Now, she has embarked on a noteworthy career that has seen her play for the Dream, the Liberty, the Indiana Fever, the Sparks and now the Dream again. And this was after spending a couple of seasons overseas. 

One thing that today’s mid- and late-round draftees and undrafteds have that previous draftees did not is Athletes Unlimited. The month of basketball that was staged in Las Vegas has led to many a participant landing a WNBA training camp contract. 

But what if those roster berths were more secure and did not have to require the Kalani Browns, Lexie Browns, Odyssey Sims and Courtney Williams’ of the world to have to find a fountain of basketball youth somewhere on the Las Vegas Strip. No roster cut is an easy one to make, but teams will make these cuts to make sure they have their teams set at 12 prior to the May 6 tip-off. 

Expanded rosters – an expanded league. Both are topics we know are heavy on the brains of the WNBPA. Sounds like Nneka Ogwumike, Terri Jackson and the rest of the union have some CBA work to handle in the next few years…

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