Starting Five: WNBA Draft, March Madness and more!

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

LSU may have won this year’s national championship, but it is safe to say that following this season’s rendition of March Madness that the sport of women’s basketball as a whole was a winner. 

Between ratings records, attendance records and arguably more hype than around men’s March Madness, this will be one of the points that will be made to illustrate how much of a watershed year 2023 was for women’s sports. 

The college hoops scene is preparing to pass the ball downcourt to the WNBA which will stage its draft next week in New York City, then training camps, then the start of the season in the middle of May. 

It has been a minute since we penned together a Starting Five, but we felt it was fitting given the litany of stories coming out of LSU vs. Iowa and draft next week!

LSU wins

Down in Baton Rouge, LSU has established a history of producing all-time WNBA greats. Ask Seimone Augustus. Ask Sylvia Fowles. 

But Money Mone and Sweet Syl did not win a national championship during their times sporting purple and gold of the Tigers. This group of LSU stars that included Angel Reese, Alexis Morris, LaDazhia Williams, Jasmine Carson and Flau’Jae Johnson were successful in making history as the Kim Mulkey-coached Tigers prevailed in a 102-85 result. 

Say what one wants about Mulkey – and there certainly is a lot one can say about Mulkey’s questionable choices as a person. But she is one of the best coaches in the NCAA. There is also a reason why Reese is an upcoming WNBA draft pick in a future draft – whether that is in 2024 or 2025. 

Fan hypocrisy

Unfortunately, a few so-called women’s basketball fans showed their collective selves again. 

Towards the end of the game when an LSU victory was in clear view, Reese did the John Cena “you can’t see me” move at Iowa’s Caitlin Clark – something Clark herself has done in previous games this tournament – such as to Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith. 

In addition, Clark was observed on tape talking trash about another team when the Hawkeyes were ahead by 15 points. 

There was nothing wrong with it when Clark did it and there was nothing wrong when Reese did it. The issue here is a Black player showing emotion on the court in a highly competitive matchup for a national championship and it drawing the ire of racist fans when they were all but praising a white player for doing the same thing. 

It is clear hypocrisy and one wonders how many of those Iowa fans in Dallas were there because they are fans of the women’s basketball team or if they were only fans of Iowa and care more about football than hoops. 

What makes it even more embarrassing for the “fans” who went on social media and criticized Reese for having “no class” (when they probably would have liked to use stronger language) is this is probably something the players themselves are laughing about. Women’s basketball is a sorority/fraternity and players who are in the heat of battle one moment are likely laughing and texting each other about it the next. 

It is an unnecessary and racist mountain out of a meaningless molehill some fans made out of it – and is why the phrase “fan is short for fanatic” can certainly apply to some of those in the stands at Dallas’ American Airlines Center. 

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley called out the racism of certain women’s basketball fans after her Gamecocks were eliminated in the Final Four by Iowa. Aliyah Boston tweeted about it. The reaction to the non-story that is Reese-Clark proved both Staley and Boston correct.

Caitlin Clark

Unquestionably, Caitlin Clark became everyone’s darling this tournament – even if the media solely attributed the increase in ratings and attendance solely to her. 

In many ways, this tournament was Clark’s coming out party and she has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of even if the result was not exactly what she wanted in the end. She followed up her 41-point performance to dispatch of defending champion South Carolina with 30 against LSU. 

On top of that, onlookers got a glimpse of her complete game. While her 3-point shooting prowess is what gets the attention of the casual fan, she also can efficiently get to the rim as well as make accurate passes with the attention she draws. 

Clark also set records – including the most points scored in a single NCAA tournament that was previously set by Sheryl Swoopes. Clark will be eligible for the 2024 WNBA draft and is projected to be a lottery pick in said draft. She will only get better as she advances into her senior campaign with the Hawkeyes and we will not be shocked if a few WNBA teams go in tank mode for the opportunity to select her No. 1 overall in 2024. 

One of them would be the Chicago Sky – if they did not trade their first round draft pick to the Dallas Wings.

WNBA Draft

As for the draft, it is only a week away. There is no rest for the weary in women’s college hoops as many of those same stars who played hard for their teams in March Madness will now have to battle for one of the 12 roster spots in their WNBA teams. 

Aliyah Boston is projected to be selected No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever. After that, there is a bit of a drop off with more and more players deciding to stay in college. The latest being Virginia Tech’s Liz Kitley who will be returning to the Hokies next season. 

An unforgettable tournament

The racial reaction to Reese along with a number of questionable calls by the officials in the championship game left plenty to be desired. Overall, it was a great tournament that once again displayed the increasing parity there is in college basketball. 

Many of us had South Carolina winning it all. But this tournament certainly displayed that even a team like the Gamecocks can be pushed to the loss column if they have an off game against a team like Iowa. 

Attention placed on the women’s game is up. Ratings are up and women’s basketball is getting itself firmly into the mainstream of America’s sports consciousness – where it belongs. And if influential people with money are smart, they will make decisions accordingly that will pour more money into the women’s game. 

The NCAA tournament and the McDonald’s All-American Game both showed us that the women’s game is in a great place, the talent pool may never have been deeper and the future may have never been more bright.