With March Madness in full swing, the WNBA is watching the performances of hundreds of the NCAA’s top players to determine who will continue their careers professionally. Last Monday, draft-eligible players faced a decision: enter the WNBA draft, continue playing at the college level, or retire from competition altogether at the end of the basketball season.
With 68 women’s basketball teams at the Division I level, analyzed by knockout, the tournament will conclude on Monday, April 4. The following week, on April 11, college athletes and those already playing in the WNBA will gather in New York City for the annual draft, where teams can select new players to join their ranks in the upcoming season.
In anticipation of We are the W, a new documentary chronicling the rise and success of the WNBA, HYPEBEAST spoke with three players at different points in their careers about the struggles and successes of professional basketball. Notably, players highlighted how the league is underrated, despite its competitive excellence.
Beginner DiDi Richards, a New York Liberty shooting guard, was competing for Baylor University of Texas at March Madness last year while awaiting his WNBA prospects. “Once I got out of the playoffs, I started racing,” Richards recalled. “Everybody was like, ‘well, college is out. Now it’s time to think about the WNBA.'”
“I was freaked out,” she continued. “I had to find an agent within three days. I’m also trying to figure out how to talk to the 57 teams.
NCAA athletes also have the option of playing for their college for an additional fifth year, rather than immediately entering the draft.
“I’m making the biggest decision of my life, even declaring myself for the draft. If someone were to look at me in college, it’s like, why would you quit college? It was definitely about comfort,” Richards added. “I took a leap of faith and I’m glad I did.” Ultimately, she was selected 17th overall in the second round of the draft.
An added layer of stress during the writing process was social media. Since Richards’ draft took place during the pandemic, she’s had to handle the majority of her social media coverage herself. “Technology is involved [in the draft] and not everyone is tech savvy, so I’m trying to figure out how ESPN mics work, stuff like that.
Double Olympic gold medalist Angel McCoughtry spent thirteen years in the WNBA, in addition to playing overseas. Currently, she is a small forward and shooting guard for the Minnesota Lynx. Looking back on her participation in the draft in 2009, in which she was chosen first overall, McCoughtry says the prevalence of social media in recent years has given individual players and the league in general more recognition in the sport.
“People want to know who they’re coming to watch,” McCoughtry said. “If they know who we are, they’ll come watch the games and the WNBA fanbase will grow.”
Mid-career player Izzy Harrison, a Dallas Wings power forward drafted in 2015, said she was thrilled to see increased representation of women’s basketball in the sports industry. “I was watching the NCAA game, Tennessee vs. Belmont, and an ad came up,” Harrison recalled. “It was [Seattle Storm’s] Breanna Stewart for Coca-Cola.
“I thought that was the coolest thing. To finally be able to see how games are growing and how people are finally putting us in positions to be successful with ads and platforms that weren’t there in the past.
McCoughtry echoed Harrison’s sentiment, saying that in terms of coverage and opportunities such as ads and sponsorships, “every little bit counts.”
“We still, of course, have a bit of a way to go, but I think we’re happy with the progress and the way things are going.”