Hi. It’s been a minute, huh? I thought it’d be a good time to catch up on some WNBA news, with some history to guide us.
First let me say: #RethinkRankings.
every year certain programs get the opportunity to drop in the ap poll and certain programs get the opportunity to jump in to the ap poll and all i’m saying is what if we gave the jackrabbits et. al. the opportunity to drop and see if they take advantage of that opportunity— Kurtis (@fromkurtis) November 22, 2022
Women’s college basketball may just be in a place where perception is lagging behind real parity, and it’s also difficult to separate early season unknowns from very real biases against the likes of Gonzaga, South Dakota State, and Creighton who year-after-year have to claw their way up over the struggling pack of been-theres like Texas and Tennessee.
And there’s good reason to believe that these teams who have been on the wrong end of early season “upsets” can work their way back to the top, maybe even in short order. But it’s far from unfair to grant that kind of benefit of the doubt to the teams that have, well, won.
On the other hand, #RethinkRankings. Don’t forget that they are just opinions. Teams like UCLA entering the poll only this week doesn’t mean they weren’t a top-25 team last week. Programs like Drake and Marquette and Princeton have played many good games without a small number next to their name on the score bug. Check them out.
All that said, it’s all made for some interesting AP poll data.
While I’m talking South Carolina, I don’t want to pass up the chance to talk about Dawn Staley. As ever, her influence is immeasurable…
I really watched Dawn Staley coach in an insanely chaotic game, then go do media interviews, then come back and speak to Stanford fans, THEN take pictures with every single person in the long line of people that were waiting for her. GOAT doesn’t even begin to describe her.— Mehmet Okurrrt (@Natural_OneDurr) November 21, 2022
…and beyond meaningful:
@itsBTerrell we got you! Please help us get B back on his feet after his belongings were stolen while covering @GamecockWBB @StanfordWBB game yesterday! We got you B! Watch this blessing unfold! https://t.co/K0n7D7fhau— dawnstaley (@dawnstaley) November 21, 2022
She is one with the community she has cultivated and supported, constantly reaffirming why the WNBA’s Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award is named after her (congrats to the latest recipient, Betnijah Laney!).
Late in 2021 when the WNBA’s W25 was revealed, I criticized the WNBA for fashioning criteria that excluded Staley:
…[I]f the WNBA wants this list to reflect the league’s “greatest and most influential players” based on both on-court factors as well as “leadership, sportsmanship and community service, and contributions to team success and the overall growth of women’s basketball”, Staley should be in this process. In particular, is there a former player who has been on a more impactful trajectory since 2016 (the year of the Top 20@20)? An NCAA championship and perennial spot among the elite in college basketball and her ascent to head coach of the women’s senior team for USA Basketball have both resulted from and extended her influence in women’s basketball and basketball culture more broadly. She can’t change her on-court case, but does anyone have a greater off-court case?
I bring it up now mostly to make one amendment: the thing is, Staley has so far and away transcended the WNBA. She chose the ABL when both leagues started up and was a multi-time all-league player, and she chose coaching at the height of her playing career, making it clear her abilities and influence extended beyond the league and her own time on the court.
There’s a reason the WNBA named an award after her long before they decided not to name her to one of their most prestigious awards. They’d be wise to not skip giving out the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award again as they did in 2021. For me, the question has morphed from why a legend like Staley isn’t on their all-time greats list to why aren’t they so many more times diligent about honoring and building on the platform their legends have built?
It’s been 10 years since the Minnesota Lynx were in the lottery (via a pick from the Washington Mystics) and 11 since they got their on their own and ended up picking Maya Moore, so to pop back in and land the No. 2 pick is not too bad. That’s the kind of luck you need when you’re losing a legend like Sylvia Fowles.
Major congratulations go to the Indiana Fever, though, who finally won the No. 1 overall pick after years of struggle and bad luck in the lottery. Barring another trade, Christie Sides will get to coach a brand new No. 1 pick again, coming from the Atlanta sidelines coaching Rhyne Howard to taking over as head coach in Indiana with No. 1 pick in tow.
Full WNBA Draft Lottery history: https://acrossthetimeline.com/wnba/draft-lottery.html
Speaking of Sides, she is one of five coaching changes and one of three first-time WNBA coaches hired ahead of the 2023 season.
There’s a lot of league continuity there, the first four simply moving among teams and having years of experience in the WNBA, and White returns with a ton of WNBA history, having played and coached in the league a combined 15 years.
And even among the final two there’s some significant history and crossover. Both Sides and White have coached in Chicago and in Indiana, and both have coaching history in the SEC. But they crossed paths long before that: White played at Purdue (for future WNBA coaches Lin Dunn, Nell Fortner, and Carolyn Peck), while Sides played two years at Ole Miss (for future WNBA coach Van Chancellor) and two at Louisiana Tech, meeting up in the Final Four in 1999.
White and the Boilermakers lost to Tech 72-65 in the Elite Eight in 1998, after which the Techsters went on to the national championship game, where they fell to almighty Tennessee 93-75. The two then met up early the following season in the “Boilermaker Blockbuster” (how about that name?), where Purdue barely got away with a 71-65 win.
(That’s Christie Sides handling with Stephanie White (-McCarty at the time) reaching in from the left.)
When tournament time rolled around No. 1 seed in the West, Louisiana Tech, dominated all the way to San Jose, where they met up with fellow No. 1 seed (and No. 1 ranked) Purdue in the semifinal. Purdue once again got the win, this time 77-63, on their way to their historic national championship.
I’ll leave you with what I assume is the funniest photo from that game which also features two WNBA head coaches.