WNBA

WNBA training camps open with Caitlin Clark, the rookie class and free agency moves in the spotlight

WNBA training camps open with Caitlin Clark, the rookie class and free agency moves in the spotlight

NEW YORK (AP) — There is a buzz around the opening of WNBA training camps with the arrival of Caitlin Clark, the rest of her heralded rookie class and major offseason free agency moves that included former All-Stars Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith landing in Seattle.

In addition to the league’s success last year, camps open Sunday on the heels of an unprecedented season of college women’s basketball. The momentum has led to record-setting viewership of the WNBA draft, season ticket sales have skyrocketed and rookie jerseys for Clark and Angel Reese have already sold out.

But amid all of the excitement there is a stark reality looming: Of the 36 players drafted on April 15, many won’t make an opening day roster as there’s less than 144 spots available in the league.

“You know, the hardest part of this conversation every year is the reality that second and third-round picks have a really hard time making WNBA rosters,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said. “First-round picks that go late have a hard time making WNBA rosters. We talk about a league of 144. It’s not a league of 144. Many of these teams only carry 11 players and maybe by the end of the season they can carry a 12th.”

The numbers make for a grim outlook: Only 19 of the 2023 picks played at least one game in the WNBA last season. Since 2018, 142 of 216 draft picks (65.7%) have played in a WNBA game at some point in their career.

That's not a concern for Clark, who will begin her first camp after getting drafted No. 1 by the Indiana Fever. The 6-foot guard is the overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year and to finish in the top five in MVP voting, according to BetMGM Sportsbook. She finished her historic college career at Iowa as the NCAA's Division I all-time leading scorer and in Indiana will play alongside Aliyah Boston — last season's Rookie of the Year — giving the Fever a potent inside-outside combination.

Boston and Clark already have created some off-court chemistry from the time Boston spent as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. How quickly that translates to on the court will be a major factor in how far the Fever can go this season.

But it isn't just rookies that will be looking to establish chemistry during training camps. A look around the league at others trying to get comfortable:

Familiar Faces, New Places

Seattle and Phoenix made major moves in the offseason as they try and get back to the top of the league, which has been dominated by Las Vegas the past few years.

The Storm signed former All-Stars Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith to complement Jewell Loyd and opened a brand-new start of the art practice facility. Seattle is coming off its worst season by winning percentage since its expansion season of 2000.

“You try to figure out how to play with players that you hate guarding or playing against,” Diggins-Smith said. “My Option 1, Plan A was playing with (Loyd and Ogwumike). That’s really important at this point of my career is to be around people that know me. Jewell knows me, and Nneka knows me.”

The Mercury added Natasha Cloud and Kahleah Copper to pair with Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi.

Taurasi Milestone

Taurasi, who turns 42 in June, will begin her 20th and potentially last season in the WNBA. While the league’s all-time leading scorer hasn’t officially said this will be her final year, she has said her time playing is waning.

“Probably not much longer,” she said in February about her time left playing in the league. “All good stories come to an end.”

Taurasi will be playing for a new coach this year as the Mercury hired longtime NBA assistant Nate Tibbets. The league’s other new coach this season is Teresa Weatherspoon, who took over the Chicago Sky.

Coach Becky Hammon and the Aces, who have their starting five back from last season, open camp with a third straight WNBA championship on their minds.

Can't be Tardy

Expect most of the players in the league to be in camp when it opens.

The league’s prioritization rule which was put in place in the current CBA becomes more stringent this season. Any player under contract with more than three years of experience must report to camp by May 1 or be suspended for the whole season. Players with less than three years have a little more flexibility and can miss the start of camp while they finish up their overseas play.

The regular season begins on May 14 and the WNBA will take a break in late July for the Paris Olympics.

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AP WNBA: https://apnews.com/hub/wnba-basketball

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