As has been the case for the last two seasons, the WNBA and WNBPA have agreed to modifications of draft process to more clearly handle the process for players who need to declare for the draft in order to be available for selection. As was the case last year, anyone who submitted their name to the WNBA was placed on the published list, unlike the NBA, which only includes players who actually needed to declare on their lists. To clarify that situation, the WNBA did add this language to their releases this year:
“Players who have exhausted all NCAA eligibility, including the additional year granted due to Covid-19, are not required to renounce in order to be available for selection in the 2023 WNBA Draft but are nonetheless encouraged to notify the WNBA of their intent to be eligible for the Draft and may therefore be included in this list.”
It is still unclear how much vetting this list goes through before publication. In order to reduce confusion among those who also follow the college game, it would seem logical to separate the two categories. With that still not happening, we will break down the list to that level of detail. This is also useful in trying to determine how many players have actually foregone eligibility in order to participate in the process as it turns out that this year has had a significant drop-off in true declarations compared to the past two years. We will also cover a large gray area in the rules in significant detail as it is hopefully resolved in a satisfactory and consistent manner.
Players with remaining college eligibility
A number of players needed to declare to the WNBA that they were making themselves available for the draft or they would not be available for selection. We are including Destiny Littleton on this list as she and USC were reportedly seriously considering an appeal to award a medical hardship for her freshman season at Texas. Since she fits into the general criteria for a redshirt and the appeal would not have been as frivolous as other attempted appeals, it would be reasonable to say that she needed to formally declare for the draft. Similarly, Jaia Alexander would have a plausible shot at getting this season of eligibility back too so she is included on this list.
|Jaia Alexander||Coppin State|
|Laeticia Amihere||South Carolina|
|Brea Beal||South Carolina|
|Aliyah Boston||South Carolina|
|Zia Cooke||South Carolina|
Players who exhausted college eligibility
These players had no remaining college eligibility at the conclusion of their seasons so they would be available for selection in this draft regardless of whether they informed the WNBA. As mentioned earlier, the confusion surrounding last year’s very long list has led to some clarification this year. These players were encouraged to participate in this process, unlike last year, when there were no real instructions for players who had completed their college careers.
|Kadaja Bailey||St. John’s|
|Niyah Becker||Wake Forest|
|Chrissy Brown||Southeastern Louisiana|
|Sidney Cooks||Seton Hall|
|Cherita Daugherty||Southern Utah|
|Camille Downs||Norfolk State|
|Lauren Ebo||Notre Dame|
|Ayana Emmanuel||Alabama State|
|Jayla Everett||St. John’s|
|Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu||South Florida|
|Kierra Fletcher||South Carolina|
|Brooke Flowers||Saint Louis|
|Deja Francis||Norfolk State|
|D’Asia Gregg||Virginia Tech|
|Stephanie Guihon||McNeese State|
|Jazmin Harris||No. Carolina A&T|
|Anastasia Hayes||Mississippi State|
|Da’Nasia Hood||Texas State|
|Ashley Joens||Iowa State|
|Asianae Johnson||Mississippi State|
|Dara Mabrey||Notre Dame|
|Kamaria McDaniel||Michigan State|
|Shaiquel McGruder||New Mexico|
|Taylor Mikesell||Ohio State|
|Aaliyah Patty||Texas A&M|
|Paige Robinson||Illinois State|
|Victaria Saxton||South Carolina|
|Bre’Amber Scott||Texas Tech|
|Myah Selland||South Dakota State|
|Ahlana Smith||Mississippi State|
|Madisen Smith||West Virginia|
|Stephanie Soares||Iowa State|
|Taylor Soule||Virginia Tech|
|E’Lease Stafford||Missouri-Kansas City|
|Cameron Swartz||Georgia Tech|
|Kayana Traylor||Virginia Tech|
|Haley Van Dyke||Washington|
|Bendu Yeaney||Oregon State|
Players with unusual draft situations
There are two players in situations that are a little less common:
|Lou Lopez Sénéchal||Connecticut|
|Elena Tsineke||South Florida|
Lopez Senechal was born in Mexico, reportedly on May 12, 1998, and was not residing in the United States at the time of the 2018 WNBA Draft. She subsequently enrolled at Fairfield later that year, exhausting her college eligibility at Connecticut after this season. Tsineke was born in Greece on Jul 11, 1999 and was not residing in the United States at the time of the 2019 WNBA Draft. She subsequently enrolled at South Florida later that year and has played four seasons there, leaving her with one season of college eligibility that she has indicated that she has no interest in exercising.
The free agency argument
Given that both players were undrafted in years where they could have been picked under international status, there is an argument that both have been WNBA free agents since the year that they turned 20. As a result, either would then be free to sign a rookie scale contract with any team instead of going through the draft. There are some benefits to being able to fall under under this status as they would be able to talk with teams and try to determine which team might put them in the best position to stick on the roster at the end of training camp. Timing-wise, they would also be able to sign a contract before the time of the draft.
The contract difference
While some players might prefer being free agency, there are also clear benefits to being drafted, especially given that both players are at least in consideration for selection in the second round or higher. An undrafted player has the same salary amounts as a third round pick, but their first contract cannot be for more than two seasons, although that is offset by the ability to negotiate a higher contract afterwards, albeit only with their team. A second round pick has higher rookie scale amounts and players picked in the first round start even higher than that based on where in the round that they are picked.
The key CBA language
The CBA language that needs to be fully interpreted for a final decision here comes from Paragraph e of Section 1 of Article XIII:
For purposes of this Section 1, an “international player” means any person born and residing outside the United States who participates in the game of basketball as an amateur or a professional. An international player who exercises intercollegiate basketball eligibility in the United States shall be subject to the eligibility rules set forth in Section 1(b)(iii) above.
The question is whether the second sentence means that a player would be subject to the draft process again by exercising intercollegiate eligibility after already going through the draft process once as an international. If so, then Lopez Senechal is automatically available in this draft even if she had not submitted her name while Tsineke did need to renounce her final season of eligibility to be selectable.
Since this situation has come to the attention of more individuals, there have been other times when this could have been fully addressed. Tiana Mangakahia was on the declaration list for the 2021 WNBA Draft having gone undrafted as an international back in 2015 and Bethy Mununga was on the declaration list for the 2022 WNBA Draft having gone undrafted in 2017. Neither was picked so no decision was publicized, but Mangakahia did sign a contract. As is the case with publishing these two players on this year’s list, it can certainly be argued that the league should not penalize a player who is selected from a published list or the team that selects that player since the implication is that the league does at least minimal vetting of the players on this list and they should all at least be selectable. Last year’s draft did clarify one part of this situation as the league allowed for the selection of Jade Melbourne. Since she had already signed a Letter of Intent with Arizona State, it is now understood that such an action does not constitute exercising intercollegiate eligibility and that would require actually enrolling at the institution.
The WNBA has already ruled that an undrafted international player was ineligible to be selected in a subsequent draft for a player who did not exercise intercollegiate eligibility so that could also be used as the basis for an argument here. Alina Iagupova was born in 1992 in Ukraine and was not picked in the 2012 WNBA Draft. The Los Angeles Sparks then selected her in the 2013 WNBA Draft, arguing that since she was undrafted in the previous event, she would also be available the next year. The league did not agree with this assertion and voided their rights, leaving her a free agent who then ended up signing a contract there later in 2019.
All of the discussion about when players are eligible for the draft has also extended to post-college players, which would describe seven players drafted previously. Four of them are relevant to this situation, but all of them exercised intercollegiate eligibility in the year that they turned 18 and then left college early and were selected the year that they turned 22, which means the year that their original class would be set to graduate college. The question then becomes which condition mentioned in the CBA would take precedence if that year was not the same year or if the player would then be eligible in drafts in both years, which is made significantly more confusing by unusual CBA wording that also applies in this situation. The question in our original example is whether the second sentence of Paragraph e of Section 1 of Article XIII of the CBA would apply to international players who had already participated in a draft, but this is more of a case of whether any other criteria in Paragraph b could apply.
The two main players who would fall in that category would be Holly Winterburn and Anna Makurat. Both were born in 2000 and exercised intercollegiate eligibility in 2019 at Oregon and Connecticut respectively before returning to Europe and playing for professional clubs in 2020 and 2021 respectively, rendering them no longer NCAA-eligible and presumably all forms of American intercollegiate eligibility. They turned 22 in 2022, but their original classes would be set to graduate in 2023. The literal words of the CBA suggest that a player who previously could have qualified as an international, but exercised intercollegiate eligibility cannot be selected in the WNBA draft until the year that their original class would be set to graduate. That might seem straight-forward, but the implication of that clause being interpreted as written would be that Amanda Zahui B should not have been allowed to enter the 2015 WNBA Draft and should only have been able to play in the league starting in 2016. Based on that precedent, it would seem most likely that the league would allow previously international players who started college in their age 19 year to be drafted in their age 22 year or later and would not have voided picks of such players in their age 22 year last draft or their age 23 year this draft.