Sometime last year, I was asked by someone writing an article about the state of the WNBA why I continued to cover a sport that was so "depressing".
I guess I had never really thought of covering any basketball league as particularly "depressing", but the comment-question came shortly after I had run through all of the challenges that women's basketball faces: lacking financial resources, sparse media coverage, the constant threat of overseas league competing with the W rather than merely supplementing salaries and sexist attitudes among mainstream sports fans that can create reluctance to even seek the league out.
For me, I always thought those issues made following the development of the women's basketball more interesting rather than more depressing; maybe it partially satisfied my social justice impulse, maybe it just made the task of writing about a sport I love more meaningful. I do see sports as a cultural battleground to shift social perception of groups that are consistently demeaned, dismissed, and denigrated even if others have been stronger or more effective advocates for justice than I.
But when I think about reasons I kept writing it's because as a relatively new fan to women's basketball, there were always new ideas about the game to play with, rethink and then explore some more. Although I often threw a whole lot of numbers at questions I wanted to answer - which is hilarious to me because I was trained in qualitative research and hated math for most of my educational experience - it was never really about finding right answers or hard conclusions because common sense tells you those don't much exist in sports. I always just have fun going through the process.
Nothing would seem to exemplify my attitude about things better than my interest in following the draft.
I began following the WNBA Draft in 2010 for a very simple reason: I had always loved following the NBA Draft and Summer League and I simply couldn't find the same level of analysis and projection about the WNBA that could fuel that same level of deep immersion in all the possibilities.
So when this site launched in 2009, I began really following women's college basketball in earnest with an eye on the seniors who would be eligible for the 2010 draft. In some ways, evaluating WNBA draft prospects is easier than NBA prospects: since the U.S. players are generally four-year players, you're evaluating prospects at similar ages on similar time scales. And since the women's game isn't quite as deep as the men's game, you're dealing primarily with the smaller set of major conference programs rather than having to follow Weber State or Davidson to make sure you don't miss the next big thing; it's really rare for someone to fall through the cracks as a sleeper on the women's side.
In other ways, it's harder.
There is so much less data available for the WNBA that making distinctions between players that seem relatively similar can be difficult. If nothing else, the fact that there have been some draft years recently when only 10-12 players remain on rosters three years later -- surely due in part to WNBA roster limits -- means you just don't have a whole lot of examples of success to leverage in a game that has changed rather rapidly. And by "data" I don't just mean basketball statistics, but the more basic things you get from a NBA combine like wing span or actual heights.
Of course, the elite prospects are usually pretty clear by their sophomore or junior years, but if you're primarily a men's basketball fan following the game for the first time, accounting for all the subtle differences between the two games and what that college to pro transition looks different in the WNBA can be tricky. As a result, I've made about as many complete whiffs as semi-accurate projections, which happens if you do this draft thing long enough — again, I've always found that the uncertainty of it all to be fun rather than stressful.
So I say all that because this draft will be the last that I update the indicators for successful and unsuccessful draft prospects, which you'll either take as a relief or a cool summary of years of discussion with fans and analysts. As of well...3...2...1...now...Mike Robinson will be taking over as the manager of Swish Appeal. I will continue to contribute as time permits in the background after doing my draft season mind dump throughout this week (unless Mike asks me very nicely to provide draft coverage in the future). The bottom line is that I just can't commit as much time as I'd like to this project and I think it needs new leadership going forward.
I have the utmost confidence in Mike's ability to push the site in new directions within the same vision of simply having an outlet to express our love of the game and adding new voices to the discussion. Already his work breaking news on the Daisha Simmons story, recruiting and coachig news, and seemingly having more information than we could ever publish has been impressive and a pleasure to work with.
I'm taking the time to announce that now because I was supposed to be writing a draft post and got derailed...and the draft has easily become my favorite part of running this site over the years after I initially started blogging about women's basketball during grad school with an interest in the intersection of sports, feminism, and race in the U.S. (draft talk is just a bit more fun). Hopefully some folks found it useful or at least a wordy foil to rail against during discussions come draft time.
There are numerous people who I owe a debt of gratitude to in terms of supporting me in this foray into women's basketball over the years. First and foremost, Seth Pollack for all his support in starting this site and encouragement even when we had less hits per week than words per article. Queenie for jumping into this venture with me wholeheartedly when I stated this from nothing. I will always be grateful to Patrick Sheehy, Paul Swanson, and Kevin Pelton for helping me figure the women's game out and the draft in particular. Bon Corwin, the "Doom and Gloom guy", for keeping my optimism in check. Jessica Lantz, Ray Floriani, and Queenie for actually attending he draft and providing first hand accounts of the event. The Seattle Storm's entire coaching staff — Jenny Boucek as well as former coaches Brian Agler and Nancy Darsch — for always been extremely accommodating and offering insights and time that might be more valuable than they realized when I asked obtuse questions while living in Seattle. Jayda Evans for tolerating my silliness on her beat (#IceCreamAndCakeForever). Ron Howard has always been helpful as well in connecting me with folks around the WNBA to help get the interviews that provide further insight on things I've observed. Lindsay Gottlieb for saying nice things about me to my mom when they met at a random event (seriously - mom still remembers that). Clay Kallam for introducing me to the world of high school and club basketball. And new manager Mike Robinson has always been great at putting prospects who were off the radar on my radar and working his contacts to connect me with players for interviews that were invaluable at times.
And of course everyone else who has ever graced our masthead or shared their passion for the game in the form of guest work has played their part as well.
I've made so many genuine friends as a result of writing for this site that I could go on forever, but this has opened up opportunities that I never imagined and I truly appreciate everyone who supported and challenged me -- from angry commenters keeping us honest to PR folks who gave us access -- throughout the years. I hope you keep reading the site as it continues to grow under Mike's leadership because I Expect Great moving forward.