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Ex-WNBA player Ruth Riley speaks on sport's future, trends

While in Manila for the Jr. NBA/Jr. WNBA Philippines National Training Camp last weekend, two-time WNBA champion Ruth Riley had the chance to speak with members of the media, talking about the sport's future, current trends, and difference-makers in women's basketball.

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It has been about 15 years since Riley entered the league, although there are still quite a few things that haven't changed one bit, like her excitement when asked about the Detroit Shock's title run more than a decade ago.

The Miami Sol's departure from the league proved to be a little blessing in disguise for Riley, as she would land with the Bill Laimbeer-mentored Shock, which she would transform into a contender. Previously a 9-23 team, Detroit would eventually bag the 2003 WNBA title after beating the Los Angeles Sparks.

Aside from the turnaround, Riley claims the 2003 team was "probably the most unique team" she's been on because of its composition.

"(It was) not only because of worst-to-first but because probably we were young," Riley said. "Cheryl Ford was a rookie, Swin Cash was a third year player, and just having so much youth and putting away your egos. When we step on the court we just want to compete.

"You play like young kids where you just throw the ball (to them) and just play the sport you love playing and having coach Bill Laimbeer to lead us, teach us, and mold us in different ways with the experiences he had has a pro, I think that was pretty unique as well."

But most of what Riley saw when she played in college and the WNBA have already changed, bringing women's basketball to a whole new level altogether.

Riley said the 2015 WNBA Draft's top pick and her fellow Notre Dame alum Jewell Loyd is a "rare occurrence" and since she is that special, Riley thinks Loyd should be an exemption to whatever existing rule -- written or unwritten.

"Our girls actually cannot leave early. They have to go four years. But I think that rule doesn't apply to these athletes. Jewell, she's incredible. It wasn't an easy decision for her so I try support her where I can," Riley said.

Loyd faced scrutiny after deciding to enter the WNBA draft early and choosing to forego her final year of eligibility in college basketball.

But she would overcome the phase and eventually be selected as the first overall draft pick by the Seattle Storm, quickly changing the scape of the team's backcourt and perhaps setting the tone for what should be an exciting future for the franchise.

Aside from Loyd, Riley mentioned UConn's Breanna Stewart as one of the players who can make impact right away in the WNBA. With a combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism, Stewart has been an integral part of the Huskies' success in the past three years.

Much has changed in the way frontcourt players dominate the game in general, and for Riley, having versatile and multi-faceted bigs who can play many positions -- like Elena Delle Donne and Candace Parker -- definitely provides a huge difference for teams.

"Breanna Stewart, she's a special player. I think her skill set and her size, she's definitely going to be the no. 1 pick next year in the draft, and she is one of those players that teams are hoping to get the first pick in the draft because they know she is a game-changer," she said.

"Just the athleticism and the skill set of the fours, like Candace Parker and probably Lauren Jackson was one of the first to come in the league and do it then now you see it more often; Maya Moore can play almost any position and she's won with every team she has been, I think it shows you how much the game has evolved. They're not sticking to tall players under the basket anymore, they encourage them to shoot, drive, and be scorers."

Riley also thinks that in a way, all the changes the sport is seeing at the moment may have something to do with how UConn head coach Geno Auriemma set the standard since he entered the scene.

"You respect the fact Geno's put up an incredible program. He has very talented players and he is a smart coach. He set a standard and it has raised the standard of women's basketball throughout the United States because of that. I think our sport has grown because of that," Riley claimed.

Other collegiate basketball teams have followed suit and little by little, more schools have gotten a lot more competitive in the NCAA.

Women's basketball has indeed come a long way, but part of its path are obviously more challenges to conquer. One of those is a wake-up call to the league when Diana Taurasi announced she will be skipping the 2015 WNBA season as ordered by her Russian club team.

Riley says this is all part of women's basketball's growth, and she hopes it would result into something positive for the sport's future.

"I think it is a reality check and what they're paying the WNBA players, I mean we are grateful for the opportunity but I do think that Diana Taurasi knew what is at stake," Riley added. "You know, for the league to evolve, there are times like this where you have conflict and you have to solve it and move forward. I think this is one of those moments."