Natisha Hiedeman might not have been in the mix for Rookie of the Year, but she was certainly the most impactful rookie left by the time the WNBA Finals began.
Now a seasoned member of the Curt Miller School of Finding Playing Time as a Rookie, Hiedeman played in seven of the Connecticut Sun’s eight playoff games and averaged 2.6 points per five-minute outing. Most of that scoring came courtesy of two eight-point games in which she got nine minutes apiece. Even in her next-longest appearance, seven minutes, she made up for not scoring by dishing three assists.
Natasha Hiedeman stops behind the screen to drill the deep triple!— WNBA (@WNBA) September 23, 2019
: ESPN2 #WNBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/QG3rOqX4ZY
Hiedeman’s story is well-known by now: The 5-foot-7 point guard made history for Marquette and the new Big East as the school’s third draft pick ever, and the highest pick in both school history and the new conference. After a draft night trade from the Minnesota Lynx to the Sun, she was the last player cut before the regular season began. Then, a stint with the Atlanta Dream resulted in no games played and another cut.
Finally, she ended up with the Sun once more, where she played her first WNBA minutes and made Marquette history once again. (And then again in the Finals, of course, as the first Golden Eagle to play there.)
After three months in the league, Hiedeman has established herself as a solid option off the bench who can both run the offense and add some extra points when given the minutes. But Miller’s tendency to lean on his starters — they’ve all been on the team since 2016 and started every game this season — meant there was little room for any bench players to get meaningful minutes, much less a rookie.
But an increased role with the Sun seems on the horizon for Hiedeman. Although starting point guard Jasmine Thomas will be sticking around, fellow point guard Layshia Clarendon will enter free agency and seems likely to move on. Now that Hiedeman has proven she’s ready for the backup role after assuming it as Clarendon battled injury, perhaps she’ll be the core of a new wave of Connecticut youth.
Catch Hiedeman with Luleå Basket this season in Sweden.
The Mystics’ unexpected rookie did her job
Although the Mystics wanted No. 10 draft pick Kiara Leslie to be their go-to rookie this season, knee surgery recovery kept her out all summer. Instead of going young, the Mystics went ... less young, bringing on 29-year-old rookie Kim Mestdagh.
Money Maker Mestdagh #RunItBack #TogetherDC pic.twitter.com/ebsSsegNnG— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 23, 2019
Mestdagh played just one minute of the playoffs, registering a foul in Game 3 against the Aces. But as a Mystic, Mestdagh’s specific strength — accurate three-point shooting — helped her fit right in during the regular season. And although she didn’t add a three in the Mystics’ record-breaking game like fellow older rookie Shey Peddy (who wasn’t on the team for the playoffs), Mestdagh registered her first career field goal inside the arc that day after starting her career with five 3-pointers and sinking both of her career free throw attempts.
Catch Mestdagh in France this 2019-20 season playing for Flammes Carolo Basket Ardennes.
Mid-major to majorly big stage
Hiedeman went to the Big East’s Marquette. Mestdagh went to the Mountain West’s Colorado State. So who’s the next mid-major rookie star?
Popular picks from the 2020 draft include UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield, Princeton’s Bella Alarie and Rice’s Erica Ogwumike (Nneka and Chiney’s youngest sister — Olivia, the third sister, also played for Rice). While Dangerfield has the UConn pedigree on her side, Alarie and Ogwumike come from teams and conferences without the top-tier non-conference schedule that the Huskies put together year after year (and without the vast WNBA representation). There’s less chance for them to be seen nationally, and later, less of a chance they’ll stick in the league.
But then, Hiedeman was the same way. Like Princeton and Rice are in the Ivy League and Conference USA, respectively, Marquette is one of the top teams in the Big East. But since the reshuffle that sent the more well-known teams like UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville to other conferences (at least until 2020), the Big East has become a solidly mid-major conference.
Keep an eye out this NCAA season for the above and all of your favorite mid-major players. Even if they’re cut from the WNBA once, or even twice, a Finals appearance definitely isn’t out of the picture.