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2021 WNBA Draft Watch: Natasha Mack’s unorthodox journey yielding remarkable results

Once the top junior college player in the country, Natasha Mack now roams the paint at Oklahoma State. Don’t let her humble collegiate beginnings overshadow her WNBA potential.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Women’s Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
A huge debut season for Oklahoma State last year has Natasha Mack on WNBA scouts’ radar.
Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s not often you see top WNBA prospects with junior colleges on their respective résumés. A four-year stay in NCAA Division I basketball is the typical route, but things don’t always work out that way, so it often makes for a nice story whenever a player takes a unique journey to the pros.

In Natasha Mack’s case, talent was never in question. The star Oklahoma State Cowgirls forward burst onto the Big 12 scene last season after a stint in JUCO, but you wouldn’t know it from watching her play.

As ESPN HoopGurlz’s No. 85 prospect in 2016, Mack originally committed to the University of Houston, but never actually enrolled there, opting instead to take a year off from school. Afterwards, Mack played two seasons at Angelina College, a community college located in her hometown of Lufkin, TX, and quickly became the school’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Mack also led Angelina to the NJCAA National Tournament — the program’s first-ever appearance — in 2019.

Mack hasn’t missed a beat since advancing to NCAA Division I play. She became the Cowgirls’ best player almost immediately, earning the praise of Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell, who credits her for adjusting “quicker than anticipated.”

Mack herself has made it clear that she wants to play in the WNBA, and her dream of being drafted will almost certainly come true in 2021. Let’s take a look at some of her most recent accomplishments and what makes her a WNBA prospect to watch out for.

Honors and statistics

Mack completely dominated the JUCO circuit, earning NJCAA Division I Player of the Year and First Team All-American honors in 2018-19. In two seasons at Angelina, she put together an eye-popping line: 23 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.3 blocked shots per game.

Her stats in NCAA Division I play haven’t been quite as video game-like, but Mack has still been one of the most productive players in the country since arriving at Oklahoma State. As a junior, she scored 17.6 points per game while pulling down 12.5 rebounds (5th in the country) and blocking 3.6 shots (4th). According to Her Hoop Stats, Mack put up a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 36.6, good for 11th in the country, and recorded 3.6 defensive win shares.

Mack’s efforts earned her Second Team All-Big 12 honors for 2019-20. Heading into her senior season, Mack was named to the preseason watch lists for the Katrina McClain Award (given to the nation’s top power forward) and the 2021 Naismith Trophy. She was also unanimously named to the 2020-21 Preseason All-Big 12 Team by conference coaches.

How she helps the Cowgirls

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Women’s Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Defensive playmaking (shot blocking, in particular) is Mack’s greatest strength.
Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mack is, for the most part, what her numbers suggest: a physically dominant frontcourt player.

That physicality, however, is more that of a player who has long arms and a quick first step rather than a wide frame and overwhelming strength. Though Mack does most of her damage on post-ups (48.2 of her shooting possessions come from posting up, per Synergy Sports), she prefers to finish her moves with short, turnaround jumpers or push shots instead of seeking contact.

Nevertheless, Mack’s player archetype has its strengths. Her wingspan and release point allow her to rise and shoot over defenders, and she’s got the speed to leave slower frontcourt players in the dust, both running the floor in transition and with quick, deadly spin moves in the post.

Then, of course, there’s the defense. Mack’s foot speed and length allow her to recover and rotate quickly; she boasts one of the highest block rates (10.7 percent) in the nation (20th), and that’s not because she’s just plain bigger than everyone else (as is often the case with collegiate players who block lots of shots). Rather, Mack’s ability to anticipate and disrupt on defense allow Littell to let her roam on that end of the floor, both defending one-on-one at a better-than-adequate level and cleaning things up elsewhere. Such is a skill that WNBA scouts will probably take a long look at.

In the meantime, she’ll continue anchoring the Cowgirls on both ends of the floor. While her 25.7 percent usage rate isn’t currently the highest on the team (junior guard Ja’Mee Asberry is currently posting 25.9 percent usage), there’s little doubt that Mack is Oklahoma State’s most valuable player on both offense and defense.

Watch her play

The Cowgirls still have both of their conference games against Baylor — as big a test as any for WNBA hopefuls — coming up on their schedule, playing the Lady Bears on Jan. 20 (Big 12 Now/ESPN+) and Feb. 24. Games against the Texas Longhorns on Jan. 27 (Big 12 Now/ESPN+) and Feb. 10 (Longhorn Network) should also be good measuring sticks for Mack and the Cowgirls.