The end of December means plenty of reflection on some of the best moments of the year. Earlier this week, we reviewed the top-ten most-read stories on Swish Appeal in 2018. Today, we will go over ten of the top storylines — in no particular order. Let’s review!
1. Arike Ogunbowale scores two consecutive buzzer-beaters to lead Notre Dame to the NCAA national championship
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were among several teams projected to contend for the 2017-18 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship. Few would call it a surprise to see them win it all. But Arike Ogunbowale scored two buzzer-beating game-winners to win the semifinals against the UConn Huskies and the championship game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, giving Notre Dame their first national championship since 2001.
After the national championship, Ogunbowale became a household name. She was even a featured guest on The Ellen Show where she met NBA legend Kobe Bryant. This year, Ogunbowale and the Irish will look to repeat before she begins her professional career.
2. Seattle Storm win the 2018 WNBA Finals over the Washington Mystics
Before the 2018 season began, most pundits assumed that the Minnesota Lynx would play the Los Angeles Sparks in the Finals for the third consecutive season. That didn’t happen, as Minnesota’s and LA’s collective age began to show. The Storm, however, clicked early in the season and never looked back. Breanna Stewart won the MVP award for the regular season and the Finals. Veteran Sue Bird and rising star Jewell Loyd were a very complementary backcourt, and Natasha Howard was an excellent non-traditional center.
The Mystics took a step forward after last year’s semifinals appearance. Elena Delle Donne played at an MVP level herself. Meanwhile, Kristi Toliver earned her second WNBA All-Star appearance. Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins had breakout seasons of their own. Along the way, Washington tied a franchise-record 22 wins in the regular season and made their first WNBA Finals appearance ever.
The Storm made quick work of the Mystics with Delle Donne not at full strength due to a knee injury. But the appearance of two different teams in the 2018 WNBA Finals indicates that we are now in a new era of the league.
3. UMMC Ekaterinburg wins second EuroLeague Women title in three years
The Russian super-team has won ten consecutive Russian titles with a roster that would make most WNBA teams jealous. Mystics forward Emma Meesseman won the Final Four MVP award in this year’s Final Four. It is UMMC’s fourth EuroLeague Women title and their second since 2016.
In the WNBA, it would be expected that most championship teams would lose some key players. For UMMC however, they are even deeper than before now that Courtney Vandersloot, Kayla McBride and Maria Vadeeva have joined Meesseman and Brittney Griner!
4. Kristi Toliver becomes the first active WNBA player to coach an NBA team
NBA teams have been quick to hire women for coaching jobs in the past several years. Many of the women who were hired are some of the best players of all time, like Becky Hammon, the lead assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. But Hammon retired as a player before coaching.
And that is what makes the Washington Wizards’ hiring of Kristi Toliver as a player development assistant coach unique. She joined full-time after a coaching internship during the NBA preseason. Toliver will also continue playing for the Mystics next season and isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon.
5. Sue Bird becomes the first active WNBA player in an NBA team’s front office
Current WNBA players weren’t just joining NBA teams as coaches. They are also joining teams in the front office. In November, the Denver Nuggets hired Sue Bird as a basketball operations associate, where she will scout players and provide other feedback.
What makes Bird’s hiring unique was that she joined after the start of the NBA season. Furthermore, she is working for an organization that does not have a WNBA team in the same city. And since she is scouting players, she will bump into other NBA teams’ scouts and broadcasters on the regular. Here’s a photo she took with Glenn Consor, the radio color analyst for the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden:
It will be interesting to see how Bird’s career progresses with the Nuggets and the NBA.
6. Team USA wins the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup
The United States won their third consecutive World Cup gold medal in Spain with a combination of their experienced backcourt in Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, and new faces like A’ja Wilson. Team USA head coach Dawn Staley was expected to lead the Americans to a gold medal, and she delivered.
Though the Americans accomplished their goal, they did not play their best basketball in most games, and the backcourt play suffered once Bird and Taurasi rested on the bench. Hopefully these issues are rectified before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
7. Liz Cambage leads Australia to first silver medal in the World Cup or Olympics since 2008
Since Lauren Jackson’s decline and retirement from basketball in 2016, Wings center Liz Cambage has been viewed as her successor on the Opals. Unfortunately, the Australians came up without a medal in the 2016 Olympics and some may have wondered whether the team was truly in decline.
However, Cambage put those fears to rest. She dominated in the World Cup, leading all scorers at 23.8 points per game and led them to the gold medal game against the USA. The future for the Opals is brighter once again.
8. Belgium continues meteoric rise in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup
Of the 16 teams in the World Cup, Belgium came in as unknowns. They had two WNBA All-Stars in Emma Meesseman and Ann Wauters, so American fans could assume that the frontcourt was a strength. But it was difficult to see where Belgium fit in the world pecking order because it was their first time in a world competition.
Belgium finished the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup medal-less after losing to Team USA in the semifinals and Spain in the bronze medal game. And here’s what set Meesseman apart from other stars who played Team USA: she actually averaged 23.5 points in each of Belgium’s last two games, where neither the Americans nor the Spanish could find a way to contain her.
Next year, Belgium will compete in EuroBasket Women 2019 where they will try to earn a 2020 Olympic berth. It is also a tournament where they can show sustained success.
9. Women’s National Basketball Players Association opts out of collective bargaining agreement, hoping to gain more benefits and revenue sharing
The WNBA’s players were more vocal than they have been in past years about their low pay, benefits and travel accommodations. The most notable situation among WNBA players happened when the Las Vegas Aces forfeited a game against the Washington Mystics after spending 25 hours in travel delays. WNBA teams travel on economy class airfares, unlike NBA teams, where players are on charter or private planes.
On Nov. 1, Sparks forward and WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike announced that the players will opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in a column on The Players’ Tribune. The players hope to earn a bigger share of revenue than they do right now, which is about 20 to 25 percent, and have more flexible travel accommodations. The current CBA will be in effect until after the 2019 season, so that is when the tougher negotiation is likely to begin.
10. Numerous WNBA and team executives resign in 2018
The WNBA enjoyed its highest ratings in 2018, which jumped by 36 percent over last season. Also, there is more coverage on the league and its teams than in the past. These are all great signs.
However, three WNBA executives have resigned this year, including President Lisa Borders, Chief Operating Officer Jay Parry and Senior Vice President of League Operations Ann Rodriguez. Furthermore, Sparks President and Chief Operating Officer Christine Simmons resigned last week. Resignations happen. People do want to move to other positions to further their careers and passions. However, seeing multiple resignations could give fans pause, especially with a CBA negotiation coming up next year.