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Swish Appeal Roundtable: 21 wishes for women’s hoops in 2021

In a spirit of reflection on the unprecedented year in sports, and with an eye to the future, the Swish Appeal staff gathered to share our biggest wishes for women’s basketball in the coming year.

2011 WNBA All-Star Game
Imagine a Las Vegas Aces team in which Liz Cambage (left), Angel McCoughtry (right) and Kelsey Plum (not shown/Achilles) return to help league MVP A’ja Wilson win a title in 2021.
Photos by Soobum Im/NBAE via Getty Images

The abrupt cancellation of sports in March, including basketball at every level, left athletes, coaches, trainers, media members and fans lost and unsure of what to do with themselves. Being isolated at home amid the coronavirus pandemic after years of thriving among comrades in arenas, practice facilities, gyms, classrooms and newsrooms — restaurants, bars, coffee shops and the like — provided opportunity for the introspective sort to renew their perspective on life.

With nothing to do in the “great out there” courtesy of shutdowns, they turned their sights inward where they felt, perhaps, the pangs of longing for the good times that once had been.

For athletes, the satisfaction of battling with their sisters who, as Seimone Augustus says in the 2020 WNBA brand ad, “fought like hell on the hardwood,” was missed. Fans, meanwhile, longed for the shared joy of team spirit — camaraderie with others united in a mission to will their team to victory via cheer.

Sports, we love so dearly, yet too often take for granted. After a WNBA season played successfully in a bubble, the 2020-21 NCAA season, outside of a bubble, is pocked by postponements and cancellations of games and even seasons, for teams and even conferences. A vaccine now exists, but it will take a long time for every citizen who wants one to get one, and even longer for the economic fallout of the pandemic, including for sports, to resolve.

Thus, when life resumes a normalcy we all recognize, let’s make sure we receive it with gratitude, for a return to sports and other activities for many is a return to joy.

As the pandemic has taught us, all things good can be taken away.

In a spirit of reflection on the unprecedented year in sports, and with an eye to the future, Cat Ariail, Eric Nemchock, Jim Savell, Zack Ward and I convened around the Swish Appeal roundtable to share our biggest wishes for women’s basketball in the coming year.

We present you our wishes in no particular order, with hopes that you’ll also share your wishes (in the comments).

-Tamryn Spruill, Editor-in-Chief

21 wishes for women’s hoops in 2021

#1. More of this unbridled joy. -Tamryn Spruill

In February, the South Carolina Gamecocks got their first win against the UConn Huskies at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena, where the die-hard fans give new meaning to the phrase, “The stadium was rocking.”

#2. Basketball in March. -Jim Savell

When the pandemic hit in March, fans were left with no tournament and no champion to crown. In 2021, we can only hope that NCAA can find a way to hold a tournament of college basketball’s best.

#3. Spectacular sophomores leading South Carolina to a second national title. -TS

The abrupt suspension of the 2019-20 NCAA season left the national title-winner undecided. The Gamecocks had been declared the unanimous No. 1 team and the Oregon Ducks, led by the WNBA-bound Ruthy Hebard, Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally, were ready to put South Carolina’s ranking to the test. But with playmaker Tyasha Harris and scorer Mikiah Herbert Harrigan now in the WNBA, can the freshmen phenom of last season, center Aliyah Boston and guard Zia Cooke, convert their spectacular sophomore seasons into an avenged title win?

#4. The 2021-22 NCAAW season starting on time, with everything back to normal. -Zack Ward

Now that there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, the hope is that a return to normalcy is on its way. Hopefully that will come in time for the 2021 WNBA season. If not, at least let it happen in time for the next college basketball season.

#5. WNBA draft eligibility for all players after their third collegiate season. -Cat Ariail

Aspiring WNBA players currently are eligible to enter the draft if they turn 22 years old before Jan. 1 of their third college season or graduate by the end of their third collegiate season. The WNBA should allow all third-year college players to consider their professional prospects on equal ground and allow college players to become eligible for the WNBA Draft after three collegiate seasons — regardless of age or academic standing. The notoriously rigid, restrictive NCAA has expanded athlete freedoms. It is time for the WNBA to do the same.

#6. Tiana Mangakahia playing in the WNBA. -ZW

Mangakahia is a breast cancer survivor and has returned to the court for the Syracuse Orange after missing the entire 2019-20 season. Over the course of her first two seasons with the Orange, she averaged 17.1 points and 9.1 assists per game. ESPN has her going at No. 11 in the 2021 WNBA Draft, but it is Mangakahia’s goal to go higher. Hopefully she will go somewhere in the first round and be a lock to play in the league.

#7. A healthy Asia Durr. -Eric Nemchock

Yes, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding Sabrina Ionescu and the new-look New York Liberty (and justifiably so!). But don’t forget about their 2019 lottery pick, Asia Durr, whose rookie season was marred by injury. She also was forced to miss the 2020 season while recovering from COVID-19, so I’m really looking forward to seeing her back healthy again, whether it be in New York or elsewhere. Could 2021 be Durr’s year to finally make an impact in the pros?

#8. WNBA throwback jerseys! -CA

In celebration of its 25th season, the WNBA should treat us to some throwback jerseys. Imagine watching Candace Parker and company, back in Staples Center, rocking the threads from her rookie year.

Los Angeles Sparks v Phoenix Mercury
Candace Parker, 2008.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

#9. More WNBA merchandise. -EN

Has this ever not been a wish for WNBA fans? The orange WNBA hoodie was an enormous success this past year, so I hope the the league, Nike, distributors and outlets build on this momentum and make a wider range of WNBA merchandise available. It’s good for the game and it’s something the fans have been clamoring for forever.

#10. The Indiana Fever in the playoffs. -JS

The Indiana Fever have been one of the bright, young teams of the WNBA for the past few seasons but have failed to live up to their potential. As they head into head coach Marianne Stanley’s second season, hopefully the Fever can make the jump into the playoffs.

#11. A healthy Victoria Vivians! -TS

Regardless of the box score, Vivians’ rookie season in 2018 was one of the most exciting among that draft class, showing promise for her career and the Fever’s prospects. An ACL tear while playing overseas caused her to miss the entire 2019 WNBA season and much of 2020. It is hard to imagine the Fever getting far without a health V.V. in the mix.

#12. A Seattle-Washington WNBA Playoffs battle royale. -CA

In 2018, the Seattle Storm, led by MVP Breanna Stewart, swept the hobbled Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals to win the title. In 2019, MVP Elena Delle Donne took the Mystics to their first title in a year the Storm had to survive a season without Stewart or Sue Bird. In 2020, a restocked Storm reclaimed the WNBA championship, winning it in the wubble, while the Mystics were without Delle Donne and other key contributors.

In 2021, we need a playoff series showdown between fully-healthy Seattle and Washington squads. A semifinals or finals series between the two teams would offer up a Stewart-Delle Donne duel that could earn the winner the title “best women’s hooper in the world.”

#13. More in-depth statistics. -EN

The stats page was overhauled a couple years ago and now has much more data than it did previously. Yet, it still pales in comparison to that of the NBA. The detailed statistics available for the NBA are, quite frankly, mind-blowing, and there’s no good reason the same shouldn’t be there for the WNBA. Providing it for the WNBA would open new avenues for stats-based coverage, particularly for those who approach the game with an analytical eye, which would in turn help to broaden the WNBA’s audience.

#14. Dream, WNBA becoming free at last of Loeffler’s off-court drama political ambitions. -TS

Kelly Loeffler was a team owner first and an appointed government worker second. Yet, she repeatedly states that the players, through their social justice activism, have breached a line that simply does not exist between sports and society or, based on the players’ endorsement of her rival in the Georgia senate race, politics. If her mandate to the players is that they should stay out of politics, the mandate should be made to Loeffler that she stay out of the WNBA, where her professed beliefs do not align with the philosophy on which the Dream was founded or the values of many of the players. Like Donald Sterling in the NBA before her, Loeffler’s views and attitudes are an affront to many of the athletes in the league and her coziness with white supremacists, among other things, make her an ill fit for a league founded on diversity.

#15. A record fifth gold medal for Sue and Dee. -CA

While delayed a year, it will still be satisfying to see Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi take Team USA to gold in Tokyo, thereby, capturing their record fifth Olympic basketball gold medals.

#16. Marine Johannes returning to the WNBA. -EN

If you follow international basketball, you know how awesome a Sabrina Ionescu-Marine Johannes backcourt would be. Johannes is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the world and would feel right at home playing in a system that emphasizes 3-point shooting. Johannes would not only accelerate the Liberty rebuild, she’d add plenty of flair to the newly-rebranded franchise.

#17. The return of Sabrina Ionescu in excellent form. -JS

Ionescu played just three games in 2020 before suffering a Grade-3 high ankle sprain that ended her rookie season.

#18. Myisha Hines-Allen seeing significant playing time. -ZW

It would be great to see Hines-Allen play alongside superstars Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles with the Washington Mystics. Hines-Allen went from barely seeing playing time in 2019 to becoming an All-WNBA Second Team member in 2020. She can shoot, drive, back down and even handle the ball as a point-forward. Hopefully the Mystics’ bevy of stars won’t limit the Myisha show too much in 2021.

#19. Angel McCoughtry returning for the Aces, and winning her first WNBA title. -TS

After 10 seasons with the Atlanta Dream, Angel McCoughtry took her talents to Sin City where she starred for the Las Vegas Aces in 2020. Her 2018 season was ended by injury and she missed all of 2019, leaving many to wonder if she could come back and, if so, in what fashion. In 2020, McCoughtry was angelic, debuting a more versatile, level-headed game that helped the Aces make the WNBA Finals in a season in which Kelsey Plum (Achilles) and Liz Cambage (medical exemption) did not play. If she returns in 2021 and the rest of the team is healthy, the Aces have as strong a chance as anyone to vie, once again, for the championship, and give McCoughtry her first.

#20. Sue Bird’s continued excellence. -JS

Sue Bird turned 40 in October, shortly after winning her fourth WNBA title. In 2021, she will be entering her 18th WNBA season. Yet, Bird has been a consistent and reliable player for the Seattle Storm. Here’s hoping she can provide yet another season of magic for Seattle!

#21. Liz Cambage back with the Las Vegas Aces. -ZW

Cambage is one of the best basketball players in the world and it’s a shame for American fans that her WNBA career has been shortened by her time playing overseas. Even more disappointing is the fact that she missed all of last season as a health precaution during the pandemic. Just like Washington this year and Seattle in 2019, Las Vegas deserves a shot at the title with all of its stars playing together. What a fun frontcourt the Aces would have if Cambage, an unrestricted free agent, returns to play alongside reigning WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson once again.