In college basketball, men can be ‘one-and-done.’ Why not the women?

Paige Bueckers #5 of the UConn Huskies defends Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Talented freshmen Paige Bueckers and Caitlin Clark wouldn’t mind having the option to enter the WNBA draft this year.

There is no one-and-done choices for female players because of the league’s longstanding eligibility rules for the draft that haven’t really been a major part of WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

“I’m a believer in living in the now and right now I don’t have that choice,” said Bueckers, the UConn phenom who was honored Wednesday as the first freshman to be named The Associated Press women’s basketball player of the year. “I’m focused on college right now. In the future, I feel like that option for future college students might be there.”

The WNBA Players’ Union has thought about it.

Sue Bird, who is on the WNBA Players’ Union executive council, said earlier this week that the issue was brought up briefly in CBA negotiations with the league last year, but with so many issues to deal with, it wasn’t revisited and the current CBA runs through 2027.

“It wasn’t the priority in the moment,” Bird said. “I think what’s interesting in this conversation is, I think players should have a choice, always. Players should always have a choice.”

RELATED: Future Husky Azzi Fudd named 2021 Morgan Wootten Player of the Year

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said since she began her tenure that it is a player’s first league and if an issue is important to players, she’d listen.

That’s good, because the conversation has begun since Bueckers and Clark would likely be high draft picks this year, maybe even 1-2, if they could declare to turn pro.

Clark, who led the NCAA in scoring this season and was second in assists, feels that the women’s players should be allowed to turn pro after their freshman year, like the men can.

“Boys have it, so why can’t the women’s game have it as well?” the Iowa freshman said. “It’s not something I’ve thought about a lot since it’s never been something for women.”

The draft eligibility rules have been in place since the start of the WNBA in 1997.

American-born players have to either have graduated or be on track to graduate the year of the draft to be eligible. They also would be eligible if they turned 22 in the year of the draft or be four years removed from high school and have renounced any remaining NCAA eligibility.

There have only been a handful of non-senior college players to enter the draft early over the last decade.

International players are allowed to enter the draft at 20 years of age, but usually they’ve been playing professionally overseas since they were teenagers.

Diana Taurasi agreed with Bird that having the option is key.

“I think the next step is to have the choice,” Taurasi said. “Will kids do it? Probably not. We should have that option. If you’re the best at your profession you should be able to get better.”

Bueckers’ good friend Jalen Suggs, the outstanding freshman point guard for top-ranked Gonzaga in the men’s NCAA Tournament, will be a top pick in the NBA draft this year if he turns pro, while Bueckers will return to Connecticut.

“Two kids from the same neighborhood, same background, same everything go to school 3,000 miles apart, Their paths are 3,000 miles different,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “One will have the opportunity to be 1-2-3 pick in the NBA draft and make millions and millions of dollars. The other will be back at UConn.

“Should she have the opportunity to go, should that choice exist? If the WNBA and the players say yes, then she should. As of right now, the answer is no.”

Auriemma said he would support female players having the option to turn pro early, but acknowledged he likes that the answer is no for now.

“That’s what helped our game grow. the fact these kids stay in school a little longer,” Auriemma said. “Build a brand for themselves, build a brand for the university.”

RELATED: Women’s Sports on NBC in April 2021

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Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

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Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”