Sky training camp roster highlights WNBA’s need for expansion now

Sky training camp roster highlights WNBA’s need for expansion now

Oklahoma State forward Natasha Mack(4) shoots over Wake Forest forward Christina Morra(23) during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament at the Greehey Arena in San Antonio, Texas, Sunday, March 21, 2021. | Ronald Cortes/AP

Ahead of the 2021 WNBA draft, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said when it comes to expansion it’s not a matter of if but rather when.

When asked if there have been any specific lineups that impressed him through the first two weeks of training camp, Sky coach and general manager James Wade gave a concise response.

“No,” he said.

The Sky are still without many of their guards, making it impossible for Wade to see what his true starting lineup will look like. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any position battles.

At point guard specifically, competition is fierce. With 11-roster spots available, 20 training-camp players and five guards on training-camp contracts, it’s easy to see why.

“Everyone on a training-camp contract is fighting to make the team,” Jessica January said. “You have a tryout every day.”

This is January’s third training camp, and she said the mental toll of working through camp only to be cut is tough. That every-day tryout she referred to is what gets added to a player’s resume. If there are injuries or Wade talks to other coaches in the WNBA or overseas, that resume is what he draws from.

January and Brittany Boyd, who is also on a training-camp contract, have been going head-to-head a lot throughout camp. January described the competition level as fun. The goal when they aren’t playing with the starting five is to make them better.

Wade has five days before he has to trim the roster to 12, and while league expansion is not something he is overly concerned with, it’s not lost on him that playing in the WNBA is the dream.

“This is my least favorite time of the year,” Wade said. “I feel heavy when I have to take that dream away from someone. Even if more than likely it’s temporary.”

With multiple Sky players expected to leave during the regular season due to national-team commitments, it’s possible some of these training-camp players could sign replacement contracts over the course of the season.

Still, a temporary contract is not the answer to the overload of talent coming out of college and looking for opportunities.

Ahead of the 2021 WNBA Draft, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said when it comes to expansion, it’s not a matter of if but rather when. The problem with that is while the league figures out the right time to expand, players are losing valuable opportunities.

Rookie Natasha Mack, for example, is a player Wade has raved about. She has intangibles that can’t be taught, Wade said, and her length has been disrupting players throughout camp. On draft night, Wade said there is always a place for players like Mack in the WNBA.

After the team put Gabby Williams on the full-season suspended list, it opened up a spot for a player like Mack or guard Lexie Brown on the Sky’s final roster.

The league is going on 11 seasons with 12 teams, and for it to continue its upward trajectory, it needs to be home to more than 144 players.

“I think if we have a very successful season this year, this time next year, we can certainly start talking about what expansion would look like, how many, and the time frame over which that would occur,” Engelbert said.

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