ND Women’s Basketball
Former Irish players look ahead to the coming WNBA season
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, April 21, 2017
Irish senior guard Lindsay Allen became the 14th Notre Dame player to be chosen in the WNBA draft, as she was selected as the 14th overall pick by the New York Liberty on Thursday. She will become the sixth active former Irish player in the WNBA when the season begins in May — and those players are excited to see her join their ranks and are looking forward to the coming WNBA season.
San Antonio Stars
Kayla McBride, a member of the class of 2014, is entering her fourth season as a guard for the San Antonio Stars. The Stars struggled last season, going 7-27, but the offseason has been a time of rebuilding for the squad. Stars general manager Ruth Riley — the former Irish center named Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four for the 2001 national championship team — is entering her second season at San Antonio’s helm, Vickie Johnson is looking to right the ship in her first season as head coach and McBride is returning to the lineup healthy.
“We obviously kind of revamped this offseason. We had Ruth Riley come in, obviously a Notre Dame grad, last season, and then we had a new head coach come in,” McBride said. “We have the No. 1 pick, things like that. I think all of those added up, myself being healthy, [Stars guard] Moriah Jefferson, we’re just kind of ready for that reset button, so I think coming in, the players coming into training camp this month, I think everybody’s just focused on this season. You can’t really look back on the things that have happened these last few seasons. We kind of want to just take all of our energy and put it into this one coming up.”
McBride missed the majority of last season after fracturing her right foot in July in a game against the Minnesota Lynx. McBride was in the midst of a “career season,” averaging 17.1 points and over 30 minutes per game. McBride noted that, although the injury was difficult for her, she feels it has added a dimension to her game, as it gave her teammates the opportunity to learn to trust her in a leadership role.
“Having to be out six months and watch my team struggle the way they did, I have such a pride for San Antonio, being in the place that drafted me and the place I love, the city that I’ve grown to love, so to see us struggle that way, it fueled me a lot in the offseason,” McBride said. “I probably worked harder than I ever worked before, just on my game, mentally and physically. I’m probably in the best shape that I’ve been in a really long time. But everything that I’ve been doing was always with San Antonio in the back of my mind, so I think the injury and knowing that the team still believes in me even though this is the second time that it happened, that motivated me more than ever.
“ … I was able to kind of see things from a different perspective on the sideline, obviously, but having such a young team, I think it was good for me to just be that voice in their ear when things weren’t going as planned and things like that. But I think it really helped me the most for this coming season because I feel like I have their trust from that angle and it’s going to be a lot easier for the adjustment, coming in this year with all the new pieces fitting in.”
McBride is also excited to see what Johnson brings to the drawing board in her first season as head coach. Johnson is not new to the organization, however, as she served as an assistant coach for the Stars since 2011.
“[Johnson] is a player herself, so to have somebody come in with that experience,  years, so to know somebody who has been in our shoes, especially having played in San Antonio, coming back, we know that her intentions are right, so it’s easy to follow her lead,” McBride said. “I think she’s been in the position, she knows what she’s doing, she’s been an assistant since I’ve been in San Antonio, so I already have that trust aspect with her. So, it’s going to be an adjustment for everybody, having her as a new head coach in her first head coaching job, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
The Stars had the top pick this season in the draft, picking Washington guard Kelsey Plum. Before the draft, McBride was excited by the prospect of playing alongside Plum. She felt the biggest need the Stars needed to fill with the draft was developing a deeper roster.
“Just hearing Coach Johnson talk about how she wants a 12-man roster. So we need people who can [play well for us] on any given night, and I think that’s important especially in a long season like the WNBA’s,” McBride said on the draft. “It’s about chemistry. I know she wants to play up-tempo. A lot of defensive minded things. You know, we want good chemistry. That’s something that we’ve built in San Antonio and making the right pieces fit personality-wise, as well as work ethic-wise, I think that’s really important for us right now.”
Former Irish forward Natalie Achonwa, who graduated from the University in 2014, was drafted ninth overall by the Indiana Fever and is entering her third season with the team. Despite a respectable showing last season, with the Fever making the playoffs and going 17-17, Achonwa said the team has undergone a complete makeover in the offseason, a makeover she is looking forward to seeing in action.
“This season will be interesting because, once again we’re kind of going through a new start, so, my first year was [former Fever head coach Stephanie] White’s first year, so we went through a little bit of a transition, but this year is going to be big because we’re really finding a new identity with losing someone as big in the organization as [former Fever forward] Tamika Catchings,” Achonwa said. “She was the heart and soul of the Fever, so it will be a new start with a new coach as well, with Pokey Chatman coming in, so there’s going to be a lot of new things. So, it will just be getting comfortable with each other once again and running a new system and being open-minded. We’re going to stay that same gritty Indiana Fever team, so that won’t change, for sure, so it will just be how comfortable and how quickly can we get comfortable within the new system.”
Achonwa’s time connection with Notre Dame did not end at graduation. She plays alongside former Irish forward Devereaux Peters, with whom she overlapped at Notre Dame for a year.
“Dev and I talk pretty much every day, even when I was overseas in South Korea,” Achonwa said on playing with Peters. “I love having her around and spending time with her, even when we’re not playing together. She’s one of my best friends, no matter what. The time we got to spend getting to know each other at Notre Dame has just continued our relationship til now.”
The Fever lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2016, falling to the Phoenix Mercury. However, the Fever advanced to the WNBA finals the previous year and most recently won the title in 2012. Achonwa said she and her teammates are prepared to make a run for the title again this season.
“ … I believe it’s always going to be a battle for a championship,” Achonwa said. “We have a coach, we have good players, we can get new players, so it’s always going to be a fight and that’s always going to be our end-goal. I’m just excited to see the new identity of the team and of course I would love to win a championship. That’s why we all do it.”
Former Irish guard Jewell Loyd, the first overall pick in 2015 WNBA draft, is about to enter her third season with the Seattle Storm. Loyd has made her mark in the league, earning the WNBA Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and being named to the All-WNBA Second Team in 2016. Loyd said she plans to carry that momentum over into 2017.
“I really wasn’t expecting [to be named All-WNBA], just because I was worrying about playoffs and trying to get better every day, stuff like that,” Loyd said. “But, this season, you know, with the relationship [Breanna Stewart] and I have built over this offseason, I think we’re definitely excited for the new season, to just get back and bring the energy back in the building that we had finishing the season and, personally I just want to go out there and make everyone better. I think playing overseas every year I get better, just because different teams actually do different things, and I worked on a lot of stuff this offseason, so I think my focus is going to be on full-throttle this year. Just go out there and not hold back.”
The Storm fell in the first round of the playoffs last season to the Atlanta Dream, finishing the regular season with a 16-18 record, after two seasons of not qualifying for the playoffs. Loyd said the early exit from the playoffs will motivate the team this year.
“If you’re a competitor, any loss pushes you through and kind of motivates you for every game, every practice, every rep, and that’s definitely something that has been on my mind this whole time off, kind of, and thinking about that, like what could’ve happened differently, was it something energy-wise or stuff like that,” Loyd said. “So, I think that loss definitely kind of fueled our whole team just to get better in the offseason.”
Loyd joined the Storm at the same time as head coach Jenny Boucek — something she said aided her transition to the WNBA.
“Seattle has done a great job of making sure that everyone who comes into Seattle felt love and comfort,” Loyd said. “And that comes from our owners, our GMs, everyone. They made sure that everyone who comes in our program is taken care of, so, right away Jenny and I just had a good relationship. We sat down and talked early on in the season, got to know each other a little bit better. We kind of came into this journey together, so it made it easier, I think, just because we both started together.”
The Storm lineup is stacked, to say the least. Loyd plays alongside a squad of veterans, headlined by Sue Bird, and former UConn forward Breanna Stewart, who is coming off a strong rookie season. However, Loyd said the Storm is able to balance the individual talent and make a cohesive unit.
“The great thing about our team is that no one is really selfish and we like to cheer each other on and we’re the biggest cheerleaders for our team,” Loyd said. “I think that’s very evident when we play. We like sharing the ball, we like letting everyone score, so it’s very easy on our team. No one lets their pride get in the way. It’s just really a family on our team.”
While the Storm did not have a first round draft pick this season, Loyd said before the draft that she expects any player who joins their ranks to be a talented one and a player who gives her all every day.
“Whoever comes to camp, this is for everyone, not just people coming to our camp, they’d just better be ready because it’s a total different transition,” Loyd said. “You want to compete, you want to see girls compete and these last couple years, the game has changed, so it’s so much more talented. Girls coming in here are so much more athletic and ready to change the game, so you just want to see good competition come up in the next couple draft classes.”
Lindsay Allen was drafted 14th overall by the New York Liberty — the second pick of the second round. Achonwa said before the draft that she thought Allen deserved to be selected in the first round. She thought the team that ended up with Allen would be a very lucky one.
“I mentioned this the other day on Twitter, but I mentioned that I think any team that picks up Lindsay Allen should be very grateful,” Achonwa said. “That kind of calm demeanor that she has, the smart, intelligent player that she is, and someone had said, ‘well, what about the Fever pick?’ I think we have pick 17 and I said, ‘As much as I’d like her in a Fever jersey, I think she deserves to be in the first round.’ I mean, I’d love to have her on our team, but I really think she deserves to be a first round draft pick.”
While Allen did ultimately fall to the second round, McBride said Allen would eventually exceed all expectations anyone might have once she starts playing professional basketball.
“I’m really excited for [Allen]. She was obviously my point guard when I was a senior and to see how much she’s grown in in her four years at Notre Dame is really special,” McBride said. “She’s not one to talk about herself, but I think her growth and her ability to take advantage and do things as well as she did, and continue to do them and continue to grow every single year at Notre Dame, that was really special.
“But, I think at the next level, she’s going to be more successful than a lot of people think because I think [Irish head coach Muffet] McGraw does a really good job, and [associate head coach] Niele Ivey, they do a really good job at getting players ready for that next step. Especially during your senior year. So, I know that she’s going to be a lot more ready than a lot of people think.”