Notre Dame roster boasts top WNBA prospects in 5 record-setting starters
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, April 5, 2019
Five players. Ten thousand points. One shattered record.
On Monday, Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Brianna Turner and Jackie Young became the first-ever group of starters in NCAA Division I basketball — men’s or women’s — to score 10,000 career collegiate points, as they now sit at 10,070 as a unit.
The Irish starting five is a veteran crew, made up of three seniors in Mabrey, Ogunbowale and Shepard, a graduate student in Turner and a junior in Young. The four oldest will certainly enter the WNBA Draft following the conclusion of this season, and are currently projected to go in the first and second rounds, with some potentially slipping to the high third round. Young, however, has a decision to make. Projected as a top-10 pick, she also has her senior year and final season of eligibility at Notre Dame in front of her, if she chooses to use it.
On Tuesday, ESPN analysts Kara Lawson and LaChina Robinson, as well as WNBA coaches Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx, Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Sparks, Katie Smith of the New York Liberty and Bill Laimbeer of the Los Vegas Aces joined a call to discuss various draft prospects’ stock in Wednesday’s draft.
Marina Mabrey — 5-foot-11; senior; guard; Belmar, New Jersey
Mabrey is Notre Dame’s all-time 3-point shot record-holder, with 267 treys. Mabrey has fought off occasional injuries this season, missing the first few games of the season due to a leg injury and hyperextending her knee before the start of the NCAA tournament.
After moving to the point 2018, Mabrey’s assists per game average rose from 3.4 to 4.4, which was good for seventh-best in the ACC that season. She also averaged 2.1 steals per game and 2.6 per game in the ACC.
“I think she’ll probably be [drafted] the latter of the three [Notre Dame guards] in terms of where she’ll get picked, just because there’s so much depth in this draft at the guard position,” Robinson said of Mabrey. “She did start to play more point guard as her career went on, but she’s not a natural point guard. But her shooting ability is really second to none.”
“She’s been a tremendous shooter from long range, and that can be an asset to any team. I can’t tell you the number of WNBA teams I see every year where they insert that 11th or 12th player in that can be a spark from long range or that can stretch the defense.”
ESPN’s most recent mock draft has Mabrey going to Chicago with the 27th pick — the third pick of the third round.
Arike Ogunbowale — 5-foot-8; senior; guard; Milwaukee
If you’re reading this and the name Arike Ogunbowale doesn’t at least ring a bell, it’s probably time for a quick Google search. Ogunbowale has been a dominant force for the Irish since her freshman year, but ascended to instant international fame last season when she hit not one, but two game-winning, improbable shots to defeat UConn in overtime of the Final Four and again to win the national championship.
However, Ogunbowale’s talent extends beyond the buzzer-beaters.
The senior became Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer this season, dethroning Skylar Diggins-Smith. She was named an AP Second-Team All-American both this season and last, and was named First-Team All-ACC for the second season in a row this year.
She has scored double-digit points in all but one game this season and has proven her ability to come through when it matters, coming up with a career-high 34 points in the Sweet 16 against Texas A&M.
“I love Arike. She’s in the conversation for the No. 1 pick in my book. She’s tough,” Lawson said of Ogunbowale. “She’s physical. She’s got great range. She’s excellent in transition. She can create her own shot. She’s become a better passer. I like her as much as I like any prospect in this draft.”
Laimbeer, whose Aces have the top pick, however, is unsure she warrants the No. 1 spot.
“Arike is a solid scorer, big-shot player, obviously. At No. 1? It’s probably a stretch,” he said. “Again, I’m waiting and talking to people. I need a guard, and if I get some deals, we’ll move down. How far down is open for debate. But yeah, she’s a quality player, and I’d like to have her on my basketball team. I’m just not sure what’s going to happen in the first round of the draft.”
“The guards in this draft are solid. Similar, you know, talent levels, different skill sets, like they’re different,” Smith said. “Like [Louisville senior Asia] Durr and Arike, those guys, [Ogunbowale] is a little bit more of a put your head down and go. Durr is a little bit more finesse and methodical, but I think they’re really, really good guards and they’ll be really good pros. It’s a little bit of a toss up. … I like the guards and what they do and kind of their ability to score at all levels. Obviously looking for them to play a little more defense at the next level. I know they have to be on the floor in the college game, but I think they’re really talented.”
Ogunbowale is projected to go at No. 9 overall to Los Angeles, but that depends largely on what the teams ahead of her decide on and whether Laimbeer decides to keep the No. 1 pick.
Jessica Shepard — 6-foot-4; senior; forward; Fremont, Nebraska
Shepard transferred to Notre Dame as a junior and, due to the vast injuries the Irish sustained as a unit last season, was granted immediate eligibility to play. And it’s largely due to her that the squad won a national championship.
She scored 594 points, averaging 15.6 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. However, this season, Shepard has put last season’s performance to shame, averaging a double-double with 16.8 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game.
“I think [Shepard] gets left out of the conversation so often and is often under-appreciated. Her basketball IQ is what separates her, and her passing ability at the WNBA level would be very much appreciated,” Robinson said. “Defensively, the speed of the game could be a little quick for Shepard. Even though we’ve seen her make a physical transformation this year, I think she would need to continue to just improve in her overall game speed. Though every player coming from the college level, I’m sure, will have to make adjustments in those areas.”
One concern Robinson has about the 6-foot-4 senior is where she fits in on a WNBA roster, as it is notoriously hard to make it as a true forward, which is what her game is best suited for.
“It’s tough for Jess because we are talking a lot about 5s or centers that are 6-foot-7 right now, 6-foot-8. When you look across the WNBA, it’s hard for any 5 that doesn’t have good size, though we do have teams in the league that go small like a Seattle,” she said. “But at the 4 spot, it’s just, again, as I mentioned earlier in this call, just a tough spot for anyone to make it. That’s where she translates best.”
Shepard is projected to go to Katie Smith’s New York Liberty as the second pick of the second round, the 14th pick overall.
Brianna Turner — 6-foot-3; graduate student; forward; Pearland, Texas
After missing last season’s national championship run while recovering from a torn ACL, Turner has returned to the court as a force to be reckoned with.
Where Turner truly excels is on the defensive side of the ball, being named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, a junior and as a graduate student.
She has recorded 103 blocks this season and 42 steals, as well as 278 rebounds. She has also been extremely efficient around the rim, shooting 64.6% from the floor.
After defeating Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 for the second-consecutive season, Aggies head coach Gary Blair was quick to point out that Turner was the difference between this season’s Notre Dame squad and last season’s.
“I have been very impressed with what we’ve seen from Brianna Turner throughout this season. When you think about her coming off an injury and how she really has not had time to develop over her career at Notre Dame — she’s had shoulder injuries, so almost every summer she’s rehabbing,” Robinson said. “So her development, her upside is tremendous. She’s getting up and down the floor very well despite coming off of that injury. We’re seeing her shot-blocking ability. Defensively, she’s solid. But she’s also as of late gotten the ball in some one-on-one situations in the post and been able to make the most of it. That’s where I think she’ll have to grow the most for the WNBA, just getting the ball in isolation situations and being able to make plays there.
“But as a slasher, especially with the great guard play in the WNBA and how she can catch alley-oop passes and have good finishing around the rim, she gets with the right team, she can make a major impact. Very long. Her physical dimensions help her as well.”
At 6-foot-3, Turner’s length works in her favor and her defensive capabilities are what set her apart for the analysts.
“I love Turner. I think she’s ready right now defensively. I think she could be someone’s backup big and really flourish because she can switch on the different players and ball-screen action,” Lawson said. “She’s got great length. She can run the court well. If you keep things simple for her in terms of what her responsibilities are on the offensive end, then she can come in and really help you defensively. So I like her a lot.”
Turner is projected to go to Cheryl Reeve’s Lynx as the eighth pick of the second round and 20th pick overall.
Jackie Young — 6-foot; junior; guard; Princeton, Indiana
Young came out of high school the all-time leading scorer in Indiana state history, men’s or women’s. So it was just a matter of time before she broke through and found her niche at the collegiate level.
As it turns out, her niche is all facets of the game. Over the course of the past few months, Young has burst onto the scene, taking more shots with more confidence (and making them), controlling the offense and grabbing rebounds.
She has recorded two triple-doubles this season alone, etching her name into the Irish history books and her 545 points so far this year are just six short of a career high, averaging 15.1 per game this season. Young is also averaging 7.4 rebounds per game.
With Young coming up big when it counts — she was named ACC Tournament MVP and exploded in the second half of the Elite Eight against Stanford on Monday — she has a big decision to make: Does the junior stay or does she go?
“I think Jackie Young would benefit from another year if she decided to stay. Kind of what we’re seeing now, her willingness to take over a game, I think Jackie is just scratching the surface,” Robinson said. “It’s such a strong senior group for Notre Dame, she’s allowed them to take the lead in a lot of ways. But like we saw even [Monday], you can put the ball in her hands and she can make plays. So I think continuing to see more of that. You will have to see more of that next year because Notre Dame is going to lose a lot of their points and rebounds in their senior class. She’ll be thrust even more so into the limelight and in position where you see how she performs in big pressure situations but also with a supporting cast that just isn’t as talented.
“Now, will she have that to deal with in the WNBA? No. But I think we’ll continue to see different facets of her game.”
Robinson continued on to say that she felt the area of Young’s game that could use the most growth is her 3-point shooting. The 6-foot junior has only taken 29 shots from 3 this season, making 13 of them.
“I think Muffet [McGraw] has asked her to [shoot 3s] more often as the season has gone on, and she’ll look at it,” Robinson said. “She doesn’t look very comfortable from long range, and … I think her comfort from 3-point land would only improve her stock. She can do that even if she enters the WNBA, but I definitely think that’s something if she stayed that I would love to continue to see her grow in.”
Whether or not Young enters the draft changes the conversation for number of teams further down the draft board, Robinson said. Because she is projected at such a high pick, she has the ability to push very strong talent, like Ogunbowale, deeper into the round. Meaning the teams at the back half of the top 10 are keeping their fingers crossed for Young and Ionescu to throw their hats into the ring.
“I think the impact is that it completely changes it because Ionescu and Young are in the conversation at the top. Maybe not for the 1 for Young, but it could be. So I think it changes everything,” Robinson said. “The thing it changes the most, I think, is how happy teams are if they both come in that are maybe at seven or eight or nine or 10, because the more players there are in the draft, the more it pushes talent down the board. Those two players are in the conversation in the top five in my opinion, and to me one or both of them entering the draft changes the whole draft.”
The WNBA Draft will take place in New York on Wednesday and the first round will air on ESPN2 beginning at 7 p.m.