Three of the most highly coveted WNBA prospects in recent memory are showcasing their skills in the NCAA.
The hype surrounding the 2013 WNBA Draft class – which includes three game-changing prospects in Baylor’s Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins, all currently playing for their respective colleges – is at an all-time high as all three have the potential to immediately positively impact a franchise. WNBA.com will update you with what each of these players is doing for their respective schools as it's never to early for WNBA fans to start following some of the future stars of this league.
What better time to start our weekly series covering some of the nation's best college seniors than the day after Brittney Griner's Baylor squad took on Skylar Diggins' Notre Dame team on national TV. While many are already looking ahead to this summer's WNBA Draft, it is the budding rivalry between these two stars that will be one of the biggest subplots this winter during the 2012-13 NCAA season. Baylor beat Notre Dame in the National Championship last year, and it did so again on Wednesday night, but many think Griner and Diggins could be on a collision course for another meeting deep in the NCAA Tournament this year. For those that like good basketball, we can only hope.
We're over a month into the 2012-13 NCAA season, so here is a glimpse at what these three superstars have been up to on campus.
12/9 vs. Princeton, 2PM ET: Listen
12/20 vs. Maryland, 7PM ET: Listen
12/22 at Monmouth, 3PM ET: Listen
Elena Delle Donne has only suited up once this year as she battles Lyme's Disease, which she initially contracted in 2008. She suffered through it again two years ago and this year Delle Donne again exhibited symptoms about a week before the start of the season. It is an energy issue for her and she is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis. There is no timetable for her return.
The one game in which she did play, she was effective, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 27 minutes in the teams 64-46 win over Providence on Nov. 20. Delle Donne, who took the Blue Hens to their first-ever NCAA Tournament last year, is an irreplaceable piece in Delaware's quest for another record-setting season.
"It was really hard (watching from the bench). I knew I couldn't be out there, but I wanted to be really badly. I felt the team was lacking a leader a little bit. Just coming back and maybe not even being full force but being a leader to them. I think it gives them confidence and helps them play a little better."
12/8 vs. Utah State, 12PM ET: Live Video
12/19 vs. Alabama A&M, 6PM ET: Listen
12/29 vs. Purdue, 2PM ET: Live Video
While Skylar Diggins' statistics may not be eye-popping, she has certainly drawn the attention of many fans, most notably rapper Lil Wayne (see below). The 22 year-old is a pop culture icon, and, in what is today's true test of popularity, Diggins has over 280,000 followers on Twitter.
Aside from her off-the-court appeal, the 5-foot-9 point guard is a proven winner with a track record of being able to fluidly run an offense. In Notre Dame's recent loss to Baylor, she dished out seven assists. She can also score when asked to, as evidenced by her 25-point outburst on Nov. 29 versus Central Michigan.
What They're Saying:
This passage appears in the Associated Press recap of the Baylor-Notre Dame game, proving Diggin's pop culture popularity:
"Lil Wayne showed up at halftime to cheer for Diggins and her teammates, with Diggins walking over to shake his hand at his front-row seat after a timeout. In the front row at the other end were members of the top-ranked Fighting Irish football team, who cheered loudly throughout."
12/12 vs. Oral Roberts, 7PM ET: Listen
12/18 vs. Tennessee, 8PM ET: Listen
12/29 at Southeastern Louisiana, 8PM ET: Live Video
The pre-eminent player in maybe all of women's basketball right now, Griner, as one would expect, is off to a hot start. Baylor, however, did somewhat surprisingly suffer it's first loss in 42 games when it lost to Stanford, 71-69, on Nov. 16. In that game, Baylor played the last 35 minutes without preseason All-American Odyssey Sims who left with an injury, but Griner carried the team, scoring 18 of her 22 points in the second half. The 6-foot-8 center, however, missed a turnaround shot at the buzzer that would have tied the game. Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike, younger sister of fellow Cardinal alum and 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike (L.A. Sparks), scored 18 points in the game.
While college basketball fans are not used to seeing Griner lose, they are used to seeing her dunk, and in Baylor's very next game, Griner dunked for the eighth time in her college career -- passing Candace Parker for the NCAA record. It is this kind of incomparable talent that separates Griner from the rest of the pack.
What They're Saying:
Griner told this to ESPN.com when asked about Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma's extremely complimentary comments about her:
"It's definitely humbling. I don't know. I don't say that I'm the best in the country, because I always criticize myself so hard. There are so many things I can say are wrong with my game, and someone can sit there and say, "Well no, this, this and this are good." I'm just hard on myself."
*All stats for games played on or before December 5, 2012.
Last week, Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University courageously took the floor for her first college game, refusing to let an inoperable brain tumor keep her from achieving her dream – and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.