The WNBA will have a significant presence at next weekend’s NBA All-Star festivities beyond the “Stephen vs. Sabrina” 3-Point Challenge on Saturday night. Get the details on when and how to catch your WNBA faves, in addition to other developments in women’s basketball.
A’ja to coach, while Tash and Jewell to play, in NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
WNBA players will be on the sideline and court for the Ruffles All-Star Celebrity Game.
2023 Finals MVP A’ja Wilson will join noted LSU Lady Tigers’ fan Lil Wayne as an assistant coach for Stephen A. Smith and Team Stephen A.
Playing for A’ja and Team Stephen A. will be one of the newest members of the Phoenix Mercury, Natasha Cloud. On the other side will be Jewell Loyd of the ascendant Seattle Storm, with the 2023 WNBA scoring champion suiting up for Shannon Sharpe’s Team Shannon.
Watch A’ja, Tash and Jewell on Friday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Catchings to lead Team Tamika of NBA Rising Stars
Catchings, who selected second in a snake draft with Gasol and Rose, compiled a roster with notable women’s basketball connections. With her first selection, Catchings chose the son of Rhonda Banchero, the Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero. Rhonda was star at Washington in the early 1990s, finishing her four seasons as a Husky as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Her record stood until some gal named Kelsey Plum came along. Banchero also played in the ABL for the Seattle Reign and Portland Power before spending one season with the Sacramento Monarchs in the WNBA.
With her second pick, Catchings drafted the son of Niele Ivey, the Detroit Pistons’ Jaden Ivey. Niele, of course, is the head coach of Notre Dame, who, after winning a title with the Fighting Irish in 2001, played five seasons in the WNBA. Playing four of her five seasons for the Fever, Ivey overlapped with Catchings for three of those seasons.
Catchings also selected the brother of Crystal Henderson, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Scoot Henderson. Crystal, who starred at Atlanta’s Kell High School, is a freshman at Georgia State. She has started 22 games for the Panthers, averaging 11.8 points and 4.2 assists in 30.8 minutes per game. The 5-foot-5 guard posted her most productive game of the season in 40 minutes against Troy at the end of 2023; she finished with a season-high 24 points and seven assists in the Panthers’ one-point victory.
See Catchings coach Rhonda’s and Niele’s sons and Crystal’s brother at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 16 on TNT.
Team USA beats Belgium at the buzzer, cruises past Nigeria
Head coach Cheryl Reeve said the USA Olympic Qualifying Tournament Team would “be in a really tough environment” in their opening game against host Belgium at the FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Antwerp.
Reeve proved prescient, as Team USA needed a buzzer beating tip in from Breanna Stewart off a Kelsey Plum miss to escape with a two-point win, 81-79, in front of a record crowd.
At halftime, the US trailed the Belgians by nine points, bedeviled by an inability to hit a single 3-pointer. Belgium maintained a nine-point advantage entering the fourth, when the Americans’ hustle finally was accompanied by some made shots. After a scoring spurt by Napheesa Collier, who led Team USA with 23 points, Plum recovered a loose ball and found Stewart. She then fired the rock to Sabrina Ionescu, who drained a 3 to knot the game at 68. It was back and from from there, until the final two of Stewart’s eight points gave the US the victory.
The result, however, was not without controversy, as Albert Lee details at Bullets Forever. Video evidence suggests Plum stepped out of bounds before missing the shot attempt that Stewart would tip in for the win.
Stewart played a team-high 31 minutes, while Collier and Plum each played more than 24 minutes. Team USA newbies Aliyah Boston and Rhyne Howard did not see the court for the Americans. Julie Vanloo, who recently signed a training with the Washington Mystics, led the Belgian Cats with 19 points. Albert also recapped the action at Bullets Forever, focusing on Vanloo.
On Friday, the Americans encountered little stress or drama. Reeve used the game against Nigeria, which Team USA won with ease, 100-46, to experiment with rotational combinations, going with a starting lineup of Plum, Collier, Boston, Ariel Atkins and Jackie Young. In her first official Senior National Team action, Boston finished with two made free throws and three rebounds in more than 23 minutes. Howard, who also made her first official appearance, caught fire from 3 in her almost 18 minutes of time; she went 4-for-8 from behind the arc on her way to 14 points.
All Americans saw action, except for the wizened Diana Taurasi. Jewell Loyd scored a team-high 18 points in less than 17 minutes.
Tomorrow, Team USA completes the three-game qualifying tournament against Senegal. Look for an analysis of that game and the Americans’ entire experience in Antwerp on Monday. Cierra Dillard, who starred a Buffalo from 2017 to 2019 and was selected by the Minnesota Lynx in second round of the 2019 WNBA Draft, plays for Senegal.
It’s been excellent to see A’ja Wilson everywhere, promoting her new book Dear Black Girls: How to Be True to You. We’ve seen the two-time MVP and back-to-back champion on ABC News, The View and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and Vice President Kamala Harris, among others, also have praised Wilson’s words.
Also be sure to revisit our Zachary Draves’ interview with A’ja about her book.