June 23, 2020 

One-and-done: WNBA first-round picks who left league after rookie season

Nine elite players from the last decade who spent their draft years in the WNBA before moving on

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In the rough-and-tumble job application process that is making a WNBA roster, being selected in the first round isn’t just an indicator of past success, but also a massive leg up when final cuts arrive. As it stands, most first-round picks are all but guaranteed a spot on their team’s opening-day roster, extenuating circumstances aside.

But what happens after cracking the final 12? And what happens after that first season?

The vast majority of the 120 first-round picks from the last decade didn’t just make their teams, but also played in the WNBA for several years (or are, of course, still in the league). But a handful of the most talented college players in the country didn’t stay in the league past their rookie seasons, if they played a full season at all.

While their prolific college careers got them well-earned recognition on draft day, these nine first-round picks found success elsewhere — as players, coaches and off the court — after their short time on a WNBA roster was up.

Evelyn Akhator (No. 3 overall pick, 2017)

The Nigerian post needed just two years of Division I basketball to prove her worth as a first-round pick. As a senior at Kentucky, Akhator averaged 15.9 points and 10.8 rebounds in 31.5 minutes per game.

At the 2017 WNBA Draft, the Dallas Wings were interested in what Akhator had to offer, taking her third overall behind the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer Kelsey Plum and national champion Alaina Coates. But an ankle injury derailed her progress early, and she ended up playing in just 15 games all season, averaging less than a point a game. The Wings waived Akhator prior to the 2018 season, and the Chicago Sky did the same in 2019.

But Akhator has made a name for herself around the world in spite of her WNBA dream not coming to fruition. Last summer, she led Nigeria to the AfroBasket title, then she spent the 2019-20 season with French team Flammes Carolo (which has re-signed her for 2020-21), where she led the team in scoring and rebounding.

Tori Jankoska (No. 9 overall pick, 2017)

Jankoska left Michigan State with 2,212 points (the first Spartan to break 2,000), 320 made 3-pointers (program record), 478 made free throws (program record) and a long list of other top-five all-time performances. Her senior season, she averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and her all-around dominance led to her notching Michigan State’s third-ever triple-double that February.

But her WNBA career was practically over before it began. While Jankoska made the Chicago Sky’s opening-day roster, she didn’t play in the regular-season opener and was waived the next day.

Jankoska played with Poland’s Arka Gdynia for the 2017-18 season, where she averaged 12.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists, before turning to coaching. She spent 2018-19 as the Director of Recruiting Operations and Player Personnel at Maryland, then joined former Michigan State associate head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton’s staff as an assistant coach at Missouri State in 2019.

Crystal Bradford (No. 7 overall pick, 2015)

One of Central Michigan’s best ever, Bradford left as the Chippewas’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder — like Jankoska, the only player in her program’s history to break 2,000 points — as well as No. 1 in made field goals and blocked shots.

Bradford made history as the first — and still only — player from Central Michigan to be selected in the WNBA Draft, where the Los Angeles Sparks picked her seventh overall. She didn’t sign with the Sparks until July, but she made her debut almost immediately and played in 15 games. In 9.4 minutes per game, Bradford averaged 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds.

Since her stint in the WNBA, Bradford has played for a variety of teams overseas, most recently Israel’s Maccabi Bnot Ashdod in 2019-20. This June, she was named the 2020 All-Israeli League Player of the Year, Forward of the Year and Import Player of the Year after leading her team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks.

Samantha Logic (No. 10 overall pick, 2015)

Before Sabrina Ionescu’s triple-double mastery captivated the nation, Logic’s six career triple-doubles were the second-most in NCAA women’s history during her time at Iowa. Her college career also saw her become the first player in NCAA history to notch 1,500 points, 800 rebounds, 800 assists and 200 steals.

Logic was drafted by the Atlanta Dream, but after appearing in four games she was traded to the San Antonio Stars, where she played in 23 games. Despite averaging 12.7 minutes per game her rookie year, she never quite made her mark on the stat sheet, averaging 1.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game on 24% shooting.

Since her departure from the WNBA, Logic has found her college groove again. Along with a stop with her home-state Wisconsin GLO in 2019, she’s played in France, Australia, Austria and Slovakia before she landed with Luxembourg’s Residence de Walferdange in 2019, where she’s signed to play through 2021. Last season, she averaged 27.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals per game and earned a spot on the All-Luxembourg Second Team.

A’dia Mathies (No. 10 overall pick, 2013)

A two-time All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year and two-time finalist for the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy, Mathies’ 2019 induction into the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame was an all but expected honor.

Drafted by the Sparks in 2013, Mathies’ pro career, though laden with experience, didn’t reflect this dominance. She appeared in 30 games for Los Angeles and averaged 2.3 points in 9.2 minutes per game.

After the WNBA, Mathies played for a variety of overseas teams, most recently Poland’s Arka Gdynia in 2015. She also coached the girls’ basketball team at her alma mater, Iroquois High School, during the 2016-17 season.

Natalie Novosel (No. 8 overall pick, 2012)

Novosel’s junior and senior seasons at Notre Dame were instrumental in raising her WNBA draft stock. She averaged over 15 points, 4 rebounds and nearly 2 assists per game in each, along with starting all 39 games in both seasons. At the end of her career, she appeared in six Fighting Irish statistical top-ten lists.

Drafted by the Washington Mystics, Novosel found nearly 10 minutes of playing time in each of 31 games she appeared in, but averaged just 3.2 points and 1.3 rebounds. The Mystics waived her before the start of the 2013 season.

Novosel played pro basketball in Italy and Australia, most recently in 2017-18 with the WNBL’s Adelaide Lightning. Now, she’s a marketing director at World Financial Group in her home state of Kentucky.

Ta’Shia Phillips (No. 8 overall pick, 2011)

Phillips was extremely consistent throughout her career at Xavier, starting all but one game and averaging a double-double in each of her four seasons. She was a three-time Wooden Award finalist, a three-time All-Atlantic 10 First Team pick and a two-time Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year, among many more honors.

Drafted four spots after fellow Musketeer Amber Harris, Phillips’ WNBA career ended up being rather fragmented. She averaged 5.4 minutes in 10 games with the Mystics, then signed with the New York Liberty, where in five games she saw the court for less than four minutes per game.

After a brief overseas playing career, Phillips turned to coaching. Most recently, she was an assistant coach at Indianapolis, during which time she earned her master’s degree in strategic leadership and design. Now, she works at the NCAA as the Assistant Director of Academic and Membership Affairs.

Chanel Mokango (No. 9 overall pick, 2010)

In two solid seasons at Mississippi State, Mokango was able to show off her range to the tune of 11 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, while also making 20 three-pointers. Her junior season block total of 97 set a school record, and during her senior season, she was part of what was then the Lady Bulldogs’ most successful team in history.

Mokango was drafted by the Atlanta Dream, but the team waived her prior to the start of the season. The Sparks picked up Mokango on June 1, 2010 and she played 21 games for them, averaging just 3.4 minutes per contest.

After the WNBA, Mokango embarked a lengthy international career that most recently saw her play for Hungary’s Aluinvent DVTK Miskolc during the 2018-19 season. In both 2017 and 2019, she represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo at FIBA Women’s AfroBasket, which saw the team place ninth and sixth, respectively.

Alison Lacey (No. 10 overall pick, 2010)

Lacey’s Cyclones career was highlighted by becoming the first player in school history to notch 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists as well as the second-ever Cyclone to register a triple-double; and by leading Iowa State to four NCAA Tournament appearances.

To this day, Lacey is the only first-round draft pick in Iowa State history. But despite being drafted by the eventual WNBA-champion Seattle Storm, her contributions were limited to 6.9 minutes in each of 21 games.

After a short playing career in her native Australia, Lacey married T.J. Otzelberger, who was an assistant coach at Iowa State during her time there. She was briefly the head women’s basketball coach at Iowa’s Marshalltown Community College, but when Otzelberger accepted a coaching job at Washington, she left the position. The two now live with their family in Las Vegas, where Otzelberger is the head men’s basketball coach at UNLV.

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