December 22, 2023 

The Next staff picks: Top stories and podcasts of 2023

Whether it be college, pro or international hoops, our writers reflect on a year of work in women's basketball

For our staff, 2023 has been a year of growth and diligent storytelling, of seeking out not just the whos and whats, but the hows and whys of the women’s basketball ecosystem. To cap off 2023, The Next‘s staff have selected their favorite stories, projects and podcasts to highlight and celebrate an exciting and groundbreaking year at every level of the sport.

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The Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) celebrated its 45th anniversary, and The Next there with them, amplifying their triumphs and accomplishments along the way. From Seattle to Maine and even Toronto, our reporters delivered 1,163 stories from homecourts around the world straight to your inboxes. 

2023 was also a year of new beginnings. We developed new columns and shows, learning and developing our craft every step of the way. On Locked On Women’s Basketball, we searched far and wide to bring you the voices and stories that are at the heart of our sport. All the while, we fostered new partnerships with fellow sports sites The Equalizer and The Ice Garden, bolstering both our community and our longevity.

We are able to do all of this work, even at its most challenging, because of your continued support. For that, our thanks is immeasurable. We hope to see you in 2024, and can’t wait to see what we create together.


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Staff picks: Top stories of the year

Live reporting

LSU stuns, builds legacy in program’s first championship
Gabriella Lewis

“In January, Seimone Augustus was honored with a statue in front of the school’s auditorium, something that Mulkey spearheaded. She is the first woman athlete ever to have a statue at LSU. Augustus was at both games in Dallas celebrating with the team.

“‘Having [Augustus] here winning the natty, what more can you ask for?’ [Sa’Myah Smith] told The Next postgame.”

Staff notes: The run of coverage Gabriella put together over the previous SEC season was incredibly impressive. She followed not just LSU but every team in the SEC through to their respective ends, and it really shows in this final story. For the Tigers big victory, she delivers some of the best executed live and in-the-moment reporting of the year. It’s sharp, honest, and informed by the season’s worth of work she had put in.

Inside the Indiana Fever’s 2024 WNBA Draft lottery win — and what’s next
Tony East

“[Lin Dunn] shared that she wasn’t nervous. [Lexie Hull] very clearly was, though. She was gripping the sides of her chair and rocking back and forth, eager to see the upcoming result. There was a lot at stake for the Indiana Fever.”

Staff notes: Few moments are as likely to resonate for the women’s basketball landscape like this one, and Tony took us inside the experience. Tony’s covered some struggling Fever teams. That’s about to change, it appears.

Sights and sounds from NCAA Tournament’s First Four
Alex Simon

“With each challenge comes an opportunity. And, in the NCAA Tournament’s first week, the First Four is the only guaranteed time where the entire women’s basketball world gets to focus on one game.”

Staff notes: Alex’s keen attention to detail matches perfectly for this story, which included firsts for so many people involved. It was a perfect opener for our NCAA tournament coverage. In his words, it was a deep dive “into a thing that only The Next would do.”

Diana Taurasi becomes first player in WNBA history to score 10,000 points
Aya Abdeen

“Ahead of Thursday’s home game against the Atlanta Dream, the Mercury put a placard on every seat preemptively congratulating Taurasi … The team also brought in baby goats — a play on the acronym G.O.A.T., for “greatest of all time” — for players and fans to interact with.”

Staff notes: It would have been easy to write this article and skip over the presence of the live goats and what they represented — but Aya was bright enough to acknowledge the importance and the humor of this, accompanied by video clip from Jesse Morrison (whose clip with the goats should be recognized as a great clip in its own right).  Great job incorporating quotes and the relevant history for the milestone.


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A look back at Sue Bird’s jersey retirement ceremony
Rowan Schaberg

“Bird’s ceremony clocked in around two hours and fifty minutes, reportedly the longest retirement celebration of any professional basketball player, which was fitting for Bird, the player with the longest career in the history of the WNBA.”

Staff notes: How do you take nearly 3 hours of quotations and fan-fare and convert it into a reasonable length, when the one-liners of the day were endless?!  Rowan selected really great quotes from a variety of sources including Sue Bird‘s sister, Swin Cash, Lauren Jackson, and of course Sue herself.  Impressive undertaking considering the event lasted 3x as long as expected and was filled with emotions – all captured in the article.

‘A wonderful thing to witness’: Washington Mystics induct the late Nikki McCray-Penson into Hall of Fame
Jenn Hatfield

“Holdsclaw talked about admiring McCray-Penson growing up, then playing alongside her and how the two stars always held each other accountable. They’d say what needed to be said, then go get dinner in Georgetown together.

“Even as a pro, Holdsclaw said, ‘I would just follow her.'”

Staff notes: When I read this over again, I teared up. There’s something so moving about how Jenn structured this story. The opening also made the story pop and evoked the celebratory emotion associated with a jersey retirement. Jenn’s moment to moment play-by-play of when Nikki McCray-Penson’s jersey was actually let into the rafters made me feel like I was there. That’s what great writing often does.

Features

Ohemaa Nyanin is the New York Liberty’s ‘Ms. Make-it Happen’
Jackie Powell

“Once Kolb and Nyanin connected on the phone for the first time, it was clear that Nyanin’s experience working with athletes at different stages of their careers would allow her to help him build the Liberty organization back up again after years of uncertainty and underinvestment. She would come into the WNBA with relationships with some of the best young players in the country.”

Staff notes: It’s inspiring to learn about how Nyanin became the backbone for the Liberty, who advanced to its first WNBA Finals in 21 years. Jackie’s work is always so chock full of detail, but here, those details really amplify just how much Nyanin has done for the Liberty behind the scenes.

Fueled by a passion for the game, Tykera Carter helps WNBA achieve new highs across digital platforms
Rob Knox

“Of course, once the bright lights flicked off, Carter was back to her social media grind, bringing fans all the player stories, personalities and unique sounds that deepened engagement of the Liberty’s Commissioner’s Cup victory. Her love and passion for women’s basketball shine brightly in everything she does.”

Staff notes: This feature is just one example of the great work Rob has done highlighting the people behind the WNBA’s recent growth. He does a great job introducing readers to Carter by pointing out where they may have already seen the impact of her work.


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How a DM on Instagram got one of the Pac-12’s best 3-point shooters to Colorado
Matthew Walter

“College basketball is filled with international players. How these student-athletes end up at their respective schools is different in every case … However, for Colorado junior Frida Formann, her recruitment to Boulder started slightly differently than most other international recruits. A middle of the night DM on Instagram from head coach JR Payne.”

Staff notes: This is still one of the most unique stories I can recall from the year, and really shows how much care and detail Matthew puts into each story. From his work with the Aces to the WCC and Pac-12, he’s added so much to our coverage. In as uncertain a time as the present for the Pac-12, Matthew’s focus on the players always centers their perspective.

During a trying month, Natasha Cloud adapts as Mystics’ leader
Jenn Hatfield

“As the Mystics have fought through that emotional fatigue, Cloud has recognized that her typical ‘rah-rah’ leadership style — passionate and vocal — isn’t always resonating with her teammates … So Cloud has had to embrace more of her ‘water side,’ the quieter and more nurturing side of her, to lift up her teammates. The catch-22, though, is that Cloud plays best individually when she is fired up. ‘My rah-rah makes me who I am,’ she said after Friday’s game against the Las Vegas Aces.”

Staff notes: Jenn perfectly positioned this story and dove into an area of basketball coverage we don’t always get. Her storytelling wove the pieces of the Mystics’ season and how Cloud balanced the multifaceted levels of leadership.

How Lisa Thomas grew from well-rounded athlete to well-rounded human
Kiri Oler

“When sports choose to exclude women, they simply take their talents elsewhere. In the ‘70s there existed a clear progression for woman athletes wanting to pursue a professional career in tennis. As Thomas points out, the overlapping skill set between tennis and basketball implies that those who excel at tennis, likely also possess an aptitude for basketball. But why play basketball when there’s no future for you in the sport?”

Staff notes: Kiri’s unique storytelling was a perfect contribution to our WBL coverage and this first story is the perfect showcase of it. Her work around Title IX is meticulously well-researched, all while perfectly tying in the personal and emotional sides.

How Teri Moren built the Indiana powerhouse: an oral history
Eric Rynston-Lobel

“So what makes Moren such a talented coach? How did she build up the program to be among the best in the country? What’re the secrets behind the success? Those who’ve spent the most time around her, her players and staff, share their thoughts.”

Staff notes: There is no better person to tap for a Big Ten oral history than Eric. He has covered the league so consistently and with so much care, and that really shows in this piece. He spoke to a wide range of current and former Hoosiers to create, as one of our readers put it, “one of the most thorough accounts of what Coach Moren & staff are building here in Bloomington … that I have read.”


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Through Kenny Brooks, the strongest branch in Lefty Driesell’s coaching tree is in women’s basketball
Mitchell Northam

“When Brooks first entered [the ACC], he was coaching against national championship winners in Muffet McGraw and Sylvia Hatchett as he tried to build the Hokies into a program that was not only successful, but one that sustained success. And he’s since battled against Jeff Walz, Wes Moore, Courtney Banghart, Nell Fortner, Niele Ivey and Katie Meier.

“And this season, finally, he beat all of them.”

Staff notes: Mitch is an expert at crafting stories that span multiple years (he even has a whole book doing just that!), and this is no exception. You can clearly see how much interest he has in the subject matter and how his reporting on the ACC informs all of his stories, regardless of which team he’s writing about.

Deep dives

How Becky Hammon, A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces took over the WNBA
Em Adler

“The rapid modernization of Las Vegas’ basketball infrastructure has already had seismic effects on the rest of the [WNBA]. Whether the league’s response to its business operations evolves will direct the course of the WNBA as it enters a new era.”

Staff notes: How has the game that’s played in the WNBA evolved and how have the Aces helped usher that in? Those are the questions Em ponders and begins to answer. She also finds a way to contextualize what the Aces’ league scandals say about the WNBA and where it’s going. While she’s incredibly complementary about the brand of basketball that has now won back-to-back championships, she also makes a point to write about all of the elephants in the room.

Free agency, prioritization, and the toll on the WNBA’s middle class
Isabel Rodrigues

“A far cry from the stability that might’ve once come from Dallas, [Kaela Davis] is a part of an increasingly isolated group of players in the WNBA’s ‘middle class’ — not rookies, not superstars — who could soon find themselves all but forced out of a league they’ve fought tooth and nail to join.”

Staff notes: I think this is such an insightful look into the most important issue in the WNBA — Isabel reported this for a long time, but the fruits of that labor paid off handsomely.

The story of the first Women’s Professional Basketball League draft
Kiri Oler

“To convince players to upend their existing plans, the league needed to offer reasonable salaries, a big ask for a new and trailblazing league. [Lusia Harris] was one year removed from her tenure at Delta State and working as an administrator at the school when Houston drafted her. Following the draft, Harris implied that, for her to put in the hard work required of pro ball, the team needed to beat her administrative salary. As she put it to The New York Times, ‘I know the women won’t play for nothing. I make that, sitting [at a desk].'”

Staff notes: Our WBL work is so important, and I think this story specifically is a great in-depth look at something (the draft) that is still a fixture in women’s basketball today.

Institutional Knowledge: Why did this year’s WNBA cuts resonate so much?
Michelle Smith

“The resulting protests are louder than ever, if not unfamiliar. The WNBA needs to expand its rosters. The WNBA needs to expand, period. It should not be this difficult to go from collegiate star to WNBA player.

“Except that it is. And has been for a long time.”

Staff notes: I love this. I think it speaks so well to the extra emotion we all felt this year when seeing so many players we love getting cut from rosters. It provided factual context while saying everything I was thinking better than I could have said it. 

Staff picks: Top podcast episodes of the year

What’s it like being a WNBA photographer? The Next’s Domenic Allegra tells us!
Hosted by Alex Simon

Staff notes: This is just so delightful in so many ways. Domenic and all of our photographers enable us to make better content, and I love how Alex takes the time to really showcase how that work is done and all the practice and work behind the shots.

1976 silver medalist and Naismith Hall of Famer Gail Marquis talks Olympics, WBL and HOF
Hosted by Natalie Heavren

Staff notes: Natalie was able to chat with Gail just after her HoF induction. Gail is a lesser-known player on that Olympic team, and she shared very real and raw perspectives about being a person of color on that first team, and how she was often overlooked. I appreciated how Natalie created a space where Gail felt comfortable to share and could tell her story.

The WBL’s 45th anniversary, the legacy of the league and Legends of the Ball, Inc.
Hosted by Natalie Heavren

Staff notes: I continue to be so proud of the work Tee Baker, Natalie Heavren, Kiri Oler and more are doing to bring the history of the WBL to light. Liz Galloway-McQuitter is both a participant in and a witness to this vital professional league, and hearing her stories here delighted me to no end. Natalie did an exceptional job here, as always.


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The Next’s 2023-24 college basketball Top 25 preview
Hosted by Missy Heidrick

Staff notes: It’s very difficult to pod without a guest or a co-host, and Locked On Women’s Basketball is no exception to that. Missy Heidrick is always so engaging, but the way in which she breaks down her methodology of selecting her top 25 was such an informative and entertaining listen. In this solo show she makes sure to address the questions listeners might have before they ask them.

Locked On Women’s Basketball: Who are the top 15 draft prospects in WNBA history?
Hosted by Hunter Cruse, Em Adler and Lincoln Shafer

Staff notes: I’m not a big podcast listener — but I did take the time to listen to this particular episode and loved the walk down memory lane … Em puts Kara Lawson, in today’s day, as a third-round WNBA pick. I just couldn’t tolerate that and found myself yelling at them — which is good — you want to evoke a response from your listeners!

NCAA Tournament Cinderella Sacred Heart is ready to go dancing
Hosted by Howard Megdal

Staff notes: Howard took his experience covering the tournament and turned it into an incredibly memorable podcast. Combining live reporting and an interview with Sacred Heart head coach Jessica Mannetti, this episode exemplifies what March Madness is all about.


For more on our top stories and podcasts of 2023, listen to Isabel Rodrigues and Jackie Powell break down the list in a special episode of Locked On Women’s Basketball.

Written by Isabel Rodrigues

Isabel Rodrigues (she/her) is a contributing editor for The Next from upstate New York. She occasionally covers 3x3 and labor in women's basketball.

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