April 25, 2024 

Inside the Ivy League’s record night at the 2024 WNBA Draft

Three Ivy Leaguers heard their names called, including Columbia’s first-ever draft picks

From getting two bids to the 2024 NCAA Tournament to having three players selected in the 2024 WNBA Draft, the Ivy League continues to make history in women’s basketball.

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Just five Ivy Leaguers had ever been selected in 27 years of WNBA Drafts entering 2024. The league had never seen multiple players drafted in the same year. All that changed in the third round on April 15, when Harvard’s McKenzie Forbes and Columbia’s Abbey Hsu and Kaitlyn Davis were all chosen in the span of eight picks.

Forbes, who played this past season as a graduate student at USC, went 28th overall to her hometown Los Angeles Sparks. Hsu, Columbia’s all-time leading scorer, went 34th to the Connecticut Sun. And Davis, who played with Hsu at Columbia for three seasons and then with Forbes at USC, was picked 35th by the New York Liberty.

PlayerYear DraftedRoundOverall PickWNBA TeamCollege (Graduate Transfer)
Allison Feaster199815Los Angeles SparksHarvard
Temi Fagbenle2016335Minnesota LynxHarvard (USC)
Leslie Robinson2018334New York LibertyPrinceton
Bella Alarie202015Dallas WingsPrinceton
Abby Meyers2023111Dallas WingsPrinceton (Maryland)
McKenzie Forbes2024328Los Angeles SparksHarvard (USC)
Abbey Hsu2024334Connecticut SunColumbia
Kaitlyn Davis2024335New York LibertyColumbia (USC)

“It says that there’s really good players in our league, and it says that you can play in our league and go pro and that this league can set you up for success in the [WNBA] and doing other things as well,” Harvard head coach Carrie Moore told The Next. “And … it’s incredible growth, not only for [Harvard and Columbia] but for the league that we choose to coach in and believe in so much.”

All three players got national exposure this season, which helped their draft stock. Forbes and Davis started alongside superstar freshman JuJu Watkins and fellow Ivy League alum Kayla Padilla on a Trojans team that advanced to the Elite Eight. Hsu was shortlisted for several national individual awards, won Ivy League Player of the Year, and helped Columbia to its first NCAA Tournament berth in program history.

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Forbes was listed on most mock drafts, Hsu was on some and Davis was mostly left off. None of the three players truly knew what to expect. “You think you have an idea,” Forbes told reporters on Friday, “but you really don’t. Anything can happen within the time of the draft.”

They and their supporters watched the draft from around the country with bated breath. Forbes held a watch party at USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s house, while Davis opted to watch at home with two close friends, including a former Columbia manager. On the other coast, Hsu gathered with family, teammates and coaches at Columbia, and Moore and her staff watched from a Cambridge-area restaurant over dinner with a recruit.

“Being surrounded by my teammates, my coaches, and then my girlfriend and my sister and my mom, it was comforting,” Hsu told reporters on April 16. “I was like, no matter what outcome’s gonna come out of this, at least I’m surrounded by the people who love me, who believe in me.”

Forbes’ name popped up first of the Ivy Leaguers, a little later than most expected but in the perfect spot for her. Her agent had tipped her off about a minute before that she was likely to be the Sparks’ pick, but she didn’t fully believe it until she saw it happen. Everyone at Gottlieb’s house erupted — especially Padilla, who exclaimed, “You did it, bro!”

Mere minutes later, as Forbes’ partygoers processed their good news, Hsu’s name flashed across the screen, and her supporters gave her a standing ovation. Amid the celebration, she was the first to notice another name appear. “KD!” Hsu screamed. “KD!”

At Gottlieb’s house, they too had another round of celebrations for Davis. “The hype died down from my pick,” Forbes said, “and then we glanced over at the TV and it was like, ‘Kaitlyn Davis.’ And then we all went crazy again. … [I was] probably more hyped than [for] myself, honestly.”

For Forbes, it was gratifying seeing her Ivy rival turned USC teammate — and her daily workout partner leading up to the draft — get selected. And for Hsu, it would’ve been a dream come true to be drafted back-to-back with Davis, except she couldn’t even have dreamed it.

Columbia forward Kaitlyn Davis and guard Abbey Hsu sit on the bench on either side of assistant coach Cy Lippold. Davis and Hsu are smiling, and Lippold is laughing.
Columbia forward Kaitlyn Davis (second from left) and guard Abbey Hsu (fourth from left) laugh with assistant coach Cy Lippold (center) during a game against Dartmouth at Levien Gymnasium in New York, N.Y., on Jan. 28, 2023. (Photo credit: Columbia University Athletics/Mike McLaughlin)

Hsu and Davis came to Columbia in the same freshman class in 2019-20. They, along with classmate Carly Rivera, were inseparable. “The three amigos,” Hsu said. But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hsu took the 2020-21 academic year off school, both to preserve her Ivy League eligibility and to grieve her father’s death in March 2020. Davis stayed enrolled, putting her a year ahead of Hsu and leaving her with a season of eligibility to use elsewhere. (The Ivy League does not allow graduate students to compete in athletics.)

Over the years, Hsu and Davis have supported each other through everything from on-court struggles and gut-wrenching losses to the pandemic and deaths in both their families. They remained best friends despite the distance between them this season, and now they get to support each other as they embark on professional careers.

“They’re silly and goofy together just as friends are, but there’s a lot of just inherent trust,” Columbia head coach Megan Griffith told The Next. “… They just talk to each other in such encouraging ways that that’s when you know you really have somebody’s back [and] it doesn’t matter what happens. So that’s what I love about their friendship is that it’s not like they need to be together all the time, but they just believe in each other that much. … They have like a sisterly relationship.”

Shortly after the draft ended, Davis talked to her mom and her USC teammates, then FaceTimed Hsu and Griffith. But there weren’t a lot of words exchanged, Davis said — it was mostly Hsu and Davis going back and forth with, “You!” “No, you!”

“There was no conversation,” Davis told reporters on Friday. “We were just ecstatic.”

“Just a lot of pointing and tears,” Griffith said. “And then I showed [Kaitlyn] to the room, and everybody’s just going nuts.”

“It was just an amazing, amazing moment to hear my name and then KD’s name right after,” Hsu said. “There’s nothing that compares to that.”

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None of the Ivy Leaguers took conventional paths to the WNBA, but Forbes’ route might’ve been the least likely. The 6’ guard played her freshman year at Cal in 2018-19, then decided to transfer to Harvard. But the application deadline had passed, so she had to wait a full year to learn whether she would be admitted. In spring 2020, she got her acceptance, but then the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19.

All told, Forbes didn’t play a college basketball game from spring 2019 until fall 2021. She then played two seasons at Harvard before graduating and using her final year of NCAA eligibility at USC.

“I think I’ve seen it all in my college career,” Forbes said. “Just from Pac-12 to transferring to the Ivy, it’s a lot of different styles of play. I’ve been in a lot of different roles.”

Harvard guard McKenzie Forbes shoots a right-handed layup in traffic. One Princeton defender tries to contest from behind, and a help defender is standing in the charge circle, having arrived too late to establish position.
Harvard guard McKenzie Forbes (0) gets past a Princeton defender and attempts a layup during the championship game of the Ivy League Tournament at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, N.J., on March 11, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Moore, a former professional player herself, knew Forbes had pro potential from the day she took over as Harvard’s head coach, ahead of Forbes’ senior year. Some WNBA staff members watched Harvard practices — as did Raegan Pebley, who was then a college coach but would become the Sparks’ general manager in January 2024.

But WNBA interest in Forbes really intensified when she went to USC and showed how well she could complement Watkins and be the No. 2 scoring option for a top-10 team.

“She believes like nobody else does,” Moore said. “And I think she just needed the opportunity. … USC really allowed her to kind of showcase her game on a national stage.”

“I watched her be just elite in how she competed and elevated that program at Harvard. When she came to USC, we got to see her do the same thing,” Pebley told reporters on April 16. “… So it was honestly a surprise to us but an absolute dream to us that she was still on the table for us at 28.”

Forbes now gets to stay in Los Angeles with the Sparks, and the fit goes much deeper than being her birthplace and college city. Forbes’ grandfather, Sterling Forbes, was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1960. The Sparks’ director of player development, Danielle Viglione, was Forbes’ skills trainer starting when Forbes was eight. And Forbes’ position coach at USC, Chris Koclanes, worked under current Sparks head coach Curt Miller for eight years in the WNBA.

When training camp begins on Sunday, Forbes hopes her basketball IQ and versatility will help her stand out. “Every roster in the W is stacked, but I think my ability to kind of play multiple positions, to guard multiple positions [and] to shoot the ball can definitely fit in with any team,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hsu, a 5’11 guard, arrived at Columbia intent on turning around a program that had long struggled in the Ivy League — but without much of an idea about her future beyond that. Early in their careers, Griffith met with Hsu, Davis and Rivera at a diner to discuss whether they wanted to play professionally.

“Is that even possible?” Hsu and Davis replied, according to Griffith. (Rivera was already set on becoming a doctor.)

For Hsu, the WNBA became possible as a junior, when scouts started coming to games and seeing her elite 3-point shooting. She then made Team USA for the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup, a clear sign that she could play with the nation’s best.

But the WNBA really became likely as a senior, when Hsu became a more versatile scorer and expanded her game in all areas. She had a lot of interest from WNBA teams, Griffith said, and the Sun in particular watched her play often.

Ultimately, Hsu became the first WNBA Draft pick in program history, with Davis right on her heels, and only the fourth player drafted directly from the Ivy League.

Like Forbes, Hsu will face an uphill climb to make the Connecticut roster, but her 3-point shooting could be pivotal. She made 375 3-pointers in her Columbia career — nearly 100 more than any other player in Ivy League women’s basketball history — on 38.5% shooting. The Sun could certainly use that after attempting the fourth-fewest 3-pointers per game in the WNBA in 2023.

“She’s a really good shooter. She’s also a very good rebounder,” Sun general manager Darius Taylor told reporters after the draft. “We know that she has a high ceiling and potential to grow into even a better player.”

Columbia forward Kaitlyn Davis stands on the 3-point line near the top of the key. She flips the ball behind her back with her right hand to guard Abbey Hsu, who is trailing the play.
Columbia forward Kaitlyn Davis makes a behind-the-back pass to guard Abbey Hsu (35) during a game against Penn at Levien Gymnasium in New York, N.Y., on Feb. 3, 2023. (Photo credit: Columbia University Athletics/Josh Wang)

Davis, a 6’1 forward, was a player Griffith knew had professional potential even during the recruiting process. She produced Columbia’s first-ever triple-double in January 2023 and stunned her new USC teammates last summer with her athleticism. The Liberty drafted her for that athleticism and for her playmaking and shot-blocking skills, general manager Jonathan Kolb said in the team’s press release. But she will have her own winding path from here.

Davis won’t compete for a roster spot right away on a team that retains several stars from last season’s run to the WNBA Finals. Instead, she is heading to Mexico this week for a three-month season with Las Rojas de Veracruz. She will join the Liberty next January and train with them ahead of the 2025 season in hopes of making the roster. It’s the same path the Liberty put former USC guard/forward Okako Adika on after the 2023 draft, and Adika is now on New York’s training camp roster.

“I think this is honestly just the better option for me, and I’m excited to get to grow my skills and develop even more as a player in a professional league before I get to the W,” Davis said on Friday, while noting she hadn’t figured out what to do with her belongings yet. “… So I don’t think I was necessarily disappointed at all. … I just see it as another opportunity.”

“What [is] better [than] to know next year, in a year from now, you’re going to have an opportunity to go to the training camp you know you’re going to?” Griffith said. “You get a year to prepare, versus the draft, you got to just go. So I think that’s special in its own right.”

Davis wants to use her season in Mexico to build on her successes at USC and get more confident shooting the ball. “Shoot first, ask questions later,” she explained. At USC, Davis shot 54.4% from the field, but with Watkins and Forbes leading the way offensively, she took less than half as many shots as she had the previous season at Columbia.

Davis grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, only about 30 miles from the Liberty’s former arena in Westchester, New York. She went to Liberty games and watched their current star, Breanna Stewart, play at UConn. Like Forbes in Los Angeles, that makes Davis’ selection in the draft even more special for her and her family.

“To have this opportunity to continue [my career], for now overseas but then also … in New York, hopefully, next year, I mean, I couldn’t ask for more,” she said.

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Wherever Davis goes, she’ll represent her Ivy League basketball family, too, which is currently flourishing in the professional ranks. At least one Ivy League alum has appeared in a WNBA game in eight straight seasons, and there’s a chance at nine between Forbes, Hsu, Harvard alum Temi Fagbenle and Princeton alum Blake Dietrick. (Fagbenle signed a training camp contract with the Indiana Fever, and Dietrick did the same with the Sparks.) Dietrick and Columbia alum Camille Zimmerman are also in the mix to make the U.S. Olympic team in 3-on-3 basketball.

Reflecting on the strength of the Ivy League and its accomplishments in the draft, Hsu said, “I really don’t think there’s a better time to be part of the Ivy League community than now. … We’re proving to the country that we’re a very competitive league, and … we’re starting to get noticed on that big stage.”

For Davis, too, it’s been rewarding to see rising awareness of how good the Ivy League is — in part from how she, Forbes and Padilla played at USC this season.

“It’s validating,” she said. “It’s like the little, you know, when you [say] like, ‘I told you so!’ That’s how it feels for me. … I knew we were hoopers.”

The Next’s Noa Dalzell contributed reporting for this story.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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