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On the day of the 2022 WNBA Draft, Emma Cannon was kicking back and getting ready to watch it all unfold. Hours before the Atlanta Dream selected Kentucky alum Rhyne Howard with the first overall pick, Cannon thought about all of the other players who wouldn’t hear their names called.
So, she decided to put her thoughts in a tweet and share them with the women’s college basketball world.
“I knew the majority of [players] weren’t gonna make it. I wanted everyone to know that when one door closes, there’s always another opportunity,” says Cannon, 33, now in the fourth season of her stop-and-start WNBA career. “If you are willing to work at your craft and willing to get better, then go overseas. You can still make money, you can still make a name for yourself. Somebody will eventually see you.
“But don’t just give up. Don’t think it’s the end of the world because you didn’t make it to the WNBA. It’s not.”
Cannon knows what she’s talking about. Her tweet wasn’t just 240 characters of blind support. It shared words of wisdom based on her own lived experience.
Cannon took a different road to the WNBA. It was a longer and bumpier path than most players experience, but it led her to where she is today — back in the WNBA with the Indiana Fever.
Western New York isn’t known as a women’s basketball mecca, but the area has produced some notable talent.
Rochester native and Miami alum Shanice Johnson, the fifth overall pick of the San Antonio Stars (now Las Vegas Aces) in 2012, spent five seasons with the Indiana Fever from 2015-19 and one with the Minnesota Lynx in 2020. Cierra Dillard, a 2019 second-round pick of the Lynx, and current college standout Dyaisha Fair are also from Rochester. They played for the University at Buffalo under head coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who was hired as the new head coach of her alma mater, Syracuse University, in the spring; Fair followed soon after as a transfer.
Cannon knew Johnson. Though they didn’t play for the same high school, they were close in age and crossed paths on the local basketball circuit. Like Johnson, Cannon went south to play college basketball at Central Florida instead of staying in the area.
“We have great talent here. But Rochester itself is like a lower-class city, so it’s hard to get out of there,” Cannon says. “So we try to make the best of what we can. I hate the snow, I’m not gonna lie. I ain’t no snowbird. That’s why I ran to Florida the first chance I could.”
At Central Florida, Cannon shined. She was named to Conference USA’s All-Freshman Team after averaging 11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. As a sophomore, Cannon made the Conference USA First Team and broke the school record for rebounds in a single season with 393. She then transferred to Florida Southern — a Division II school — for her senior year and averaged 15.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
Despite the numbers and accolades, Cannon’s senior campaign didn’t draw the attention from WNBA general managers and coaches as she had hoped. The 2011 draft came and went without her name being called.
“I really didn’t have too many thoughts,” she says candidly. “Like, OK, I didn’t make it to the WNBA. But I knew that I wanted to hoop.”
Cannon was playing with someone at the time who had competed overseas. The teammate said if Cannon was interested, she could help her pursue that career path.
Cannon jumped at the opportunity and secured an agent. She joined Osnabrucker SC in Germany, and then TSV Wasserburg after that, getting experience and visibility in the EuroCup League. For Cannon, it wasn’t just an opportunity to play professional basketball, but also to develop and grow as a player and travel the world.
“I took that and ran with it because I loved it,” she says. “But I knew in the back of my mind I always wanted to come home and play, because that’s home. You can’t get everyone to come overseas to watch you. I knew I wanted to get back to the W.”
While overseas, Cannon went toe-to-toe with some of the best players in the WNBA and held her own. What caught the eye of then-Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello was Cannon’s performance in the Russian Premier League. Cannon played for Chevakata Vologda in 2017 and competed against UMMC Ekaterinburg, where Brondello was an assistant coach.
That season, Cannon led the team with 31 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Brondello offered her a contract to play for the Mercury that same year.
“My mom was the first person that I called,” says Cannon. “I cried. It’s something that I wanted. It was crazy, because a lot of people at a certain age start to lose hope. A lot of people start to tell you it’s not possible, and you start to doubt. But I kept faith, I kept working. I worked my ass off every day. And I just knew that eventually, if it was meant to be, that it would happen.”
Cannon fit in well with the Mercury from the start of the 2017 WNBA season. She and Brittney Griner became close friends and are “thick as thieves” to this day. She also bonded with WNBA legend Diana Taurasi.
“From the day I met her, I knew she was not only an amazing person but a great teammate,” Taurasi recalls. “And just to see her career evolve the last five or six years just tells you how hard of a worker she is. You know how much teams value what kind of a person she is.”
After one season in Phoenix, Cannon returned overseas. She signed with the Aces in 2020 and spent time with the Aces, Connecticut Sun and Indiana Fever in 2021 on hardship contracts. After averaging a double-double and winning an Israeli league championship with Elitzur Ramla in April, she returned to the Mercury for a brief stint earlier this season and has since landed back with the Fever.
Cannon’s willingness to come off the bench and do whatever teams need her to do is something coaches value. And she never takes the minutes she’s given on the court for granted, scrapping for 5.5 points and 2.4 rebounds across 19 games for Indiana this season.
No matter where she goes or how long she’s there — whether it’s one or two games or a month-long stay — Cannon always has the same outlook.
“You come in and you be yourself, period. You don’t dwell on who you are or what got you there, regardless of how long you’re playing [in a city],” she says. “It’s only 144 spots. So, when you’re called upon, you just gotta be thankful. Take the opportunity for what it is. For me having that opportunity with Connecticut, it led to me having an opportunity with Indiana. Take it and run with it.”
Sun head coach Curt Miller only coached Cannon for a handful of games during her time in Connecticut. But the impression she left on him is an indelible one.
“You’re not supposed to have a favorite as a coach, but [Emma] was one of my favorite people to coach,” Miller says. “I just love her personality, love that she’s so positive and can really help beyond her basketball statistics. I just think she can really help teams with her positivity.”
Cannon, Miller emphasizes, is in a tough spot as a veteran role player at this point in her career. Minimum contracts for veterans with three or more years of experience don’t always fit under teams’ salary caps, especially as those teams start committing more money to their star players. That makes it difficult for players in Cannon’s position to find a permanent home in the WNBA, even though her value is evident.
There’s no guarantee that Cannon will be on a WNBA team next season. Still, she’s content to maximize her role for the Fever, who are in last place at 5-27 and out of the playoffs but are wrapping up a crucial season for developing their young talent. When Cannon is on the bench, she’s one of the loudest cheering on her teammates. And when she’s on the floor, she’s giving it everything she’s got.
“Emma’s high work ethic is always the same, whether starting or coming off the bench,” says Fever general manager Lin Dunn. “She values her opportunity to be in the WNBA. Every team needs an Emma Cannon.”
Looking back on it now, Cannon wouldn’t change a thing. That bumpy road to the WNBA, the one off the beaten path, the one less traveled — it turned out to be a pretty fun and exciting ride.
“I feel like I’ve gotten the best of both worlds because I’ve played against a lot of WNBA players overseas before I even made it to the league,” Cannon says. “Work hard. Write down your goals. And go out and achieve them.”
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.
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