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Emma Cannon, the WNBA’s exemplar of never giving up

(Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

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Cannon, defending Phoenix's Shey Peddy during a game in June, is known for her tenacity off the bench. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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.”

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Cannon and Diana Taurasi have stayed close since playing together for the first time in 2017. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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