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Kamiah Smalls Is Ready For the Big Leagues

Welcome to the big time.

With the 28th overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft, the Indiana Fever elevated Kamiah Smalls to the professional stage.

“All we did was scream because we were so excited,” Small said. “I felt like it was so much better for me at that moment because I wasn’t expecting it.”

If you haven’t seen the video already, it’s worth a watch. Even if you have, it couldn’t hurt to give it another peek.

“That reaction that you saw was so genuine — my enthusiasm and my excitement was just through the roof,” Smalls said. “It was incredible to be surrounded by a couple of my friends and have my family on the phone screaming at the top of their lungs, too.”

“Smalls you did it, you brought your dreams to life,” she told herself. “You might be helping another little girl right now feel like it’s possible to go big when they might be seen as small.”

Oh, and it was her 22nd birthday.

“I forgot it was even my birthday once I got drafted — that’s all that mattered,” Smalls said. “God sent me the best birthday present I’ve ever received in my entire life, wrapped up in a yellow bow.”

Smalls has been an underdog at mid-major James Madison since her debut. Playing No. 13 Tennessee, Smalls scored 15 points, hauled in 12 rebounds and added three steals and an assist. Starting every game her sophomore season, Smalls averaged 15 points per game, but shot just 28.3% from behind the arc on a team that went 23-11.

Then, junior year, Smalls led James Madison to a 29-6 record, but played just 8 minutes in the regular season finale due to a broken hand. In the first round of the conference playoffs, still ailed by injury, Smalls missed her only start of the year and played just two minutes in a heartbreaking loss to Hoftsra. In the WNIT, however, Smalls was back on the court and led her team to the semifinals.

By then, Smalls figured out her shot. Junior year ended with a 38.0% clip from 3-point range. Senior year, when the CAA playoffs were cancelled by COVID-19, Smalls once again had exactly a 38.0% 3-point average, and the Dukes were 25-4.

“It broke my heart,” Small said. “I was so excited for this year and I was all ready to win a ring. When I found out that we weren’t going to be able to finish the tournament, I shut down for awhile. I thought that the tournament was going to affect my level in the WNBA Draft — that I needed the tournament to push my name up and out there for the draft. I was devastated.”

So, Small missed out on the conference playoffs in her final two years of college ball. Looking forward, however, Smalls will enter the WNBA with a highly translatable skill: 3-point shooting. On her new team, the Fever, only two players finished the 2019 season with a higher 3-point percentage. Paris Kea shot 55.6% on 27 attempts, and All-Star point guard Erica Wheeler finished the season shooting 38.4%.

If you ask Smalls though, shooting isn’t even her biggest asset. It’s her energy.

“Always energy,” Smalls said. “I’m a hype kid, 24/7, whether I’m on a bench or on the court.”

That mentality will go a long way toward not only making the Fever’s roster, but succeeding when she gets there. The Fever are led by first-year head coach Marianne Stanley, who spent the past nine years as an assistant with the Washington Mystics, helping them win the 2019 WNBA championship. Her most recent opportunity in the head coach’s chair came back in 2003, when her new general manager was gearing up for her second year in the league.

Pokey Chatman had been the head coach and general manager for the Fever for the past three seasons, but after three losing seasons and a 28-74 combined record, Indiana made a change. One of the newest members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Fever legend Tamika Catchings, was brought in as general manager.

The Fever have 15 professional-caliber players for just 12 spots. Unlike Lauren Cox, the Fever’s draft choice with the third overall selection, the road to a roster spot is murkier for Smalls.

Small was the CAA Player of the Year this past season and ends her James Madison career fourth in points (1,888), fifth in field goals made (686), fifth in three-pointers made (188) and fifth in scoring average (14.5) as the fourth overall draftee from the school.

Tamera Young was the first from James Madison to make the leap to the WNBA, going eighth overall in 2008 to the Atlanta Dream. In 2016, the Minnesota Lynx took Jazmon Gwathmey 14th overall. Lauren Okafor played her junior and senior seasons at James Madison, but chose the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University over a WNBA career.

It is understandable for there to be doubts about a mid-major prospect. But against elite competition, Smalls found ways to help the Dukes, even as defenses game-planned against her. In 24 minutes against eventual presumptive first-seed Maryland in the third game of the season, Smalls scored 14 points, shot 2-for-6 from 3-point range, and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the line.

“Just because I played at a mid-major school doesn’t mean that I can’t hang with the big dogs,” Smalls said. “It wasn’t about any expectations for myself. It was more about other people’s belief in me.

“I was just hoping that somebody saw the fight in me and the will.”

The Fever did. The highlight tape is impressive, and it is why Stanley believes in Smalls’ future. Last season, Smalls had experience both at point and off-guard, but Stanley sees her even playing the three.

“Kamiah is an athletic guard who can play any one of the three guard positions,” Stanley said. “Good on both ends of the floor, and another player who just brings a lot of energy and passion and skill to the table.”

Another coach, picking later in the draft, was hoping Smalls would fall to their team, but Indiana got there first. Stanley recalled getting a text from this opposing coach saying “dang that was our player.”

The Fever signed three players with international experience to a training camp contract in the offseason, Hungarian 6-10 center Bernadett Határ, Belgium national Julie Allemand, and former DePaul guard Jessica January. All three will be competing with Smalls.

“I always think I have something to prove,” Smalls said. “In a lot of ways, I’ll probably be an underdog because a lot of people don’t know my name. Maybe they haven’t even watched me. I’m just not as out there as other players like Sabrina Ionescu. I feel like a lot of people will probably underrate me, but they’ll find out real soon who I am. It is what it is.”

Even in our current situation, Smalls is undeterred. And who would expect anything different?

“My mentality always stays the same,” Small said. “I’ve been working hard my whole life. This pandemic isn’t going to slow me down. It’s not going to stop me. You find your ways to stay in shape to make sure you’re up to par when it’s time, when everything does finally decide to happen.

“I’m going into this with an open mind,” Smalls added. “I’m a people’s person. I think my teammates are going to love me. I think I’m going to love them. I think the coaching staff is going to love me and I’m going to give them my all. I’m going to hope that my all is enough and go out there, play my best and, fingers crossed, everything works out.”

Athing Mu Falls at Trials, Will Not Defend 800-Meter Olympic Title

Athing Mu competes in the women's 800 meter final on Day Four of the 2024 US Olympic Team Track & Field Trials
Mu won the 800-meter final at the Tokyo Olympics, crossing the line in 1:55.21 to break the American record. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Reigning Olympic Track & Field champion Athing Mu will not have the opportunity to defend her 800-meter title in Paris after falling during the event's US Track & Field Trials final on Monday. 

About 200 meters into the race, Mu uncharacteristically got tangled up in the middle of the track and lost her footing. Coming to her defense, her coach Bobby Kersee said that she had been spiked, suffered track burns, and hurt her ankle. The 22-year-old filed an appeal that saw USA Track and Field officials sorting through replays, but it was later denied. 

As a result, Mu did not qualify to run the 800-meter at the 2024 Summer Games, as the US has a standing rule that only the top three Trials finishers make the official Olympic-bound roster. 

At her first-ever Olympics in 2021, Mu took home the gold at the 800-meter final, crossing the line in 1:55.21 to break the American record.

"I’ve coached it, I’ve preached it, I’ve watched it," Kersee told The Associated Press after Mu's appeal was rejected. "And here’s another indication that regardless of how good we are, we can leave some better athletes home than other countries have. It’s part of our American way."

Mu finished more than 22 seconds behind eventual winner Nia Akins, but could still make the Olympic team as part of the US relay pool. Mu was a key part of the Team USA's 4x400-meter gold medal win three years ago in Tokyo.

Dearica Hamby Tapped to Replace Cameron Brink on 3×3 Olympic Team

Dearica Hamby playing for Team USA in 2023
Dearica Hamby is no stranger to Team USA's 3×3 lineup. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Dearica Hamby has been named to USA Basketball's official 3×3 Olympic roster, replacing an injured Cameron Brink.

The Los Angeles Sparks forward has extensive experience with the 3×3 team, including taking home both a gold medal and MVP honors at the 2023 FIBA AmeriCup

Brink originally made the roster in early June, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury during Los Angeles’s June 18th loss to Connecticut. 

"It is an honor to announce Dearica Hamby's addition to the USA 3×3 women's national team and we look forward to getting to work as a squad very soon," USA Basketball 3×3 national team director Jay Demings said in a statement. "USA Basketball continues to keep Cameron Brink in our thoughts as she focuses on her recovery."

Hamby will join 2023 FIBA 3×3 World Cup champions Hailey Van Lith (TCU), CIerra Burdick, and Rhyne Howard (Atlanta Dream) in Paris.

San Diego Wave Parts Ways With Head Coach Casey Stoney

ex-wave fc head coach casey stoney in 2023
Casey Stoney joined Wave FC in 2022 from the WSL's Manchester United. (Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images)

San Diego Wave FC announced on Monday that the organization has parted ways with head coach Casey Stoney. 

The announcement comes amid a seven-game winless streak for the Wave. Stoney joined San Diego from WSL side Manchester United a few months before their inaugural season, winning the 2022 NWSL Coach of the Year Award that same year. She went on to lead the expansion team to two trophies in three years. 

Just this past January, the club agreed to a multi-year contract extension that kept Stoney with the club through 2027, with a mutual option for 2028. 

Despite their prior success, San Diego currently sits ninth in the NWSL standings, one point out of playoff contention. Their last win came on May 8th, having most recently played to a scoreless draw against Houston over the weekend to cap off a three-game road trip. 

"We are immensely grateful to Casey for her commitment to our club and the positive impact she has had both on and off the pitch,” Wave president and former USWNT manager Jill Ellis said in an official team statement. "Over the past seasons, Casey has guided us to significant milestones, and her contributions have been instrumental in laying a strong foundation on which to build.

"The decision to part ways was very hard and not made in haste, but given the ambition of this club, and where we are in our season, we felt a change was necessary at this time."

The staffing change comes a little less than two weeks after the Wave brought on former Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton. Ashton resigned from her position with Kansas City in May of this year.

On Tuesday, Ellis commented that Stoney is "self aware" and called her a "complete professional."

"I don’t think you have to have a conversation when it comes to know where they are, she knew,” she said. “I think Casey knew results matter. Casey’s ambitious. And was she happy with where we were? Of course not.

"I think a coach also understands that sometimes this is the nature of the beast of coaching. It’s tough and hard at times."

Kansas City, Orlando Raise the NWSL Bar With Weekend Wins

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda in action during a NWSL match against Seattle Reign
Banda registered a brace on Sunday, bringing her NWSL total to 10 goals in just 10 games. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Pride star Barbra Banda continued on her historic NWSL trajectory this weekend, scoring twice in Orlando’s 6-0 win over Utah on Friday. 

She’s the first NWSL player to register 10 goals in their first 10 league appearances. It was also her fourth brace this season, and marked her first goals in two games after her first multi-game scoring drought.

"For me when I have an opportunity and a chance, I have to take it wisely," Banda said in her postgame remarks. "When I get a chance, I have to put the ball in the back of the net. If any game I didn’t score, I just have to go to my drawing board and work hard so that in the next game so I can find a goal."

Meanwhile, Kansas City also kept up their winning ways, beating Portland 4-1 behind a brace from midfielder Lo'eau Labonta on Sunday.

Later that day, the Washington Spirit, who sit just a point behind KC in third place, topped fourth-place Gotham FC in a decisive 2-0 victory.

And after drawing with Seattle, eighth-place Louisville has 16 points on the season — representing a growing gap between the league’s top and bottom teams. Bringing up the bottom of the ladder, both Seattle and Utah have yet to surpass 10 points this year.

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