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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.”

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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