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Lexie Brown on the WNBA’s Return, Living In a Bubble

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Lexie Brown is a guard for the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. Brown played college basketball at Duke University before being drafted by the Connecticut Sun in 2018 and traded to the Lynx in 2019. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her experience in the WNBA bubble so far and how she sees her team advancing throughout the rest of the season. 

What are your thoughts on the WNBA’s social justice efforts and the importance of dedicating this season to Breonna Taylor?

It’s amazing. What has been going on in our country recently has really been going on forever. In these past few months, it was thrust into the spotlight because everyone was at home with the virus. I think it was a good opportunity for us to use our platforms to speak up and speak out. We’re not new to doing that. Female athletes in general, but specifically the WNBA, have always been at the forefront of social justice issues.

On top of that, we have all of these televised games which we didn’t know were going to happen. We came into this bubble just thinking that we were all going to be together and that our voices would be stronger as one — we all wanted to share one united message. The fact that we’re all over TV and social media has been amazing for us in trying to share our message.

They just added around 13 more games to the TV schedule, which is huge. It not only expands the platform, but it also shows that people want to watch you all play.

Exactly. And it’s been so nice to see the support. There is some negativity, of course. But seeing how many people are happy to have access to our games is great. Whether it’s my team or any other team, it’s awesome to see people asking where they can buy jerseys or those orange hoodies that are everywhere. It’s nice to see that people do care about our league because, usually, we see all of the negativity and we just have to ignore it and push through. So, it’s been really nice to get some visibility this year.

How do you think the league has handled all of the different logistics, both leading up to life in the bubble and now with games happening? 

I think they’ve done a great job. During the first day or two, when we were in our little quarantine, people were just getting used to the whole situation. And there were some things that went wrong, but anything that went wrong was fixed so fast, without any hassle. The staff members are all incredible. Everyone is so nice. Everyone is listening to directions. I think the WNBA did a really good job for as little time as they had to put this together. Obviously, you don’t want to be in a bubble, but for someone that’s living in a bubble, I’m very happy here.

Do you think it’s hard to stay motivated during the season while living in such a different environment?

For me, personally, I’m super self-motivated. And I’m not really a person who is out and about all the time. If I’m at home, I’m usually at home with my family and we’re just hanging out. So for me, this type of environment is very similar to one, overseas and two, how I am at home. I miss my friends and family, of course. And I miss our fans. I think that the hardest part for me is not playing in front of fans. But I’m in a situation where all I have to worry about is playing basketball and staying in shape, and that’s an ideal situation for me.

Do you think that there is a bigger focus on recovery since there is less traveling for games? 

Absolutely. One of my teammates actually went down with an injury last night, so now we’re down a player. Things change fast and we just have to take care of your bodies. The best thing for us is that we aren’t traveling, we aren’t sitting in airports all day or all night, we aren’t getting up at 6:00 AM to catch a flight. It’s leveled the playing field. At the end of the season, we’re going to see who took care of their bodies the best and also who did the most work leading up to the season. I made it a goal of mine to come into training camp as one of the most in shape players on my team, and I definitely did that. I love working out and the fact that this is my job is so amazing to me because I get to mess around with all different types of workouts and positively influence my job.

How has it been playing without fans?

It’s been so weird. In our first game, we were down and then we came back, but it just didn’t feel like we were making a comeback. It was so quiet. Everyone is going to have to adjust. Some players who aren’t used to talking and cheering on the bench are going to have to step up. Our coach asked us, “Why are we starting so slow?” And I said, “It’s just the environment.” We have to create our own energy. Some teams are better at that than others. For me, I love our fans, so while it hasn’t necessarily been hard, it’s been sad to not see those familiar faces in the stand.

You won your first game and lost your second. What are your thoughts on how the team has played?

Our energy has been a little up and down. We have so many new faces and a lot of younger players. We’re all adjusting and learning about each other. Our coach is used to having a veteran team, so I think she’s learning as she goes as well. It’s all going to be a process for us, but we all love each other. We have great chemistry off the court. Once we put it all together on the court, find our spots and get a rhythm, we’re going to be fine.

What are your expectations for the remainder of the season?

I just think that we have to play a little bit harder. Obviously we want to make it to the playoffs and potentially win a championship, but we want to be in the top percentages of different categories, too. Points, defense, steals, assists. There are so many things that we want to be great at, and we’re just kind of average at everything right now. Moving forward, we all have to hold each other accountable. Everyone just needs to find their groove and we’ll get there. The whole season is just so strange, the environment is strange, game days are strange. We just need to get used to it. After a few more games, we’ll get there.

Throughout your time in the Wubble, you have been documenting your experience via vlogs that you post on your YouTube channel. How did that come about?

I’ve been vlogging on YouTube for three years. I started vlogging at the end of my senior year at Duke. Actually, I started vlogging when my teammate and I went to this three-point contest at the Men’s Final Four, and our basketball program asked us to vlog it. We vlogged during Draft Day too, and I thought it was awesome. So, I just kept documenting things — I really enjoy filming and editing it all.

I started vlogging in the bubble because, one, so many people were against sports coming back and I wanted to show everyone that it was possible to bring sports back safely. And, two, because I wanted to keep the focus on social justice and social reform. I think it has also been a good way to lighten the mood and show everybody’s personalities. Everyone is still getting to know each other, so when I bring a camera out and start acting goofy it helps everyone to loosen up a bit. I’ve made three so far and I just finished editing another one. There are a lot of players making them, too. So, I think it’s amazing to see everybody’s different experiences on different teams and in different parts of campus.

“You have to understand that there’s something about you that makes you special” Haley Jones on her WNBA journey.

COLLEGE PARK, GEORGIA - JUNE 23: Haley Jones #13 of the Atlanta Dream dribbles against the New York Liberty during the first half at Gateway Center Arena on June 23, 2023 in College Park, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

No one understands what Caitlin Clark and the 2024 WNBA draft class has ahead of them better than Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones.

Jones is a product of her own vaunted draft class, selected sixth overall in 2023 upon finishing a college career at Stanford that produced a 2021 national championship. Since joining the WNBA, Jones had steady output as a rookie, playing in all 40 of the team's games in her first season.

The transition wasn't always easy. Jones had to balance finishing her Stanford degree with the early months of her first professional season, competing against seasoned veterans while closing a chapter of her life as a student.

"In college, it's a job-ish. But now it's really your life, right? And not only are you competing for yourself, but the women that you're going against, this is their lives. They have kids to provide for, families, so it's a different mindset when you come in," she tells Just Women's Sports at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland. "They're so smart, they're so efficient. And so you'd be doing the same things, but they get there quicker."

Only one year removed from her own college career, watching the upcoming 2024 draft class maneuver the same schedule has been somewhat surreal for Jones. She says she remains close with many of the players still competing for Stanford, including incoming WNBA rookie Cameron Brink, and with the NCAA tournament now behind them she knows just how quickly their lives are going to change.

"The whirlwind that it is when your season ends, you get like three days if you're going to declare for the draft or not," she says. "Then you figure it out, boom, the draft is next Monday. So no time, it's quick. And then they're gonna [have the] draft on the 15th, training camp starts the 26th or 27th, so you have 11 days to move your life to wherever you're going, figure out the new city, get your car there, do all these different little things that come along with it."

Once players arrive in training camp, their spots in the league are anything but guaranteed. With expansion still on future horizons, this year's draft class will be competing with established veterans (including, now, Jones) for limited roster spots. It's not unheard of for even WNBA lottery picks to struggle in establishing a foothold in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

"A lot of us get to the point of being in the W, you get there because you're hypercritical," Jones says. "That's why you've been able to be so good, your work ethic is insane. So you're watching everything that you do, you're correcting yourself, you're watching film, you're doing all these things."

"I think my biggest advice is really just like the present and understand that you're there for a reason. I think that there's impostor syndrome sometimes when you get to the league. But you have to understand that there's something about you that makes you special, to be where you are."

The rookie wall is real, Jones says, and her own hypercritical nature got the best of her at times during her first year in the WNBA. But she also feels that a player can find the balance beyond imposter syndrome and a busy schedule to get into a sense of rhythm, there's a simplicity to the life of a professional athlete that allows players to further expand their horizons.

Misconceptions about NIL opportunities continuing beyond women's college basketball careers have abounded in recent months, with current WNBA players having to correct the record. Jones is a product of the NIL era, and has only seen her professional opportunities expand since leaving Stanford. "Most of the deals I had in NIL I'm still with now," she says. "because those contracts [extended] or they just renewed now that you're in the W."

"Then you take what you were making [in college] and then you add in your W salary, so — thank you. Now I have my 401k system. I have health care, all these different things — so you kind of honestly add on when you get to the W, on top of better competition, all these different things."

Removing schoolwork from her daily schedule has also given Jones more time to pursue other projects, like her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop", in partnership with The Players' Tribune. As the WNBA continues to build its own ability to market and promote its players, Jones has relished the opportunity to not only meet players she admires through the podcast, but add to an increasingly vibrant media landscape following women's sports.

"There's a lot of men's basketball podcasts out there, a lot of player led ones," she says. "There's not a lot of women's basketball. There's some women's basketball focused pods, but not a lot of player-led ones."

"I think it's great for me to be able to give back to women’s basketball in my own way."

Jones's experience with the podcast has also given her a unique perspective on what possibly comes next for the WNBA, as the league looks to capitalize on a wave of popular young talent while still serving the players already on team rosters.

"Everybody in the league, they were All-Americans at one point in time. They were national champions, like we all have that resume," she says. "I think it's just the W expanding on their storytelling. I think doing a better job with that will do a lot, also like buying into what the players are doing." She notes the impressive personal brands that players like Clark, Brink, and Angel Reese have built on their own.

"The W has a fan base, but then each individual player has a fan base," she continues. "So by locking into those and making them not only Angel Reese fans, Caitlin Clark fans, Cam Brink fans, making them W fans as well will be big."

As Jones grows into her second year as a professional, her perspective of her own college career has also shifted with time. Winning a national championship is difficult, and Stanford's ability to come out on top in 2021 is an achievement she's appreciated even more in the years since winning the title.

"You don't really realize it until later on," she says. "As I look at it now, I realize how big of an accomplishment that that was."

"Talking to my parents, they're like hey, how many people can actually say they won one?" she continues. "How many people become college athletes? DI athletes? Win a natty? One team a year."

The ambitions for Jones in 2024 are even bigger, with the Dream looking to improve upon their fifth-place finish last season. But she also believes the key to growing the game of basketball can be found in connecting with the community, following in the footsteps of college titans like Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

"People buying into these programs because you see them in the community is huge. I feel like for the W to be continuing to do that, continue with community initiatives, all these different things that we're doing. I think that you'll get a lot bigger fan bases."

Chelsea reaches deal with Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor to succeed Emma Hayes

Sonia Bompastor. (Photo by Christian Hofer – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Chelsea is closing in on Emma Hayes’ replacement, reportedly having reached an agreement with Sonia Bompastor to succeed their longtime coach.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais have agreed on a deal for Bompastor, who will take over Chelsea upon the conclusion of the season.

Personal terms with Bompastor had already been agreed to, but compensation between the two teams still had to be figured out in order to release the coach from her contract a year early. 

Following Bompastor will be assistant coach Camille Abily. Bompastor takes over having won two Champions League titles as a player at Lyon, and one as coach during the 2021-22 campaign. The club also has won two straight league titles under Bompastor. 

The French coach has reportedly been Chelsea’s number one target when looking to replace Hayes. Hayes will depart Chelsea at the end of the season to take the helm of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). 

Hayes leaves big shoes to fill. Since taking charge in 2012, she’s led the team to six WSL titles and five FA Cups. The only trophy that eludes Hayes is the Champions League – which she still has hopes to win this year. 

They face Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League beginning on April 20. Should they advance, they could face Bompastor and Lyon in the final. 

Christen Press’ soccer comeback ‘is coming along’

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: Christen Press #23 of Angel City FC waves to fans following a game between the Portland Thorns and Angel City FC at BMO Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Angel City's Christen Press has given an update on her continued rehabilitation from an ACL tear. 

On Wednesday, Press posted pictures of her training alongside the caption, “The comeback is coming along. The only promise I'll make to you is that I'll try. And what a beautiful, giving thing it is to try.”

Earlier this week, Angel City coach Becki Tweed gave an update on Press, noting that “rehab is going well.”

“She’s progressing along,” she said in an update given on Press as well as M.A. Vignola and Gisele Thompson. “No real timelines on any of them, but they’re all progressing with their rehab and getting what they need right now.”

Press has not played since June of 2022, when she tore her ACL in a match with Angel City. Since then, she’s had four separate surgeries to repair the tear, setting back her recovery. 

A couple of weeks ago, Tweed said that Press is back training with the team “full time” while continuing to work at her rehab. 

“I have a bit of relentless optimism,” she told The Athletic in February. “I never, ever doubted that I would make it back on any of the timelines I’ve been on."

Indiana Fever to be most-televised team in WNBA this season

(Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

The Indiana Fever will be the most-televised team in the WNBA this season, which comes as the team is expected to draft Iowa star Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 pick during the 2024 WNBA Draft.

A total of 36 of the team’s 40 games will be featured nationally – up from just one last year.

The reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces will be on national television 35 times, while the runner-up New York Liberty will be featured 31 times. 

With Clark entering the league, it’s expected that a large portion of her following will join her. The NCAA tournament championship between Iowa and South Carolina was the most-watched women’s basketball game ever with 18.9 million average viewers, and it outdrew the men’s championship for the first time. 

In total, Iowa had a hand in a number of record-breaking viewerships across the NCAA tournament, including the two most-watched games prior to the championship.

The announcement comes as teams around the league have been preemptively using Clark as a way to market to fans. The Phoenix Mercury advertised their June 30 matchup against Indiana as "The GOAT vs. The Rook," while the Minnesota Lynx are set to retire Maya Moore's jersey the same night they face Indiana in August. 

Resale tickets for some Fever home games are already 50x their original price, while other teams are seeing a bump for their games when Clark comes to town.

On Wednesday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke about Clark's impact on the league as it continues to grow. She also shouted out Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso in what she described as a "really strong rookie class."

"I just think [Clark's] style of play resonates with the big basketball fan, the big game fan," she said. "Because with sports you need household names, rivalries and games of consequence. Obviously March Madness had all of that, and we're hoping to replicate it."

In Indiana, Clark will team up with Aliyah Boston, with the duo hoping to help the Fever to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. In Christie Sides’ first year coaching the team last season, they finished 13-27. 

In the past, the WNBA has notoriously struggled to capitalize on the star power of big-time college players. It's often been said that the best college players "disappear" when they first get to the league.

“The WNBA, I don't think, has done a great enough job of marketing their individual stars,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said during March Madness. 

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley has echoed his sentiments, saying, "We have to bridge the gap between college and the WNBA."

There is hope that this year’s rookie class – headlined by Clark – can begin to do so. 

"With the energy and excitement already generated by what we anticipate will be a star-studded rookie class, and on the heels of a 2023 season that featured one of the greatest MVP races in WNBA history and our most-watched regular season in over two decades," commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, "the WNBA's broadcast and streaming partners are offering a huge national platform that will showcase the league's superstars, rising stars, and rivalries."

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