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WNBA’s week ahead: The race for Rookie of the Year heats up

NaLyssa Smith was one of the few bright spots for Indiana this season. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Another week, another packed WNBA schedule. 

Just Women’s Sports has three storylines to watch as the action continues. 

Can the Sky continue on without Candace Parker?

Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces: Tuesday, June 21 @ 10 p.m.

Tuesday’s matchup between the Sky and the Aces is a preview for the Commissioner’s Cup after each team secured their places by the weekend’s end. 

Chicago remains without Candace Parker, which showed on Sunday as the team lost 89-87 to the Indiana Fever. It wasn’t without effort from the Sky, as Kahleah Copper notched 28 points in the loss. They’ll need more from players like Azurá Stevens and Allie Quigley, however, if they want to get past the Aces. 

The Sky has been without Parker in the past. Last season, the team went on a losing streak when Parker went down with an injury early on, but they rebounded upon her return, winning seven straight to set a franchise record for consecutive wins.

Vegas, meanwhile, is on yet another win streak having triumphed in their past four. With a 13-2 record, they lead the league with an .867 win percentage.

But they narrowly managed to escape Minnesota on Sunday, scraping by with a 96-95 win thanks to a 25-point performance from A’ja Wilson. All five Aces starters continue to be offensively sound, having scored in double digits against Minnesota. But the team’s defense was once again lacking, something head coach Becky Hammon has been vocal about all season long.

The race for Rookie of the Year continues

Dallas Wings vs Atlanta Dream: Tuesday, June 21 @ 7 p.m.; Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings: Thursday, June 23 @ 8 p.m.

The race for rookie of the year is continuing to heat up as the season wears on. Indiana Fever forward NaLyssa Smith is coming off of a career game in which she scored 26 points and contributed 11 rebounds. It was her fourth double-double of the season.

While the Fever have a plethora of rookies, including Emily Engstler, Destanni Henderson and Queen Egbo, Smith appears to be cementing herself as one of the best. But she can at times be all over the place, having scored just four points in Phoenix prior to exploding against Chicago.

Rhyne Howard, meanwhile, has been more consistent for Atlanta. She’s coming off of a 16-point performance against Chicago and has scored in double digits in all but two games this season.

While Shakira Austin’s name is certainly in the mix for Rookie of the Year, as of right now it’ll probably be between Smith or Howard at the end of the season. But don’t count out Rebekah Gardner for Sixth Woman of the Year. Gardner, a 31-year-old rookie for Chicago this season, has been averaging 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game off of the bench. She’s averaging better than expected in fantasy points per game and has in the past been coined the WNBA’s leading unicorn by Just Women’s Sports.

Who will be named to the WNBA All-Star squad?

Voting closes Monday, June 20

The time has come for the WNBA All-Star squad to be named. With voting closing on Monday, the top selections will soon be made known.

Will it be A’ja Wilson, who has been steadily leading the Aces to the best record in the league? Could she be joined by Kelsey Plum, who has firmly cemented herself as Las Vegas’ second-best player — if not at times the best?

Who of the rookies will make it, if any?

There’s also injuries to consider — Sylvia Fowles is out indefinitely with a knee injury as Candace Parker remains absent.

With Chicago hosting the event for the first time in team history, it’s likely that there will be some hometown heroes — including Allie Quigley, who won the 3-point contest last season for the third time.

Determining who will be team captains is like trying to decide on your favorite holiday — there are too many good ones to choose from. So keep an eye out to see who will make it and get to play on July 10 in Chicago. 

Full Schedule:

Tuesday, June 21

  • Dallas Wings vs. Atlanta Dream @ 7 p.m.
  • Minnesota Lynx vs. Phoenix Mercury @ 10 p.m.
  • Chicago Sky vs. Las Vegas Aces @ 10 p.m.
  • Washington Mystics vs. Los Angeles Sparks @ 10:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 22

  • New York Liberty vs. Connecticut Sun @ 7 p.m. on ESPN2

Thursday, June 23

  • Phoenix Mercury vs. Minnesota Lynx @ 8 p.m.
  • Indiana Fever vs. Dallas Wings @ 8 p.m.
  • Washington Mystics vs. Seattle Storm @ 10 p.m.
  • Chicago Sky vs. Los Angeles Sparks @ 10:30 p.m.

Friday, June 24

  • New York Liberty vs. Atlanta Dream @ 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 25

  • Phoenix Mercury vs. Dallas Wings @ 8 p.m.
  • Los Angeles Sparks vs. Seattle Storm @ 9 p.m.
  • Washington Mystics vs. Las Vegas Aces @ 10 p.m.

Sunday, June 26

  • Connecticut Sun vs. Atlanta Dream @ 3 p.m.
  • Minnesota Lynx vs. Chicago Sky @ 6 p.m.

*All times ET

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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