As college basketball stars weigh the decision to stay in school or go pro, the former option has become increasingly enticing, as Tennessee senior Tamari Key laid out Friday.
The professional route, of course, offers immediate financial incentive. But with name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities available to college athletes, and with an extra year of COVID-19 eligibility available to most current juniors and seniors, the choice to stay in the NCAA would not keep basketball stars from cashing in on their skills.
Key has missed most of her senior season due to blood clots in her lungs. The 6-6 center plans to return for a fifth year with the Lady Vols, and she took to social media Friday to list several reasons why remaining in college could be the right choice, for her and for other players.
“Everyone says college is the best years of your life… why pass up… especially when you have enjoyed your time at the school,” she wrote.
She also pointed to the limited number of spots available on WNBA rosters, which also has been a talking point among WNBA players.
“Why go to the league right away when there are potentially not enough spots?” she wrote.
Especially for a prospect such as Key, who has missed most of her senior season and is not projected to be selected in the draft, the decision to go pro could mean bouncing around the WNBA waiver wire. A fifth year in college, on the other hand, will allow Key to continue to take advantage of what she calls the “real and thriving” NIL marketplace.
Key also mentioned the opportunity to earn multiple degrees and the ability to continue to refine her basketball skills as reasons to stay in school. Oh, and also: Chartered. Flights.
“I’m not speaking for everyone when I say this, but I’m sure if you asked collegiate women’s basketball players that are staying an extra year, you would probably get an answer similar to any of these,” she wrote.
💁🏽♀️ pic.twitter.com/jvNkgrLuGd— Tamari Key (@tamarikey___) March 17, 2023
Indeed, many top stars are at least weighing their options. Key’s Tennessee teammate Rickea Jackson was projected as a lottery pick in the 2023 draft but plans to return to the Lady Vols for another season.
UConn junior Paige Bueckers sat out this season with a knee injury, which leaves her with three years of eligibility remaining, though she would certainly be a top prospect for the 2024 draft.
“There’s always a chance,” she said of staying at UConn beyond the 2023-24 season. “I have three more years of eligibility. I’m not declining, not saying for sure I will or for sure I won’t. But there’s definitely an opportunity for me to return for a fifth year, even maybe a sixth year.”
Iowa junior Caitlin Clark said she sees “pros and cons to both sides” after she led her team to the Big Ten tournament championship earlier this month.
“I really have no clue what I’m going to do, stay for an extra year or leave after next year,” she said.
South Carolina senior Aliyah Boston, the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, had not ruled out a return when asked earlier this season, though her coach Dawn Staley thinks her star should head to the WNBA.