The WNBA prioritization rule could keep Gabby Williams from taking the court for the Seattle Storm this season.
Under the new rule, which went into effect beginning this season, players must return to their WNBA teams before the start of the regular season in order to be eligible to play. Williams is playing with French team ASVEL and likely will not return in time, which would make her the lone player who ended the 2022 season on a WNBA roster to miss the 2023 season due to the prioritization rule.
The 26-year-old forward had entered into concussion protocol with her French team, which could have provided the Storm with a loophole. If her injury, and not her league play, had prevented her from returning to the United States in time for their season opener on Saturday, would the prioritization rule still have applied?
The Storm had asked the WNBA for clarification, head coach Noelle Quinn said after practice Tuesday. But Williams seemingly rendered the point moot by returning from concussion protocol to play in ASVEL’s game Wednesday.
Williams entered into concussion protocol following a May 9 contest in which she got hit in the head, but she played in the first game of the French league’s best-of-three championship series. The second game of the series is set for Saturday.
While most international leagues moved up their seasons to enable WNBA players to return to their teams for the preseason, the French league did not. And starting next season, the deadline will get even tighter, requiring players to return by the start of training camp or May 1, whichever comes later.
“We’re kind of moving forward thinking we will not have her,” Quinn said. “Obviously, we lose a lot of defensive prowess and versatility offensively with Gabby, but we’ll just find it somewhere else with the group that we have and evaluate there.”
Williams knew what the prioritization rule could mean for her WNBA eligibility, telling reporters in September that while she would “love to return to the WNBA,” she needed to prioritize her career.
“What’s best for my career, what the WNBA decided to do with players like me, it’s complicated,” she said.
Williams’ ASVEL teammate Marine Johannès plays for the New York Liberty but does not have more than two years of WNBA experience, which means the prioritization rule does not apply to her.