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First Women’s NBA Academy Games aim to showcase international talent

Agata Makurat competes in the Women’s NBA Academy Games on Thursday in Atlanta. (Nicole Sweet/NBA Academy)

Since the inception of the inaugural Women’s NBA Academy Games, Monica Rogers has been there every step of the way.

The former No. 2 overall pick in the WNBA has been amped up since she arrived in Atlanta a week prior to the start of this year’s event. She’s admittedly exhausted from the many hours she poured into this project, but there’s a tone of excitement in her voice that’s impossible to overlook.

“I literally might not even sleep tonight because I’m just so excited for these girls to have this opportunity and to play hard and have fun,” Rogers said a day before competition got underway. “I think they enjoy being with each other. They’ve made friends with their teammates who don’t even speak the same language as them, and it’s fun to see them come out of their shell and perform like I know they can to earn a chance at a future in basketball.”

While the NBA Academy Games has showcased international prospects for four years on the men’s side, this year marks the first for women. The two-day competition began Thursday and ends Friday evening, with a total of 38 top prospects from more than 20 countries outside the U.S. descending upon Atlanta.

The showcase takes place during the NCAA women’s basketball live period, allowing coaches from across the country to make the trip to Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta to evaluate some of the top prospects the rest of the world has to offer.

A number of Division I schools are represented at this year’s event, including Wisconsin, Auburn, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Georgetown, Columbia, Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast, Rhode Island and UTSA, as well as a handful of Division II and JUCO schools. On top of that, several WNBA teams also sent scouts to assess talent, including the New York Liberty, Atlanta Dream and Seattle Storm.

In many ways, the Women’s NBA Academy Games mirrors what has been implemented on the men’s side. Rogers has seen firsthand the challenges international players face, both as a player for seven seasons in the WNBA and as an assistant coach at Liberty University in 2018-19.

“From a player’s perspective, I think most international players want to play at the highest level possible, and the NCAA offers not only that but an education as well,” Rogers said. “A lot of the issues players run into is they don’t even know they can get a full NCAA scholarship for playing basketball, and then beyond that, they have no idea how to obtain that and all the steps that are required to achieve that goal.

“There’s a lot of issues from a player’s perspective, but our goal for this event is to educate them and give them the experience of exposure from the NCAA and WNBA, and also just give them the experience of playing against other international players who share the same goal.”

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Agata Makurat of Poland cheers on her team at the Women's NBA Academy Games on Thursday in Atlanta. (Nicole Sweet/NBA Academy)

Agata Makurat of Poland is among the top prospects featured at this year’s showcase. The 6-foot-3 guard comes from a family with no shortage of greatness on the hardwood, as her mother coached her for half a decade when she began playing and her father played basketball.

Her two older sisters were also both Division I players. Her oldest sister, Ola, played for three different schools during her college career, starting at Liberty before leaving her mark at Utah and finishing up at Arkansas State. Her other sister, Anna, played two seasons at UConn (2019-21) before returning to Europe to compete professionally.

“We were always competing, and I always wanted to be better than them,” Agata said with a laugh. “They are my motivation right now because they are already pros, and it’s the place I want to be in a couple years.”

Last month, Agata verbally committed to Vanderbilt, but she’s using the summer to step back on the court and regain her confidence after undergoing surgery earlier in the year. While she’s made the trip three times prior, the Academy Games marks her first time competing in the U.S.

“It’s completely different than my country,” said Agata, who will graduate in 2023. “The girls are more athletic, and the game is tougher. I’m really enjoying it so far.”

Agata’s favorite players are WNBA stars Breanna Stewart and Katie Lou Samuelson, both of whom play a similar style to the one she wants to play.

“I’m trying to be as versatile as I can and maybe play as a guard even when I’m a post player, so it’s easier for me because most of the post players are not as fast,” Agata said. “I have the opportunity to show my skills as a guard.”

Still a year removed from her final high school season, Erica Marie Carr Ramos of Mexico is using the Academy Games to leverage her own interest from college coaches. Ramos hails from Chihuahua, Mexico and has been playing since she was 4 years old.

The 6-3 Ramos has been in the U.S. for a little over a year and has been working hard at improving her hookshot and footwork in the post. Before arriving in the U.S., Ramos was used more as a shooting guard/small forward, but her unique size gives her an advantage down low. And coaches have taken notice.

Ramos is excited to get the opportunity to play with players from all around the world, and she hopes the exposure from the Academy Games will help her gain valuable experience.

“Getting to play in front of coaches, getting to be coached by other coaches and be adapted to their plays and their system — feeling comfortable, that’s new,” Ramos said. “It’s normal to feel uncomfortable when you learn a new position, a new play.”

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Erica Marie Carr Ramos competes in the Women's NBA Academy Games on Thursday in Atlanta. (Nicole Sweet/NBA Academy)

Several schools have already shown interest in Ramos, including UNLV, UTSA, Tulsa, North Texas and Baylor. Much of that interest can be attributed to her first summer on the AAU circuit, which has allowed her to gain a heightened level of exposure.

Still, her year in the U.S. has been a learning experience on the court. Ramos’ parents were both basketball players as well, and they trained her to be a versatile presence who could play inside-out.

“When I moved back to the States, it was kind of difficult because they only wanted me to be in one position because I’m tall,” said Ramos, who tries to model her game after WNBA MVP favorite A’ja Wilson. “I kind of struggled with that the first year. Slowly, I’m starting to get my rhythm back and my skills back with being versatile.”

With teams composed of players from various countries, Ramos has been an asset at the Academy Games, helping facilitate communication between Spanish- and English-speaking players. She’s enjoying the multi-cultural aspect of getting to know her teammates.

“It’s been great,” Ramos said. “It gives me the opportunity to meet girls from other countries, learn about their cultures, talk with them, make friends and also have these relationships, hopefully, in the future and continue them.”

The Academy Games began with three days of practice that allowed players to adjust to time-zone changes, settle into their teams and prepare their bodies for exhibition games on Thursday and Friday.

For the exhibition games, international players are divided into four teams — black, green, blue and red — while two select teams of top local players from Atlanta-based The Skill Factory are also on hand to compete. The women’s event also included a panel discussion about leadership and player pathways, led by former WNBA players Rushia Brown, Chasity Melvin, Nakia Sanford and Tracy Henderson.

In 2021, the WNBA had seven international players drafted for the first time since 2001. Three of those players from the 2021 draft were taken in the first round alone, including the Dallas Wings’ No. 2 overall pick, Awak Kuier of Finland.

Rogers believes the importance of international players thriving in the WNBA is “imperative” because it allows the league to advance the game globally.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for international players because I played overseas for five seasons, and the commitment, the work ethic — there’s so many great things about international basketball. We see it in the NBA as well. It just brings the game full circle, and it really evolves the game as well.”

Trent Singer is the High School Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow him on Twitter @trentsinger.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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