The math is daunting for a young player trying to break into the WNBA. There are 12 teams, a maximum of 12 roster spots on each team, and lots of savvy veterans who don’t give up those spots easily, if at all.
“It’s the hardest professional league to make in terms of the percentage of people that play,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said a few days before Friday’s WNBA draft. “You know, there’s 144 jobs when every team is carrying a full roster. At the beginning of this season, not every team most likely will be even carrying a full roster of 12. A couple will have to have 11 until a certain point of the season, when the salary cap will allow them to fit a 12th.
“It is very, very difficult to make a WNBA roster, even more difficult for a second-round pick or maybe a third-round pick to make it.”
And if it’s tough in general, imagine how tough it will be to crack the Sparks roster, with 11 players with three or more years experience and seven with All-Star credentials: Candace Parker, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, Seimone Augustus, Chelsea Gray, Kristi Toliver and Riquna Williams. Especially when all will be there from the start of camp, whenever that happens, with no late arrivals from overseas giving a young player an extra chance to catch the coaching staff’s attention.
So into this lions’ den steps Beatrice Mompremier, a 6-foot-4 forward from the University of Miami who was the 20th player picked Friday night but might be a second-rounder in name only.
“First round talent,” said assistant general manager Michael Fischer, who ran the Sparks’ draft. “She’s 6-5, long arms. … She had an injury, and you could see how important she was for Miami. When she went down the team struggled, and she showed how important to the team she is and how talented she is.”
Mompremier, who finished her college career in her hometown after playing her first two seasons at Baylor, was an honorable mention All-America in each of her two seasons with the Hurricanes. But she missed 13 games as a senior with what was described as an acute foot injury, getting back two games before the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. She averaged 16.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 26.1 minutes in her 17 games as a senior, with nine double-doubles. As a junior she averaged 16.7 and 12.2, with 25 double-doubles in 33 games.
She has always been a strong post player offensively but diversified her game the last couple of seasons, handling the ball and improving her shooting range. And she is a force on the glass and as a rim protector.
A survey of 12 WNBA mock drafts leading up to the real thing had Mompremier a first-rounder in every one, anywhere between seventh and 12th. You have to wonder if the same “stay at home” measures that forced the draft itself into a virtual mode also hindered teams in the ability to assess Mompremier’s injury and recovery.
“I felt like after I recovered it was pretty much as if I didn’t even have an injury,” Mompremier said Friday night in a teleconference interview. “I felt great, just a little winded. Other than that I’m good.”
Fischer said he’d talked with Miami assistant coach Octavia Blue, who played for the Houston Comets when he worked in that organization, and he’d seen Mompremier a number of times.
“I was just blown away at how she separates herself from everybody else on the court,” he said. “When I’d see Miami play, by far she was the best talent, the best player on the floor. She is a beast. She’s going to push everybody. She is going to surprise everyone. She is that good.”
Yes, those comments could be interpreted as blowing smoke. After all, it is a draft day tradition: Every executive professes that he or she got exactly what they were looking for.
But those mock drafts …
The Sparks now have a 15-player group when training camp eventually is allowed to take place. Their other second-round choice, 6-foot-4 German wing player Leonie Fiebich, will stay in Europe an extra year. Third-rounder Tynice Martin, a point guard from West Virginia, and undrafted free agent Dominique McBride, a forward from Arizona, will round out the roster.
Let the competition begin, coach Derek Fisher said.
“Often those (young) players are hungry for the opportunity to make it, to prove to themselves they belong, and they raise the level for everybody else,” he said. “We’re looking for talent, of course, but also for the type of players who have the mental makeup to push the group forward. Everybody understands what it means to be in the WNBA. Every situation is not guaranteed.
“That raises the level of accountability for everybody, and as competitors I don’t think you’d want it any other way.”
Mompremier was asked on the conference call when it would register that she’s actually going to be on the same court with all of those veteran stars.
“I think I’ll be more in shock when I’m actually there and I get to see them and meet them and talk to them,” she said. “Just learning from them, that’s when reality will hit.
One questioner asked her to describe her style of play in one word.
“Energy,” she replied.
In an uphill battle – and this training camp almost assuredly will be, so help me Rebecca Lobo – energy is a useful trait.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter