Arizona Women's Basketball

Rarefied Aari: McDonald part of Arizona elite with WNBA draft approaching

Arizona’s revitalization under Adia Barnes should impact its presence in the WNBA, starting with the lofty selection today of All-American guard Aari McDonald.

This is the 25th WNBA Draft dating to 1997 and Arizona has only eight selections, a scant average of one pick every 3.1 years.

The Wildcats have produced 15 WNBA players overall. UConn had 16 players in the WNBA last season.

The highest draft pick in Arizona history was Davellyn Whyte in 2013 in the second round, the 16th selection overall, by the San Antonio Silver Stars.

McDonald will become the first Arizona selection since Whyte and will undoubtedly be the highest pick in program history when the WNBA Draft takes place virtually on Thursday at 4 p.m.

McDonald is projected by ESPN to be the fifth pick overall, going to the Dallas Wings. The Wings have three of the top five picks.

ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel writes, “Does Dallas opt for a point guard here, and if so, which one? McDonald finished her senior season averaging 20.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists, with a national championship game appearance. McDonald’s defense is top-notch, but how will she perform offensively without the ball? If Dallas feels that her speed, defense and the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude she plays with are strong enough points in her favor, the Wings might select her.”

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Dallas president Greg Bibb said of McDonald, who is listed at 5-foot-6, “I think she’s a player who has a knack for playing her best in the biggest games, and I think we saw that in the recently completed NCAA Tournament. In terms of her size, obviously size is always a consideration in the game of basketball, but I don’t think it is ultimately a negative factor that is going to determine the outcome of someone’s career. I think Cheryl (Reeve) in Minnesota proved that with (5-foot-5) Crystal Dangerfield this past year. Crystal played unbelievably well and was named Rookie of the Year.”

Yahoo! Sports is projecting McDonald to go to the Atlanta Fever with the No. 4 pick.

Yahoo!’s Marisa Ingemi writes, “Perhaps McDonald raised her stock enough to go in the top three. If not, she feels like a lock for the top five. The Arizona star made waves as a strong defensive player and someone who can take over on offense to lead the Wildcats to their upset over UConn and to the national title game. The Fever need another scorer after dropping to eighth in the league last year. Feels like a natural fit.”

McDonald’s projected high selection makes her the standard bearer for an Arizona program climbing from the depths of the unknown when it comes to the WNBA.

In addition to the lack of draft picks, a dubious matter for Arizona is the longevity of the players who have played in the WNBA.

The average career span of the 15 players from Arizona who have competed in the WNBA is just 1.8 years.

The average career length in the league is almost doubled that at 3.5 years.

Barnes, Arizona’s ultra-successful head coach, has the longest WNBA career span of former Wildcats with seven seasons lasting from 1998 to 2004.

Whyte’s career lasted only 31 games of one season with San Antonio despite her high draft selection. An ACL tear in her right knee before the 2014 season derailed her WNBA career. She later played briefly in France.

Because of a career-altering knee injury, Davellyn Whyte, the highest selected Arizona player in the WNBA Draft, played only one season in the league (Arizona Athletics photo)

While Arizona went the last seven years without having a former player in the WNBA, UConn led all colleges with its 16 former players in the league last season. That makes Arizona’s win over Geno Auriemma’s program in the Final Four that much more impressive.

The difference was McDonald in the 69-59 win.

She finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

“She just dominated the entire game start to finish,” Auriemma said. “We pride ourselves on being pretty good at certain things.

“We had no answer for her.”

Hillary Clinton said of McDonald in the Hysteria podcast, “She’s amazing,” although she did admit she cheered for Stanford in the title game because her daughter Chelsea and son-in-law Marc Mezvinsky are Stanford graduates.

“We were thrilled by Arizona,” Clinton said. “Also loved the confidence and the energy of these young women. Both coaches were so in there and saying, ‘We’re going to do this,’ and ‘Come on, you can make it.’ It goes down to (McDonald’s) buzzer shot … I thought it was a great game.”

Being the most talented player in Arizona history puts McDonald in position to be the longest-tenured WNBA player the Wildcats have produced. That would not only be ideal for McDonald, but for Barnes and Arizona as a marketing and recruiting tool to get high-profile players just like her.

She said the projections of her being one of the top picks in the draft is “crazy.”

“It just lets upcoming players that are coming to Arizona or deciding to come to Arizona, that you can do anything here,” she said. “Just pretty much believe in yourself, believe in your teammates, believe in your coaches. I set the bar pretty high, but I want the younger ones still in the program, people coming in here to outdo me.”

McDonald is about four months from earning her master’s degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis at Arizona, a significant accomplishment to boost her career possibilities beyond basketball.

“Despite everything that I’ve accomplished as a player, I think getting my master’s degree is better than any accomplishment that I have,” McDonald said. “Nobody can take that away from me. I worked extremely hard, so I’m really excited about that.”

Arizona’s WNBA Draft Picks

Adia Barnes (1995-98)
Sacramento Monarchs (Round 4, Pick 33) – 1998

Sacramento Monarchs (1998)
Minnesota Lynx (1999-00)
Cleveland Rockers (2000-01)
Seattle Storm (2002-04)

Marte Alexander (1995-98)
Los Angeles Sparks (Round 3, Pick 47) – 2000

Los Angeles Sparks (2000)
Charlotte Sting (2001)

Reshea Bristol (1998-2001)
Charlotte Sting (Round 4, Pick 50) – 2001

Charlotte Sting (2001)

LaKeisha Taylor (1999-2002)
Indiana Fever (Round 4, Pick 49) – 2002

Indiana Fever (2002)

Elizabeth Pickney (1999-2002)
Sacramento Monarchs (Round 4, Pick 60) – 2002

Sacramento Monarchs (2002)
Phoenix Mercury (2003)

Dee-Dee Wheeler (2000-05)
Los Angeles Sparks (Round 2, Pick 26) – 2005

Los Angeles Sparks (2005)

Ify Ibekwe (2007-11)
Seattle Storm (Round 2, Pick 24) – 2011

Seattle Storm (2011)
Los Angeles Sparks (2017)

Davellyn Whyte (2009-13)
San Antonio Silver Stars (Round 2, Pick 16) – 2013

San Antonio Stars (2013)

Undrafted players

Tatum Brown (1999-2000)
Cleveland Rockers (2002)
Washington Mystics (2003)

Margo Clark (1991-93)
Sacramento Monarchs (1997)

Bonnie Dove (1993-94)
Cleveland Rockers (1997 & 2001)

Angela Lackey (1999-2000)
Charlotte Sting (2002)

DeAngela Minter (1995-98)
Detroit Shock (1998)

Felecity Willis (1997-2000)
Los Angeles Sparks (2000)
Charlotte Sting (2001)
Washington Mystics (2003)

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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