The Weekly Roundup: Kim Mulkey Comes Home and WNBA Training Camps Are in Full Swing

Former Baylor head coach inks an 8-year, $22.5 million deal to lead LSU, and WNBA preseason action gets underway

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It’s hard to believe that we are just eleven days away from opening night of the 25th WNBA season! After a wild WNBA Draft, training camps are in full swing and preseason contests are underway. However, the big women’s basketball story last week was Kim Mulkey leaving Baylor and returning to her roots in Louisiana to become the new head coach at Louisiana State University.

Kim Mulkey Comes Home

It’s a rarity for a head coach with three national championships to leave her job for another team, particularly when that other team has not played a postseason game in three years. However, that’s what happened when Kim Mulkey left Baylor to become the next women’s basketball coach at LSU.

In what LSU hopes is a harbinger of things to come, Mulkey’s impact on the Baylor women’s basketball program was immediate when she was hired in 2000. Fresh off a 7-20 campaign the year before, the Lady Bears went 21-9 in Mulkey’s first season and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Mulkey’s teams went an absurd 632-108; won a dozen Big 12 regular-season titles and 11 conference tournament titles; reached 15 Sweet Sixteens, 10 Elite Eights, and five Final Fours; and won the three aforementioned national titles. Bottom line: She transformed Baylor into a perennial national contender.

Kim Mulkey acknowledges fans at the press conference where she was formally introduced as the new women’s basketball coach at LSU on Monday, April 26. (Photo credit: Harrison Valentine, LSU Athletics Communications)

To be sure, her tenure at Baylor was not without controversy. In the midst of a 2017 lawsuit against the university alleging that 31 Baylor football players committed 52 sexual assaults, she commented, “The problems we have at Baylor are no different than the problems at any other school in America. Period. Move on. Find another story to write.” As Chantel Jennings of The Athletic alluded to in her piece on Mulkey’s recent hiring, these are particularly troublesome comments in light of the fact that LSU is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for sex discrimination as well as failing to protect women from gendered violence and harassment. Then there were her recent ill-advised comments that the NCAA should suspend COVID-19 testing for athletes during the Final Four.  

So, why did Mulkey leave a program in the national title conversation every year and a $2.27 million annual salary for a program that hasn’t made it past the Sweet Sixteen since 2008? Mulkey addressed that question during her introductory press conference last week: 

“I would not have left Baylor for any other school except LSU,” Mulkey said. “How do you get a coach to leave an institution that has had so much success? I think that’s what everybody’s wondering. And the first thing you’re gonna wonder is, ‘God, she got a boatload of money…’ Yes, it did take some money to get me away from Baylor, but that wasn’t the deciding factor. Timing in everybody’s life is so important. If it doesn’t feel right at that time in your life, you don’t do it. It just felt right, the timing in my life. If you have followed my career, I’ve said it numerous times: No matter where I go to coach, no matter where my career takes me, Louisiana is my home.”

After giving Kim Mulkey the opportunity to return home and backing up the Brink’s truck to the tune of $22.5 million (before incentives) over eight years, LSU now has a Hall of Fame coach with a proven ability to transform a program into a national contender.      

WNBA Training Camps and Preseason

It’s been over a week since the start of WNBA training camps, and time is running out for teams to make the difficult cuts necessary to trim their rosters to 11 or 12 players by opening day on May 14th. Wondering how teams will make these tough decisions? We at Her Hoop Stats have the tools to help! Whether it be our salary cap summary for all teams, salary cap sheets by team, or salary information by player, we’ve got you covered. 

The WNBA preseason kicked off Saturday afternoon as the Atlanta Dream hosted a scrimmage against the Minnesota Lynx. While no media or fans were allowed in the arena, Atlanta Dream public relations manager Kelsey Bibik did post a picture of a box score to social media. This combined with the teams’ postgame press conferences gave fans a rough picture of what transpired.

The Dream won 69-61, but Saturday’s focus was more on player development and evaluating talent to help teams finalize their opening night rosters. Cheyenne Parker, in her first action with Atlanta after six seasons with the Chicago Sky, and Odyssey Sims led all scorers with 12 points apiece. Atlanta head coach Nicki Collen had particularly high praise for Sims, calling her “the best player on the floor today.” The Dream’s first-round draft pick, Aari McDonald, managed seven points and three assists in 21 minutes. Collen was largely complimentary of McDonald’s debut: “I thought Aari really pushed tempo...I think she guarded really hard; I think she was disruptive in transition.” 

The Lynx, playing without Rennia Davis (out indefinitely with a stress fracture in her left foot) Aerial Powers, Napheesa Collier (finishing up her season overseas), and Kayla McBride (also still playing overseas), were led by forwards Bridget Carleton (10 points, 4 rebounds) and Jessica Shepard (10 points, 6 rebounds). This was Shepard’s first WNBA action since tearing her ACL six games into the 2019 season. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve was encouraged by Shepard’s performance while understanding it will take time for her to return to full form. "Jess impacted the game,'' Reeve said. "As the minutes started to pile up, fatigue set in. But when she was fresh, she was doing Jess Shepard-type things.''    

In the second scrimmage of the weekend, the Las Vegas Aces hosted the Los Angeles Sparks. Nia Coffey led the Sparks with 20 points as Los Angeles knocked off Las Vegas 80-71. Currently on a training camp contract and fighting for one of the final spots on the Sparks roster, Coffey’s performance caught the attention of Los Angeles head coach Derek Fisher. “She’s shown us all week that she has the ability to impact the game at multiple levels and multiple ways, and that’s what she did today,” Fisher said. “Not just about the points, just competing and playing hard and emptying her tank to do everything she can do to help the team win. Those are the kind of players we want on our team.” 

Bria Holmes added 10 points and Chiney Ogwumike chipped in eight in the latter’s first WNBA action since 2019 after opting out of last season. A’ja Wilson led the Aces with 14 points and Liz Cambage dropped 10. The two teams will do it all over again next Sunday in Los Angeles.   

Below is the schedule for the remaining preseason games (all times Eastern). While it is currently unclear whether these games will be available via WNBA League Pass, one thing is for sure: they will go a long way toward helping executives solidify their teams’ opening night rosters. 

Wednesday, May 5

7 PM - Atlanta Dream at Washington Mystics

Saturday, May 8

1 PM - Connecticut Sun at Dallas Wings

2 PM - Washington Mystics at Minnesota Lynx

4 PM - Las Vegas Aces at Los Angeles Sparks

7 PM - Seattle Storm at Phoenix Mercury

Sunday, May 9

1 PM - Chicago Sky at Indiana Fever

Tuesday, May 11

4:30 PM - Indiana Fever at Chicago Sky

Her Hoop Stats Content in Case You Missed It

In the latest episode of the Her Hoop Stats Podcast with John Liddle, John talked to New York Liberty guard Jazmine Jones about the challenges of playing in the Wubble as well as what she’s been up to in the offseason. Averaging 10.8 points per game and making the WNBA All-Rookie team, Jazmine had quite the successful rookie campaign but still feels she has plenty to prove in her sophomore season.

Gabe Ibrahim and Christy Winters-Scott discussed the most interesting training camps, Elena Delle Donne’s injury situation, and the recent influx of former WNBA players into coaching in the most recent episode of Courtside.

Which team had the best draft? Which team won the Mike Thibault Award for ruining mock drafts? Gabe Ibrahim answers these burning questions and recalls the best moments from one of the most unpredictable WNBA Drafts in recent memory. Spoiler alert: Michaela Onyenwere’s grandmother makes an appearance!

Richard Cohen detailed some of the interesting WNBA training camp battles taking place over the next few weeks as teams have to trim their rosters to 11 or 12 players by opening day. 

Sophomore slump? Don’t count on it for the five players Aneela Khan profiled who are primed for a big second season in the WNBA.

Other Recommended Reading

For Sports Illustrated, Britni de la Cretaz wrote about nonbinary athletes navigating their way through a sex-segregated sports world. New York Liberty guard Layshia Clarendon is one of the athletes featured in this important article.      

For The Athletic, Marcus Thompson II chronicled Te’a Cooper’s journey from college, where she played for three national powerhouses (Tennessee, South Carolina, and Baylor) and suffered an ACL injury, to the Los Angeles Sparks, where she demonstrates the power of social media in developing a player’s brand.      

For Five Thirty Eight, Marisa Ingemi detailed how this year’s class of second-round draft picks (including Dana Evans, Arella Guirantes, and Natasha Mack) could be the best ever.   

In another installment of her fascinating series about families in women’s basketball, Jenn Hatfield wrote in The Next about the Hayes sisters and what three of them - Anastasia, Alasia, and Aislynn - will bring to the table next year in Starkville.      

In a piece that exemplifies the impact of investments in women’s sports, Louisa Thomas wrote in The New Yorker about the amazing turnaround of NJ/NY Gotham FC (formerly Sky Blue FC) of the National Women’s Soccer League.   

WNBA Trivia Questions of the Week (Answers to be revealed next week)

How good is your WNBA knowledge? Let’s find out! In order of increasing difficulty, below are three trivia questions - comment below or let us know on Twitter @herhoopstats if you think you know the answers. A few caveats. First, try to answer these without Google, Bing, AltaVista, Lycos, Ask Jeeves, or any other search engine (Yes, I grew up in an era with several search engines and when the term “Google” wasn’t a verb). Second, besides pride, there are no prizes for correct answers. Lastly, despite the Ken Jennings reference in the label for the most difficult question, there is no need to phrase your answer in the form of a question, Jeopardy!-style.   

Easier: Featuring legends such as Sheryl Swoopes, Cynthia Cooper, and Tina Thompson, what now-defunct team won the first four WNBA championships?    

More Difficult: In one of the greatest shots in WNBA history, who nailed a game-winning half-court shot in Game 2 of the 1999 WNBA Finals, saving her team from elimination?  

Ken Jennings-Level: Having each won the award three times, which three players hold the record for most regular-season MVPs?

Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.