Macee Williams, an outgoing IUPUI graduate and one of the Horizon League’s all-time greats, will have the chance to continue her career in the WNBA after the Phoenix Mercury selected the 6-2 post player with the 32nd overall pick in the third round during the WNBA Draft on Monday night.
The native of tiny Veedersburg, IN, of course, just concluded a career that rates among the most accomplished in college basketball. She was a four-time HLWBB Player of the Year, one of just five Division I players in history to win conference MVP honors four times, and she holds the Jaguars’ career records for both scoring and rebounding. Williams’ final college season saw her average a double-double over the campaign for the first time, with 18.7 points and 10.7 rebounds. Most advanced metrics placed her among the top ten players nationally – her 11.2 win shares, for example, were tied for fifth with fellow WNBA draftee Naz Hillmon. In three 2021-22 games against major-conference opponents, Williams averaged 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds.
On a team level, the Jaguars also ascended to the top of the Horizon League during Williams’ run. They won the conference championship in 2020 – IUPUI’s third year in the league – though they were unable to participate in that season’s NCAA Tournament, which was wiped out by COVID. This past season, the Jags returned to the HLWBB apex and finally had the opportunity to compete in March Madness, though they lost a tightly-contested first round game at Oklahoma.
Her new team is an interesting situation, to say the least. The three-time league champion Mercury have been among the circuit’s more successful franchises in recent years, including a trip to the WNBA Finals last season, and their veteran-heavy roster boasts legends of the sport like Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Tina Charles. They won’t be getting much younger in the immediate future either, as Phoenix only had two picks in Monday’s draft, both in the third round (Notre Dame forward Maya Dodson at 26th overall was the other).
However, the entire sports world has been, frankly, terrified by the status of another of the Mercury’s iconic players: Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia (where she had been playing professionally during the WNBA offseason) since February for allegedly possessing hashish oil. It’s hard not to see Williams as something of an insurance policy against the extremely uncertain status of the mammoth gold-medal-winning center, an unfortunate but necessary consideration on the part of general manager Jim Pitman and the Mercury’s leadership.
To be sure, regardless of Griner’s imprisonment in a fascist country on the other side of the globe, Williams’ selection is just the first step of what remains a difficult journey. WNBA teams can roster a maximum of 12 players, meaning that there are 144 total players in the league (at most, since several teams carry fewer than 12) and 36 players were drafted on Monday night. The reality of that math is this: an average of 13 draft picks are waived before the first game of the season, with additional cuts often made shortly after the beginning of the season. About half of each year’s draft class doesn’t play more than one year in the WNBA.
Previous Horizon League players drafted by the WNBA demonstrate those trends well. Green Bay’s Julie Wojta was selected 18th overall by the Minnesota Lynx in 2012 and cut during training camp before re-signing during the season and playing sparingly over parts of two years with the Lynx and San Antonio Silver Stars. Another former Phoenix, Mehryn Kraker, was drafted by the Washington Mystics in 2017 but never suited up in the league, though she continues to play professionally overseas.
Still, Williams now has her foot in the door and an opportunity to prove herself at camp just as she’s proven herself along every step of her career so far. For one of the best the conference will ever see, that just may be enough.