Friday, June 14, 2024

2024 WNBA season rookies to watch: Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso

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The 2024 WNBA rookie class is one of the most anticipated in history, led by none other than Caitlin Clark, the scoring phenom from Iowa who re-wrote the college record books. 

But she’s not the only newcomer expected to make a big impact, and do so immediately. There hasn’t been this sort of attention and excitement around WNBA rookies since 2013, when Brittney Griner, Elena Della Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith joined the league. 

To get you ready for the 2024 WNBA season that tips Tuesday, USA TODAY Sports’ Lindsay Schnell gives a primer on the nine rookies she thinks will have the biggest impact this season.

Caitlin Clark, Indiana Fever

Position: guard

College: Iowa

College career stats: 28.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists

She’ll play right away because: You know she’s the best scorer in the history of college basketball, men or women, right? 

She’ll need to work on: Her defense

She said it: “I do feel a responsibility to lead the women’s game.” 

Did you know: Clark is obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, especially if they’re freshly baked. In high school, she was often late to practice, leading her team on a trek to the concession stand for warm chocolate chip cookies. Her mom Anne is known for baking desserts for Clark’s teammates.

Kamilla Cardoso, Chicago Sky

Position: center

College: South Carolina

College career stats: 10.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists

She won’t play right away because: Cardoso is expected to miss the first month of the season with a shoulder injury. But the 6-foot-7 center has impressive athleticism and body control for someone her size, and she’s a rebounding machine.

She’ll need to work on: Developing more offensive moves and improving her shooting range

She said it: “Nobody is going to get any rebounds on us.” — on playing in Chicago with Angel Reese (she tossed her hair over her shoulder for extra flair after she said this).

Did you know: A Brazilian native, Cardoso is a huge soccer fan. Her favorite player, of course, is Marta, someone who Cardoso said inspired her to follow her athletic dreams. 

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Cameron Brink, Los Angeles Sparks

Position: forward

College: Stanford

College career stats: 14.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists

She’ll play right away because: Brink is the best two-way player in the 2024 class, and will provide scoring and defense from Day 1. 

She’ll need to work on: Learning how to defend without fouling (this is an evergreen statement).

She said it: “You can only hope to do half of what they’ve done … I just hope to be half of the player they were.” — on following in the footsteps of other great Sparks forwards Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike

Did you know: Brink learned about the WNBA from her mom, Michelle Bain-Brink, who played college basketball at Virginia Tech and then became a product manager at Nike, where she worked on Dawn Staley’s signature shoe. (Brink is signed with New Balance).

Rickea Jackson, Los Angeles Sparks

Position: guard

College: Tennessee and Mississippi State

College career stats: 17.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists

She’ll play right away because: Jackson has a pro-ready frame and her size will help her adjust. She can score in bunches, and the Sparks need that after losing their top two scorers in the offseason.

She’ll need to work on: Jackson improved her outside shooting significantly throughout her college career. Now, will she be able to create space and hit against bigger, longer and stronger defenders?

She said it: “It’s just different — the weather, the culture, it’s just this different vibe when you get into Cali(fornia). I like it a lot, besides the traffic.”

Did you know: Jackson worked as a Pioneer mascot for one game in high school, but said she couldn’t do it full-time because the costume was too hot. 

Jacy Sheldon, Dallas Wings

Position: guard

College: Ohio State

College career stats:  15.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists

She’ll play right away because: She’s one of the best defenders in the class, especially gifted at defending in transition and pushing the pace after she’s stolen the ball. 

She’ll need to work on: Being able to create her own shots in the half court

She said it: “It’s the hardest professional roster to make. But I think (the key) for me just staying confident and being ready to learn and listen.”

Did you know: Sheldon’s sister Emmy, a 16-year-old with Down syndrome, became a fan favorite at Ohio State and is widely known as her big sister’s No. 1 fan. After Jacy was drafted in April, Emmy joined her on stage to celebrate. 

Aaliyah Edwards, Washington Mystics

Position: forward

College: UConn

College career stats: 13.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists

She’ll play right away because: With Elena Delle Donne out this season, the Mystics are in need of a big(ger) body who can score, rebound and get out in transition. Edwards loves to run the floor. 

She’ll need to work on: Being able to consistently knock down open 3s

She said it: “I’m just really grateful to make an impact here in the States and to lead the way so they can build their own footprints.” — on her desire to inspire other Canadian basketball players

Did you know: Edwards is the only member of this rookie class who comes into the league with Olympic experience, having played for Canada at the Tokyo Olympics. 

Angel Reese, Chicago Sky

Position: forward

College: LSU and Maryland

Career college stats: 18.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists

She’ll play right away because: The Sky need rebounding, and Reese is a machine on the boards. She’s also an excellent facilitator.

She’ll need to work on: Scoring on her first opportunity (she rebounded a lot of her own misses in college) and shooting range

She said it: “I went to the Met Gala, slayed the Met Gala in New York, came back, slayed New York. It’s what I do. I’m not one-dimensional, women don’t have to be one-dimensional.” 

Did you know: Reese is the face of women’s basketball at Reebok, a company owned and operated by her mentor, Shaquille O’Neal. She said Reebok plans to give her a signature sneaker soon. 

Alissa Pili, Minnesota Lynx

Position: forward

College: USC and Utah

Career college stats: 16.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists

She’ll play right away because: Though undersized, she’s a crafty scorer who has found a way to get buckets on anyone and everyone.

She’ll need to work on: Generously listed at 6-foot-2, Pili will need to work on being able to defend players who are bigger. 

She said it: “Shoot, I don’t think anything’s been easy about this. This transition (to the WNBA) has been tough.”

Did you know: At the draft, Pili honored her Native heritage by wearing a dress with a gold skirt covered in tribal print. The dress’s slit showed off Pili’s Polynesian tattoo, which wraps around her right leg from ankle to hip. Pili is Samoan and Alaska Native (Inupiaq).

Nika Muhl, Seattle Storm

Position: guard

College: UConn

Career college stats: 5.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists

She’ll play right away because: The two-time Big East defensive player of the year, she’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the class, and is particularly good at locking down offensive stars.

She’ll need to work on: Staying out of foul trouble (it was a problem in college)

She said it: “Six fouls, honestly, I had no idea that is the case (in the WNBA). So I’m very excited about that.”

Did you know? Muhl has two tattoos for her younger sister Hana — one behind her left ear and another on her left hand. Hana plays basketball at Ball State. The sisters grew up in Croatia.

Email Lindsay Schnell at lschnell@usatoday.com and follow her on social media @Lindsay_Schnell

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