A Sign of Things to Come?: Recent Departures in Women’s Basketball

16 06 2009

I’ve read about three recent occurrences that have me thinking. While two may be related, all three may be a sign of things to come. departuresI’m talking about the recent departures of two male WNBA Head Coaches “to pursue possibilities in the NBA” and the second-ever early departure of Rutger’s Epiphanny Prince to “play basketball professionally in Europe before entering the 2010 W.N.B.A. draft” (Schuye LaRue was the first-ever woman to leave early from Virginia after her sophomore year in 2001 to go play abroad before getting drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2003…thanks @hoopfeed!)

Successful Bill Laimbeer left the Detroit Shock after three games, and the not so successful Don Zierden left the Minnesota Lynx three days before their home opener to return to coaching in the NBA. While WNBA league officials and the departing coaches were assuring fans their departures were not a sign of trouble for the league, I’m not so convinced. I hope I’m wrong. What it does signal is that despite your success as a male coach in the WNBA, you can still get “called up” or return to the NBA. Would a successful—or better yet an unsuccessful—female coach ever get the same call? (maybe if your name is Pat Summitt, but I’m pretty sure that one’s gender is not a predictor of effective coaching so in theory many women should get said call)

As for Prince forgoing her senior year of ball at Rutgers to play professionally…One one hand, why not go and start making money immediately?—males have been doing it for years as has been pointed out. Prince states she “plans to buy her mother a house and support an A.A.U. team in Brooklyn”, so the move seems to be primarily financially motivated. On the other hand now that the seal is broken, will droves of other young women follow suit maybe never to return to finish their degrees? (and I’m not saying Prince won’t finish, but highlighting the possibility). Is this a trend we want female athletes to perpetuate? In essence, Prince’s move is no different than those of Laimbeer or Zierden….all three are leaving one basketball team, to pursue what is perceived as a better, bigger, and more lucrative opportunity with another team.

I’m not sure if this collective trend signals a sign of the times or is a sign of things to come….or both. And if it is of things to come….what “things” are we really talking about?

Update: To read more about various perspectives about Laimbeer click here or here.

To read more about what Gina Auriemma says about Prince’s departure, click here or read Altavilla’s blog. The NY Times also weighs in with an article titled “She’s Turning Pro, but Is It Progress?”

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