‘Not going to pity myself’: The realities of players cut from WNBA rosters and what the league can do to fix it
By Tamryn Spruill
Second-year guard Lexie Brown also understands just how difficult it is to make it at this level. A self-described “girlie girl,” Brown says her Lynx teammates affectionately call her Beyoncé. But they know not to let her passion for makeup and fashion belie her ferocity on the basketball court. When we spoke on Friday, Brown was dealing with what has become a frequent occupational hazard: her toenails peeling off.
“I’ll just tape them back on,” she said nonchalantly.
While at Duke, Brown started every game she played in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons (she played her first two years at Maryland). Her senior season, Brown averaged 19.4 points for the Blue Devils, along with 4.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds and almost four steals per game.
Picked ninth overall by the Connecticut Sun in the 2018 WNBA Draft, Brown played 22 of 34 regular-season games and saw her playing time drop to 5.6 minutes per game. She averaged just 1.7 points per game. But Brown credits the effort she displayed as rookie with keeping her on the Sun roster.
“I think my work ethic is what got me on the Sun and kept me there because they didn’t necessarily need me last season,” Brown said. “So, I’m very thankful for the Connecticut Sun organization and coaching staff that they felt I brought something to the table that they didn’t have. But they very well could have been like, ‘No, I think we’re okay,’ and picked someone else.”
The bright side for those who don’t make the cut, according to Brown, is overseas opportunities where players can “make money and come back and be even better” — professional experience that could help a player returning to the U.S. finally cross the velvet rope into the exclusive sports league. And she believes players should feel proud of their accomplishments, even if they didn’t make a roster.
“The players who can’t make the team, they shouldn’t think that they did anything wrong, or that they’re not good enough,” Brown said. “It’s not their time yet.”
Brown was traded to the Lynx in April, and is thrilled to have a fresh start on a team that won a championship as recently as 2017. That Minnesota currently is retooling presents Brown with an opportunity for increased minutes and to thrive in her new role as shooting guard.
The day after we spoke, the Lynx won their season-opener against the Chicago Sky, 89-71, and Brown contributed 10 points, two steals and 2-of-2 free throws to the team’s winning effort. She played 22 minutes, a big jump up from the limited time she got with the Sun.
Wednesday night against the defending-champion Seattle Storm, Brown recorded 10 points, four assists, one steal and one offensive rebound in just under 21 minutes.
While Dillard did not get to play in a game with Brown, she made an impression on Brown during training camp.
“Cierra was probably the only player (at Buffalo) with a high basketball IQ, so you pretty much can go and do whatever you want (against opponents),” Brown said, noting that everyone at the WNBA level has a “pretty high basketball IQ.”
In the WNBA, with true centers who know how to guard and teams that know how to execute effective defensive switches to box guards out, playmaking and scoring opportunities don’t come easily, and it’s the guards who can adjust to these rigors, Brown said, who keep their roster spots.
“I think we had a very guard-heavy training camp, and I think Cierra did really well,” Brown said. “I think she held her own. But I think Coach Reeve was looking for a bigger, longer lineup outside of D-Rob (Danielle Robinson) and O (Odyssey Sims), which is what we have — a pretty long team, from top to bottom. It’s nothing that (Dillard) did wrong. I think she was super incredible at Buffalo and I think she did really well in training camp.”
In addition to Dillard’s on-court efforts in practice, Brown also was complimentary of her attitude.
“She has the best, most positive attitude I’ve ever seen,” Brown gushed. “Good vibes, always. Even when she made a mistake, she was always open to criticism and learning and that’s something in this league that’s going to benefit her in the long run. Because, as good as she was in college, she came here really humble and eager and ready to learn.”
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