The WNBA is about to have many, many more fans in Mississippi. That’s because Victoria Vivians – the state’s all-time high school scoring leader who helped lead Mississippi State to two NCAA Final Fours (and was also the school’s homecoming queen) – is about to enter the league.
The WNBA Draft is Thursday night. Vivians is projected as a slam dunk first-rounder. Morgan William, State’s point guard and shooter of one of the most famous shots in the history of women’s basketball, probably will be drafted as well.
Readers have emailed and tweeted to this column questions about the WNBA – frankly, questions I could not answer. With that in mind, I called the best source I’ve ever had on women’s basketball: Mississippi State graduate and former Ole Miss coach Van Chancellor. All Chancellor did is win the first four WNBA championships as the coach of the Houston Comets. He was Coach of the Year in the WNBA the first three times the league gave out the award.
He qualifies as an expert. What follows is a Q and A with Chancellor, now 74 and retired in the Houston area, about the league, about Vivians and about William.
Q. Van, the question most folks ask, how much money can Victoria make in the WNBA?
A. Just like many other professional sports, salaries are slotted in the WNBA. First rounders, as I expect Victoria to be, will make $52,000 a year under the rookie contract and that’s for the first three years. Now then, keep in mind they – or she – will make most of their money overseas. The European teams pay more. My educated guess is that as a first-year player she will make about 100 grand over there. Superstars over there can make three or four hundred thousand dollars a year .
Q. So do the seasons overlap, the WNBA and overseas?
A. They can if your teams make the playoffs. The WNBA teams will report in May. They play a 32- game season that goes to September. You get a little break and then you go over to Europe and play for your team there. You get a little time off for Christmas and then you go back and finish the season overseas. When that season ends, it’s time to come back and play in the WNBA. If your team goes deep in the playoffs overseas, sometimes you are late reporting to your WNBA team and that can be a problem for your WNBA team.
Q. What about endorsements?
A. There’s not as much national endorsement money as there used to be for women. The best players can get a shoe contract, but it’s not life-changing money. If you get with the right team, there’s some local endorsement money to be made. You can make more money – not a lot more but some more – if your team wins and advances to the championships.
My best guess is that Victoria Vivians, as good as she is, can make in the neighborhood of $200,000 as a rookie. That’s WNBA, overseas, endorsements and everything combined. That’s nothing like the NBA, but it’s not bad money for playing basketball.
Q. You were a highly successful coach in the WNBA. How do you assess Vivians as a WNBA player?
A. She’s special. I think she’s going to be a tremendous pro. She can do what you can’t teach. She can score and she can score a number of ways. She has the ability to hit the deep three and she has the ability to put the ball on the floor and go to the basket or hit the mid-range shot. I think she can be an impact player in that league. That said, she will need to work on her game and continue to improve and make herself a better player. That’s because that’s what everyone else will be doing. You have to improve your game.
Internationally, she can be even better. What they are hunting over there are scorers and she is a scorer. And here’s the thing: She won’t be guarded over there nearly the way she has been guarded here in the SEC. In Europe, they don’t play defense like we do here. She’s going to get a lot more open shots over there. She’s going to get easier shots than she had here.
Q. Endorsement-wise, will her looks be a factor? She has homecoming queen beauty. Will that matter as far as endorsements in the WNBA and overseas.
A. It’s a factor, no doubt, it’s always a factor, but the bigger factor will be her ability to put the ball in the basket and ability to help her teams win championships.
Q. Where do you think Vivians will be drafted?
A. No doubt, in the first round. If it were me, I’d pick her second behind A’ja Wilson (South Carolina) but that’s just me.
Q. What about Morgan William?
A. Listen, there’s always a place in basketball for a point guard who can run a team, inspire a team and get the ball where it’s supposed to go. Morgan Williams reminds me of Tameka Johnson, who played at LSU and then for many years in the WNBA. To me, Morgan brings a lot of the same things to the table that Tameka did. She’s about the same size, and Tameka played successfully in that league for a long time.