Getting into the WNBA is notoriously difficult — and staying there is even harder. Only 4 percent of high school players will earn a place on a collegiate team, and just 2.8 percent of those players will make be drafted onto the WNBA, according to NCAA.org.
But there’s good news: The WNBA isn’t the end-all, be-all of women’s professional basketball. Twenty-one percent of draft-eligible, Division I women’s basketball players compete professionally after college, whether in the WNBA or internationally. What’s more, getting a spot on the WNBA is difficult, not impossible. If you make the right moves from your high school athletics career onward — and, of course, if you have the skills — you can make name for yourself in women’s professional basketball. Here’s how.
Your Pro Sports Journey Starts in High School
If you want to become a professional basketball player someday, you need to get started early. Your focus as a high school athlete should be on improving your game, training hard, educating yourself on sports and nutrition and hitting the books, so you can show collegiate sports recruiters you’re a worthy scholar as well as a phenomenal athlete.
Don’t assume recruiters will come to you — reach out to coaches at the programs where you want to play, and put yourself on their radar. Look for networking opportunities at sports clinics and camps. If your family can afford it, look into an athletic boarding school to get the training, conditioning, education and connections you need to make a professional career out of basketball. A good basketball program at a private sports academy will not only provide a well-rounded athletics education, but it will also help you make connections that could win you a spot on a top collegiate team.
Get Onto the Right College Team
In order to get into the WNBA, you need to play college basketball, and you need to get onto the best possible team that’s a good fit for you. Ideally, you want to play for a school in one of the five autonomously governed Division I conferences (Big 12, Big 10, ACC, SEC and Pac-12). Women who play on these teams have a 41 percent chance of playing professionally after college.
But you should also make sure that the collegiate program you choose is a good fit for you, especially because it can be hard to transfer — you may not be allowed to leave the team, and if you do, you may not get to play at your new school. Ask the important questions, so you’ll know what to expect in terms of training, what the coach’s style is like, when you’ll be eligible to play, whether the team is recruiting for your position and so forth. If possible, talk with athletes already on the teams to get an idea of how you’ll fit in.
Make a Name for Yourself Abroad
Once you’re drafted into the WNBA, you’ll be eligible to play abroad during the off-season, and many women play professionally abroad even without being drafted into the WNBA. There are plenty of opportunities for women’s basketball players abroad, and while it might mean playing year-round without a break, it can also mean making a lot more money. The average WNBA salary is just $50,000, and caps at $110,000, but some women earn as much as 15 times more than that playing internationally in the off-season. Some international teams have even poached American women away from the WNBA, offering them higher salaries, the opportunity to play professionally for a foreign team and the chance to rest their bodies in the off-season.
It’s not just about the money, however — playing internationally can help you stay in the WNBA back home. International play is especially good for rookies because it can give them more time on the court and help them maintain and improve their skills instead of spending all their time on a bench and then eventually washing out. Plus, you’ll get to see the world, meet great people, learn new languages and experience different cultures.
Are you dreaming of a career in women’s basketball? With luck, skill and the right plan, it could be yours — as long as you’re willing to work for it.