Will Angel Reese go to the WNBA or return to LSU? Who is eligible for the draft?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 06: Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers is introduced before a game against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena on November 06, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Buffaloes defeated the Lady Tigers 92-78. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

On Friday afternoon, the first round of the 2024 women’s NCAA Tournament begins. But in less than a month, a number of the stars taking part in the action could hear their names called in the 2024 WNBA Draft. That event is set for April 15, just eight days after the national championship. Players are still deciding whether to turn pro or return to school. Some might not officially announce their route until less than 10 days before draft day.

As the NCAA Tournament gets underway, here is a look at where players stand and the rules of the draft process:

Is Caitlin Clark going pro?

Sadly, for Iowa fans, the answer is yes. On Feb. 29, just days before her final regular-season home game, Clark announced she will enter the 2024 WNBA Draft. Although Clark is a senior, she had the option to return to Iowa because of NCAA COVID-19 eligibility rules, creating at least some initial intrigue. In her declaration, she said, “This season is far from over and we have a lot more goals to achieve.” Clark will try to lead top-seeded Iowa back to the national championship game before she chases new goals in the WNBA.

Clark is the presumptive No. 1 pick by the Indiana Fever. Since she declared, interest in Fever tickets — at home and on the road — has surged. Clark has also announced new partnerships with a number of companies. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert recently told The Athletic she expects continued interest from companies as players like Clark enter the league. “I suspect we’ll have some of our huge partners step up here too as huge players come in with the followership,” Engelbert said.

Is Angel Reese staying or leaving?

Reese is one of several players whose futures remain up in the air. Reese has teased her decision on social media but hasn’t committed one way or the other. Her teammate Hailey Van Lith is similarly undecided, as are first-round prospects South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso and Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore.

 

UConn’s Aaliyah Edwards is another top prospect who hasn’t officially announced her decision, though all signs point to her entering the draft. Coach Geno Auriemma told reporters this week that only one of his seniors was returning, and that has to be Paige Bueckers, so he doesn’t seem to be expecting Edwards back.

Has anyone decided to stay in school?

As Auriemma referenced, Bueckers headlines the class of seniors who will take advantage of their bonus season. Bueckers actually can return for a sixth season in 2025-26 because she medically redshirted in 2022-23. Bueckers’ teammate Aubrey Griffin also will return.

Elsewhere, South Carolina guard Te-Hina Paopao decided to play another season for Dawn Staley. Iowa State’s Emily Ryan also will return for a fifth season. All four players were on The Athletic’s 2024 preseason WNBA Draft big board.

What about Stanford star Cameron Brink?

Like Clark, Brink announced she is entering the 2024 WNBA Draft. The Cardinal star made her decision known on March 12, doing so two days after Stanford fell in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal to USC.

Brink could have returned to school for a fifth, and final, season. But as her coach Tara VanDerveer said, Brink has already amassed a college career that made her a star among the best players in program history. A McDonald’s All-American who was the No. 3 recruit nationally coming out of high school, Brink is a two-time Pac-12 player of the year, three-time conference defensive player of the year, national defensive player of the year, two-time All-American and a national champion. A 6-foot-4 post player, Brink is the presumptive No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft by the Los Angeles Sparks.

Who is eligible for the draft?

Players are eligible for the draft if they have finished their fourth year of college or if they have finished three years of school and will turn 22 by the end of 2024. For example, Azzi Fudd will turn 22 in November, so she could elect to skip her final season at UConn and go pro now.

Players have to declare for the draft by April 1 unless they are still playing in the NCAA Tournament. In that scenario, they must make their decision within 48 hours of their final game. So, if they lose in the Final Four on April 5, they’ll have to declare by April 7. It should be noted that these rules apply only to college players, not international prospects who don’t play in the NCAA.

The one wrinkle is that current fourth-year seniors still have the opportunity to exercise their bonus years if they were active during the 2020-21 pandemic season. That means they can decide to stay in school for a fifth season. They could also test the draft waters and return to college afterward, provided they opt out of the draft by April 10 — five days before the draft.

Several top prospects in this year’s draft have already utilized their fifth seasons and thus exhausted their eligibility. Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley, UCLA’s Charisma Osborne, Utah’s Alissa Pili and Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon are among those who cannot return to school. All five elected to use their bonus year and remain in college instead of going pro. Osborne initially declared in 2023 but decided to return to UCLA for her fifth and final season. Four of these five players are currently projected as first-round WNBA Draft picks – Pili in particular was able to use her super senior season to significantly boost her pro stock.

Will draft rules change?

A number of freshmen stood out in their debut seasons. USC’s JuJu Watkins, Texas’ Madison Booker, Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo, LSU’s Mikaylah Williams and South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley highlight a list of freshmen who significantly impacted their teams’ seasons.

Their instant success — and immense talent — led Indiana Fever general manager Lin Dunn to speculate about a possible draft change in the future. “I’ll tell you what I think may happen,” Dunn told The Athletic in early December. “One of these freshmen is gonna file a lawsuit and say: ‘I’m ready to turn pro. Why can’t I? The men can. Why can’t I?’ Because they’re that good enough.”

Draft rules have been collectively bargained between the league and the WNBPA so any amendments to the policy would have to be agreed on by both sides. Still, even in the abstract, as interest in both women’s college basketball and the WNBA increases, conversations about draft eligibility will continue in the sport’s discourse.

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