By R.L. Bynum
There were six former Tar Heels on WNBA rosters last year and there potentially could be at least six this season. That’s possible even though three who played in the league last season weren’t on a training-camp roster as preseason practice began Sunday.
The only former UNC players who were on WNBA rosters last season and are also on training-camp rosters as of Sunday are forward Jessica Breland of the Indiana Fever, guard Diamond DeShields of the Chicago Sky and Allisha Gray of the Dallas Wings.
Rookies on training camp rosters are first-round WNBA draft pick Stephanie Watts of the Los Angeles Sparks and two who went undrafted: guard Petra Holešínská with the Chicago Sky and center Janelle Bailey with the New York Liberty.
Teams have to be down to 12 players by May 13 and the season starts May 14. The league will take an Olympic break from July 15 to Aug. 11 with the regular season ending Sept. 19.
Breland, diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while at Carolina, got a medical exemption and didn’t play last season after averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Atlanta Dream in 2019. She was traded to the Phoenix Mercury in February 2020 and signed with Indiana on Feb. 16.
DeShields, who transferred to Tennessee after playing at UNC as a freshman, averaged 6.8 points a game last season for the Sky.
Gray, who transferred to South Carolina after two seasons, averaged 13.1 points and 4.2 rebounds for Dallas last season.
LaToya Sanders retired after playing last season with the Washington Mystics and was named Friday as an assistant coach for the team. Sanders joined the franchise before the 2012 season and won a league title with the team in 2019.
Paris Kea isn’t on a training-camp roster after averaging 6.9 points per game last season for the New York Liberty.
The Los Angeles Sparks waived eight-year WNBA veteran Tiara Ruffin-Pratt last week.
Ruffin-Pratt’s release was likely a financial move considering she would have earned $90,000 this season. Los Angeles is committed to $190,550 for Nneka Ogwukike and Kristi Toliver and $180,000 to Erica Wheeler, according to sportrac.com, taking up nearly 45% of the cap.
Watts, the 10th overall pick in the WNBA draft, is one of three rookies — along with No. 7 overall pick Jasmine Walker of Alabama and No. 22 overall pick Arella Guirantes of Rutgers — and eight guards vying for the 12 roster spots. The team invited 16 to camp.
DeShields and Holešínská are two of 20 players, including eight guards, vying to make the Sky roster. Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Candace Parker, Stephanie Dolson and Kaleah Cooper would consume nearly 70% of the team’s cap.
Swish Appeal ranks Chicago No. 2 in its preseason power rankings.
Bailey is one of 19 players invited to camp but the only other center is five-year veteran Kiah Stokes, and she wasn’t there for the start of training camp.
The Liberty would use 55.2% of its cap for Natasha Howard, Betnijah Laney, Sami Whitcomb, Layshia Clarendon and Kiah Stokes.
Tar Heels on WNBA training camp rosters
Janelle Bailey, center, New York Liberty, rookie
Jessica Breland, forward, Indiana Fever, 8-year veteran
Diamond DeShields, guard, Chicago Sky, 3 seasons
Allisha Gray, guard, Dallas Wings, 4 seasons
Petra Holešínská, guard, Chicago Sky, rookie
Stephanie Watts, guard, Los Angeles Sparks, rookie
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communication