June 4, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Former University of Notre Dame women’s basketball All-Americans Natalie Achonwa, Skylar Diggins, Jewell Loyd, Kayla McBride and Devereaux Peters all have made the opening day roster for their respective Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) teams and will represent the Fighting Irish when the league opens its 19th season this weekend.
This marks the most players Notre Dame has ever fielded at the start of a WNBA campaign, and the 10th time in 15 seasons it has produced multiple alums on WNBA opening day rosters. The Fighting Irish are one of nine programs in the country that will have at least five alumnae in uniform when the WNBA tips off this weekend (only four currently have more on active rosters than Notre Dame), with all five current Fighting Irish players in the WNBA having been selected in the first round of the league’s college draft within the past four years, including Loyd, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 WNBA Draft by the Seattle Storm.
Several Fighting Irish players also were recognized by the WNBA’s 12 general managers during a preseason survey that was released Thursday on the league’s web site. Loyd was a near-unanimous choice to earn the WNBA Rookie of the Year award, receiving all but one vote, her selection by Seattle tied as the player acquisition that will make the biggest impact this year, and she was tied for the No. 4 pick as the league’s most athletic player. Diggins tied for second among league GMs as the WNBA’s top guard and tied for third as both the most dangerous player in the open floor and the WNBA player with the greatest hunger to win a championship in 2015.
In addition, McBride shared top honors among players expected to have a breakout season in 2015, according to the WNBA’s general managers, and she tied for third in voting for the league’s best pure shooter.
Once Loyd and Achonwa (who missed last season following knee surgery) officially take the floor in regular-season games this weekend, the Fighting Irish will have had 14 alums suit up for WNBA teams, while two others were drafted but did not make opening day rosters. This list includes current Notre Dame associate coach and 1997 graduate Beth Cunningham, who spent time with the Washington Mystics in 2000, and Fighting Irish assistant coach/recruiting coordinator and 2000 graduate Niele Ivey, who played for the Indiana Fever, Detroit (now Tulsa) Shock and Phoenix Mercury from 2001-05.
“We are excited and thrilled to have five of our former players on WNBA rosters this season,” said Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame’s Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach. “One of the cornerstones of our program is player development and all five of these players not only developed into All-Americans while at Notre Dame, but they also earned medals internationally with USA and Canada Basketball, and are the foundation for future national team success in their respective countries. They are smart, gifted and continue to be tremendous ambassadors for our program, the University of Notre Dame and the sport of women’s basketball.”
Diggins, a first-team all-WNBA selection and the league’s Most Improved Player a year ago, opens her third WNBA season at 8 p.m. (ET) Friday, leading Tulsa against Peters and the Minnesota Lynx at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The game will be televised live locally in Tulsa on Cox Sports Television, as well as online through the league’s Live Access package.
Diggins more than doubled her scoring average in 2014, finishing second in the WNBA at 20.1 points per game after logging 8.5 ppg. as a rookie in 2013. She also showed improvement in assists, winding up fourth in the league at 5.0 assists per game (up from 3.8 apg. a year ago), while adding growth in rebounds (2.5 rpg., up from 1.9 rpg.), field goal percentage (.423 from .328) and three-point percentage (.282 from .244). She started all 34 games for Tulsa (which tied for fifth in the Western Conference with a 12-22 record), leading the Shock in points, assists, steals (1.5 per game) and minutes (league-leading 35.1 per game), while scoring in double figures 33 times, including 18 20-point games, four 30-point outings and a career-high 34 points on July 22, 2014, at San Antonio.
Diggins also sparkled on the biggest stage at the nationally-televised 2014 WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix, starting for the West Team and scoring a team-high 27 points (second-most in All-Star Game annals) in a 125-124 loss to the East, a contest termed by many observers as the finest in the game’s 12-year history.
Peters is tipping off her fourth WNBA season on Friday, having averaged 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in her first three WNBA campaigns, helping Minnesota to the league title in 2013, following a spot in the WNBA Finals during her rookie season of 2012. Last year, Peters averaged 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as the Lynx went 25-9 and reached the Western Conference finals.
Also on Friday, Achonwa officially makes her WNBA debut when the Indiana Fever travel to Rosemont, Illinois, to take on the Chicago Sky in an 8:30 p.m. (ET) contest at Allstate Arena. Fans can watch the game on Chicago’s The U Too (WCIU-TV Digital Channel 26.2) or online via WNBA Live Access.
Indiana selected Achonwa with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2014 WNBA Draft, but the Canadian National Team standout missed all of last season while recovering from a knee injury suffered late in her final college season at Notre Dame. After returning to her alma mater as women’s basketball operations specialist for the 2014-15 campaign, Achonwa suited up with the Fever for the first time on May 23, collecting seven points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of a 76-68 exhibition loss to the Connecticut Sun.
McBride, who joins Diggins as a member of the USA Basketball Senior National Team player pool for the 2014-16 cycle, will look to build upon a stellar rookie season when she opens her second year with the San Antonio Stars at 10 p.m. (ET) Friday on the road against defending WNBA champion Phoenix at the U.S. Airways Center. Fox Sports Arizona Plus will broadcast the game from the Valley of the Sun, while WNBA Live Access will offer online coverage to a global audience.
A unanimous WNBA All-Rookie Team selection in 2014, McBride wasted little time in validating her claim as one of the bright young stars in the WNBA, starting all 34 games for San Antonio and scoring 442 points, the most by a Stars rookie since the franchise relocated from Salt Lake City in 2003. She also ranked among the top 10 league rookies in scoring (3rd – team-high 13.0 ppg.), three-point percentage (1st – .396; also sixth among all WNBA players), free throw percentage (1st – .846; also 14th among all WNBA players), assists (7th – 1.7 apg.) and steals (7th – 1.0 spg.). She scored in double figures 20 times, including six 20-point games and a career-high 30 points on two occasions, both at home (May 28 against Tulsa; July 9 against New York).
Like Diggins, McBride rose to the occasion when the lights were brightest, averaging 22.5 points per game with a .593 field goal percentage and .600 three-point percentage in San Antonio’s two playoff contests against Minnesota in the WNBA Western Conference semifinals. Although the Stars dropped both tightly contested games in the best-of-three series, McBride topped 20 points and led the team in scoring each night, including 25 points in a 94-89 Game 2 loss at home.
Loyd will be the last of the Notre Dame contingent to begin her 2015 WNBA season, getting her pro career underway at 9 p.m. (ET) Saturday when Seattle plays host to the Los Angeles Sparks at KeyArena. NBA TV will broadcast the game live to a national cable audience, while viewers in the two competing markets will be able to watch the contest on KONG-TV (Seattle) and Time Warner SportsNet and Time Warner Deportes (Los Angeles).
Loyd averaged 8.5 points per game in Seattle’s two exhibition games last month, scoring a team-high 15 points in the Storm’s 73-59 preseason win over Phoenix on May 26 in Seattle.
Local Notre Dame fans will have numerous opportunities to see these former Fighting Irish All-Americans in person during the 2015 WNBA season, beginning with Achonwa’s debut with Indiana on Friday night in Chicago. The Fever play their home games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (also the site of the 2016 NCAA Women’s Final Four), with single-game and season tickets available at the box office, or by going online to feverbasketball.com.
Diggins and her Tulsa squad will visit Indiana on July 15 (7 p.m. ET) and make their lone visit to Chicago on Sept. 11 (8:30 p.m. ET).
Loyd returns to the Midwest for the first time as a professional on July 8 when Seattle plays at Indiana in a noon (ET) contest. She then will head back to her hometown of Chicago on Sept. 6, when the Storm face the Sky at 6 p.m. (ET).
McBride also will play in the area twice this season, leading San Antonio into Indiana on July 10 (7 p.m. ET) and Chicago on July 19 (6 p.m. ET).
Peters and her Minnesota teammates will travel to Indianapolis on Saturday (7 p.m. ET) and will play in her hometown of Chicago on July 10 (8:30 p.m. ET).
The Notre Dame women’s basketball office is coordinating bus trips for several of the games featuring Achonwa, Diggins, Loyd, McBride and Peters in Chicago and Indianapolis — call (574) 631-5420 for more information.
The Fighting Irish women’s basketball alums also will make 40 national television appearances on ESPN2, ESPN3 or NBA TV, including seven doubleheaders and two tripleheaders, during the upcoming season, according to the broadcast schedule released by the league.
Those national television broadcasts featuring Notre Dame All-Americans are as follows (all times Eastern; doubleheaders/tripleheaders shown in bold italics):
Saturday, June 6 at 9 p.m. — Los Angeles at Seattle (NBA TV)
Sunday, June 14 at 1 p.m. — Chicago at Indiana (ESPN2)
Sunday, June 14 at 3 p.m. — Minnesota at Phoenix (ESPN2)
Sunday, June 14 at 4:30 p.m. — Tulsa at San Antonio (ESPN3)
Tuesday, June 16 at Noon — Indiana at Atlanta (NBA TV)
Saturday, June 20 at 8 p.m. — Chicago at San Antonio (NBA TV)
Sunday, June 21 at 7 p.m. — Tulsa at Minnesota (NBA TV)
Sunday, June 21 at 9 p.m. — Phoenix at Seattle (NBA TV)
Saturday, June 27 at 8 p.m. — Phoenix at Minnesota (NBA TV)
Tuesday, June 30 at 7 p.m. — Indiana at Connecticut (ESPN3)
Tuesday, July 7 at 8 a.m. — Tulsa at Atlanta (ESPN2)
Wednesday, July 15 at 11 a.m. — San Antonio at New York (NBA TV)
Tuesday, July 21 at 10 p.m. — New York at Seattle (ESPN3)
Wednesday, July 29 at 8 p.m. — Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBA TV)
Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 10 p.m. — Minnesota at Los Angeles (ESPN2)
Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 10 p.m. — Tulsa at Phoenix (ESPN3)
Thursday, Aug. 6 at 10:30 p.m. — Tulsa at Los Angeles (NBA TV)
Friday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. — Atlanta at Indiana (NBA TV)
Saturday, Aug. 8 at 8 p.m. — Seattle at San Antonio (NBA TV)
Sunday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. — Los Angeles at Minnesota (NBA TV)
Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 10:30 p.m. — Seattle at Los Angeles (NBA TV)
Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 10 p.m. — Seattle at Phoenix (NBA TV)
Friday, Aug. 14 at 7:30 p.m. — Minnesota at Atlanta (NBA TV)
Friday, Aug. 14 at 10 p.m. — Chicago at Seattle (NBA TV)
Saturday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. — Tulsa at New York (NBA TV)
Sunday, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. — Indiana at Phoenix (ESPN2)
Sunday, Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. — San Antonio at Seattle (NBA TV)
Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 10:30 p.m. — Indiana at Los Angeles (NBA TV)
Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m. — New York at San Antonio (NBA TV)
Sunday, Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. — Minnesota at Phoenix (NBA TV)
Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. — Los Angeles at Indiana (NBA TV)
Friday, Aug. 28 at 8 p.m. — Los Angeles at Tulsa (NBA TV)
Friday, Aug. 28 at 10 p.m. — San Antonio at Seattle (NBA TV)
Sunday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. — Phoenix at Minnesota (ESPN2)
Sunday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. — San Antonio at Los Angeles (ESPN3)
Sunday, Aug. 30 at 9 p.m. — Washington at Seattle (NBA TV)
Sunday, Sept. 6 at 5 p.m. — Tulsa at Los Angeles (NBA TV)
Sunday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. — New York at Minnesota (NBA TV)
Sunday, Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. — New York at Indiana (NBA TV)
Sunday, Sept. 13 at 9 p.m. — San Antonio at Seattle (NBA TV)
Additional games may be televised through local or regional broadcast packages around the country. Furthermore, the vast majority of games will be streamed through the WNBA Live Access platform on the official WNBA web site (WNBA.com), with fans charged a one-time $14.99 membership fee to view all webcasts (live and on replay) during the 2015 season. Consult the league web site, team web sites (feverbasketball.com, tulsashock.net, lynxbasketball.com, sastars.com or stormbasketball.com) or local media for times and availability.
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@NDsidMasters or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
— Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director