The constriction of the WNBA into a 12-player league has caused intense competition for jobs and stress for the coaches who dispense them.
There are only 132 roster spots now and most are held by players in their prime, meaning they are not readily available to the rookies and free agents who audition each season.
This hard and cold fact troubles Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan, who cut her second- and third-round picks this spring almost as soon as training camp began.
But three cuts that will bring the Sun to their 11-player limit promise be excruciatingly tough for Donovan.
“You can see what our dilemma has been,” Donovan said. “We are going to have a very hard time figuring out what the roster is going to look like. It’s been very competitive.
The most difficult choice will be the one post position Donovan has to give, the last seat on her bench. Free agents Ashley Walker, Latoya Williams and Chatilla Van Grinsven have all impressed, especially during last Saturday’s 83-74 preseason win over New York.
“They all offer different things,” Donovan said. “Walker [6-1] is a small post who plays very physically. And Ashley and Williams [6-4] shoot the three very well. They know that’s why they are here.
“Van Grinsven [6-3] is also intriguing. She [a rookie free agent from St. Joseph’s, Pa.] has a young body and a European style game. She also has three-point range.
“The three of them are going to battle until the end for that [post] spot.”
Walker is her second year from California. She played on the Golden Bears team that lost to UConn in the 2009 Sweet 16 and has bounced around the WNBA since.
“I’m fighting hard for the spot, but I feel I can shoot so much better [she was 2-of-9 in 18 minutes against the Liberty],” Walker said. “I just couldn’t knock anything down. But I am so excited to be here and have the chance to play with a great post partner like Tina [Charles].”
Walker wants to play in the WNBA so badly she left her team in Romania in the midst of its postseason to accept the Sun’s invitation.
“I’ve been the last person cut from [WNBA] teams three times in a row,” said Walker, who has been in camp with San Antonio, Seattle and Washington. “I wanted to try again. I want to show [Donovan] what I can do.”
Williams, who is from Gainsville, Fla., never played Division I basketball, almost attended both Rutgers and Clemson. She got as far as junior college before beginning a European adventure that’s encompassed five different countries.
She’s an intriguing player with a body that resembles Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner – long and lean. Williams scored 10 points [4-of-7] in 21 minutes, 47 seconds but did not have a rebound and was called for four fouls.
“I wasn’t ever thrilled with how I played,” said Williams, who played this winter in Croatia and was in camp with San Antonio for two weeks last spring.
Van Grinsven, a native of the Netherlands, played just one season at St. Joe’s after transferring from Colorado State following the 2009-10 season.
She helped lead the Hawks to the Atlantic 10 title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The forward scored six points with three turnovers in 15 minutes on Saturday.
“It was quite the experience, certainly something I have looked forward to since I was about eight years old,” Van Grinsven wrote in a diary she is going to the Hawks’ athletic department. “I have to say, I was not as nervous as I thought I would be. The few nerves that were in the tank disappeared as soon Coach Donovan subbed me. That was a moment that I was always striving for to come true…now that it did, I will set my ladder and expectations of myself higher.”
Still, no matter how well the three play, Donovan said she sees no way that more than one can make the team. And Saturday’s preseason game at New York likely will greatly impact Donovan’s decision.
“Honestly, I can’t see any of them displacing anyone else on the team,” Donovan said. “But it so hard to let them go. Van Grinsven is going to be a very good pro. Williams has been under the radar and this is her big break.”