From Paige Bueckers to JuJu Watkins, it would be great if women could go one-and-done

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The men had Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, and Anthony Davis. The women should have had Paige Bueckers then, and JuJu Watkins now. But, according to the rules, they can’t.

Who will take down #1 South Carolina in the NCAA tournament?

Due to the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, American players have to be 22 before they can declare for the draft, have earned their degree, or have been out of high school for four years. International players only have to be 20. The rules around this haven’t changed since the league launched in 1997. So unlike the NBA, the W is missing out on a potential draft that could have included Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Bueckers, and Watkins if they had similar rules to the NBA.

Last week, Watkins — USC’s homegrown 6-foot-2 freshman — dropped 51 on Stanford, at Stanford.

In her first season, Watkins has already scored at least 30 points seven times as she’s averaging 27.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists a game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three. She was also recently the cover athlete for SLAM Magazine.

“I think coming into [my] freshman season, I didn’t really have too many expectations for myself,” she told the publication. “I think just getting my feet wet, I guess as people would say. But now that I’m finally in it, I’m setting more goals for myself and expect more for myself. But honestly, at the end of the day, [it’s] just having fun.”

Before injuries played a major part in her career, Bueckers made a huge splash at UConn by being the first freshman to win national player of the year on the women’s side. Because of it, the questions about players declaring early in the women’s game became a conversation.

“Why would women have a choice? Half the battle is having the choice to do it then you go on and make the best decision,” Diana Taurasi told the Arizona Republic at the time. “The next step is to have that option. Will kids do it? Probably not, but you should have that option. If you’re the best at your profession, you should be able to keep getting better.”

“The men are dealing with their own issues in terms of draft eligibility. They’re trying to get rid of the one-and-done,” added Sue Bird. “It’s a fluid thing. That will be the case for us. It did come up in the last CBA negotiations, it was just not the priority in the moment. I think players should have a choice, always. What’s interesting is the whole name and likeness thing as it pertains to college (and perhaps staying in school longer).”

Despite the rapid rise in attendance and viewership for women’s college basketball and the WNBA, and without falling into the rabbit hole about the amount of money a player can make in college in contrast to the pros, there’s still a waiting process that players must go through before they can enter a highly competitive league that has only 144 roster spots. Players like Paige Bueckers and JuJu Watkins will be top draft picks after their senior year in the same way they would have been if they could have declared as freshmen.

But until then, the WNBA and fans have to wait until some of college basketball’s best talent can take the court with the pros. And for all the fans who are interested in learning more about Watkins, USC faces Arizona on ESPN2 the day after the Super Bowl. You might want to tune in, Watkins has scored 80 points in her last two games.

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