There are plenty of talented players available as part of the 2021 WNBA Draft class, with top prospects such as Charli Collier, Awak Kuier, Arella Guirantes, Rennia Davis and Aari McDonald expected to come off the board early in the first round.
One name you won’t be hearing during Thursday night’s broadcast, though? Paige Bueckers.
The UConn guard averaged 20.0 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game last season while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from 3-point range. She became the first freshman to ever win the AP Player of the Year award and led the Huskies to the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Bueckers would undoubtedly be the biggest star in this year’s group of prospects, but she is not eligible for the 2021 WNBA Draft because of the set of rules put in place by the league’s most recent collective bargaining agreement.
Why isn’t Paige Bueckers eligible for the 2021 WNBA Draft?
Unlike the NBA, there is no one-and-done policy for the WNBA. The current collective bargaining agreement states that a player is eligible if she will be at least 22 years old during the calendar year in which the draft is held and has either no remaining college eligibility or will renounce her remaining college eligibility.
Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, for example, could have declared for the 2019 WNBA Draft because she was turning 22 that year. Instead, she decided to return to Oregon for her senior season.
A player is also eligible if she will be graduating from a four-year college or university within three months of the draft. An international player is eligible if she will be at least 20 years old during the calendar year in which the draft is held.
Bueckers is only 19 years old and was born in October 2001, so she won’t be eligible until 2023.
Will the WNBA change its draft eligibility rules?
The WNBA and Women’s National Basketball Players Association reached an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement in January 2020. The new CBA, which runs through 2027, marked a significant improvement for player compensation and benefits, but WNBPA vice president Sue Bird admitted that the draft was not a major part of negotiations.
“The truth is, sometimes in CBA talks when there’s so much that needs to be addressed or fixed, you don’t get to everything,” Bird said (via ESPN’s Kevin Pelton). “And sadly, that was one thing. If anyone’s been involved in a negotiation, they know you’ve got to have a priority list.”
However, WNBA players generally seem supportive of giving prospects the ability to leave early if they feel comfortable renouncing their college eligibility. This topic will likely be part of future discussions between the WNBA and WNBPA.
“I think the next step is to have that option,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said. “Will kids do it? Probably not. But you should have that option. It is a career path you’re taking and if you’re the best at your profession, you should be able to keep getting better. Not saying that they won’t in college, but it’s just a different level when you get to the pros.”