Martha Alwal is discovering life as a prospective professional athlete can make you feel like you’re in a whirlwind.
In a five-day span in the past two weeks, the Mississippi State senior center went from anxious to disappointed to excited — without hearing her name called in the WNBA draft.
That Alwal wasn’t selected April 16 in the three-round event was a source of disappointment because she and her agent, Tom Cross, believed she would be one of the 36 players selected. But not being drafted might work out for the best for Alwal, who learned Tuesday she had secured an opportunity to attend training camp for the Atlanta Dream. Later in the week, Alwal signed the non-guaranteed contract and started preparations for the next step in her basketball journey.
“I was just really relieved when (Mike Cound, president of The Cound Group, the agency that is representing her) called me to tell me I was going to Atlanta to play with Angel McCoughtry and Shoni Schimmel,” Alwal said. “That hit me really quick and told me I have to get in the gym because I have to make the team.”
Brad Gust, manager of media relations for the Atlanta Dream, said last week in an email that the league had to process Alwal’s paperwork and that the team likely wouldn’t officially announce her signing until sometime this week. He said it likely would be part of an announcement of the signing of two or three players.
The roster on Atlanta’s website Monday lists 20 players, including 11 players designated forward or center. All of those 11 players are 6-foot-1 or taller. Two are rookies. Two others have one year of experience in the league.
In February, the WNBA and the union representing the players signed a new collective bargaining agreement that will allow for the expansion of the rosters from a maximum of 11 players to a maximum of 12.
The numbers game likely means Alwal will have to go to training camp and beat out a veteran player. She said she is looking forward to that chance, even if she doesn’t know much about the players she will go against in training camp.
“I am going to bring what I bring to the table and focus on rebounding, blocking shots, and playing defense,” Alwal said. “I am going to bring all of that to camp and try to bring as much energy as I can to prove to the coaches that I can play on the team and against the players they already have there.”
Alwal, a 6-4 center, averaged 9.5 points and 6.6 rebounds this past season to help MSU set a program record for wins (27) and Southeastern Conference victories (11). She finished her four-year career ninth in program history in scoring (1,328 points), second in rebounds (1,010), and first in blocked shots (328). She averaged 2.5 blocks per game this past season and earned second-team All-SEC honors and was named to the league’s all-defensive team. She became the second player in SEC history to lead the conference in blocks all four years and joined two others to record 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 blocks.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer acknowledged Alwal was disappointed April 16 when she didn’t hear her name called. But he said he is excited Alwal will have an opportunity to play her way onto a team.
“Martha doesn’t have an ego,” Schaefer said. “Sometimes you get to that level and you don’t have enough balls to go around and everybody thinks they have to get 30 points. Martha is a team player who will play defense, rebound, and alter shots. She will not be mad at the end of the game that she didn’t get 10 points.”
Tom Cross, who is one of the agents working with Alwal, said he was “surprised” Alwal wasn’t drafted, but he said it could work out for the best for her. He said if Alwal makes the team and has a good year she will make a lot more money than she would have if she had been drafted. Cross said Alwal can expect to make roughly $39,000 (as well as housing and transportation) for a one-year contract if she makes it through the season. He said he and The Cound Group already are analyzing possible opportunities overseas for Alwal in France, Italy, Spain Russia Turkey, Poland, and Israel. He said Alwal likely would need to play basketball overseas — those seasons would start in September or October, after the WNBA season, he said — regardless of whether she makes a WNBA team. He said the goal in finding a team overseas is to locate one where Alwal can play a key role on offense so she can improve that part of her game and make herself more marketable to teams that might see her only as a defensive player at this point in her career.
“Most of the teams have the same opinion of Martha in that she is a very, very good defensive player who is probably WNBA ready on that end and has to improve a little bit offensively,” Cross said. “She probably won’t be asked to do a lot of that. To make any team, you have to be a high-energy player who makes a difference defensively.”
Cross said Atlanta’s training camp will start in the third week of May. He said Alwal will have to go to Atlanta and “prove some people wrong.” He said he hopes she is in the best shape of her life when training camp opens so she can compete for a roster spot.
Alwal said she is lifting weights, conditioning, and playing basketball at MSU to get ready. She said she is working out with MSU senior Kendra Grant and former East Oktibbeha County High School standout April Sykes, who went on to play basketball at Rutgers and was selected 28th overall (third round) by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2012 WNBA draft. She appeared in 30 games as a rookie with the Sparks, averaging 3.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 8.6 minutes.
“(Sykes) knows what it takes,” said Alwal, who is friends with Sykes. “She has been really good about taking time out of her time. I am really thankful for her.”
Alwal said she plans to go overseas and play professionally if she doesn’t make a WNBA team. With graduation set for May 9, Alwal said she isn’t sure if she will stay in Starkville or if she will go home to Worthington, Minnesota, prior to the start of training camp. Wherever she goes, Alwal said she will be focused on being mentally and physically ready for her chance.
Between now and then, though, she admits she likely will run the gamut of emotions and won’t be able to stop thinking about what will happen.
“I am just really anxious about it,” Alwal said. “I am anxious and nervous and excited to get a chance to play against great players. These are the best players in the world, but I am confident in myself and I do think I can play with anyone. I do need to prove to those coaches and the girls that I can play with anyone. I am kind of ready to get it over with.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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