The college basketball off-season is in full swing as players have made the decision to either go back to school, enter the transfer portal, or try their hand at the WNBA draft come April 15. Syracuse women’s basketball fifth-year point guard Tiana Mangakahia announced her decision via Twitter on March 26.
The all-time assist leader in the history of the program is projected to be selected 27 overall in the 2021 WNBA draft, according to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel’s mock sample.
On April 9, ESPN women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson and Rebecca Lobo joined a pre-draft media conference call; when asked about Mangakahia’s status in the draft, Robinson jumped in -- acknowledging the Australian point guard's rare abilities.
“I think Tiana is a fantastic talent,” Robinson said. “She sees the floor extremely well, she has a unique ability when it comes to passing and knowing where and how to involve her teammates; extremely high basketball IQ; I mean you don’t lead the nation in assists in consecutive seasons unless you really have a high level of understanding of the game."
Not only is Mangakahia's talent rare to find, so is her journey. Robinson went on to highlight the hardships the Australian point guard has gone through in the past.
"I just want to say that -- I think we all understand the challenges that she had to face coming back after last season due to breast cancer," Robinson said. "I think what we didn’t talk about enough this season was the toll it took on her body, on her ability to come back and play at a high level."
Though the 5-foot-6 floor general suffered a foot injury before the ACC tournament which caused her to miss the tourney, Robinson believes that should not hurt Mangakahia's chances of being drafted.
"She can definitely be drafted," Robinson said. "I can see it happening late second or third round. I think there is an understanding that she is working her way back. But she’s a fantastic talent and I think she would have an opportunity to get into camp and prove what she could do."
The conditions under which Mangakahia played this season were brutal mentally and physically. To expect a player to come back from what she did and play at the highest level she ever has is asking for the improbable.
In hindsight, I guess you really can't fault the people for expecting the impossible from a player who is playing after recovering from eight rounds of chemotherapy.
“I don’t think what we saw this season is the full picture of what Tiana is really capable of," Robinson said. "And I think she will continue to work her way back into form."
Indiana Fever head coach Marianne Stanley recognized Mangakahia's tenure with the Syracuse Orange as more than just a story of a player who overcame cancer; stating that a player's full body of work is analyzed when considered in the draft.
"The fact that Tiana came back and stuck with it says a tremendous amount about her character and the kind of grit and fight she's got inside of her," Stanley stated.
"We look at the complete body of work in the player. You don't base your decision or your evaluations on one game, or one season or one set of circumstances. You look at everything in its totality. She's somebody who understands how to play this game; she clearly has a love for the game."
For players drafted at the bottom of the second round or anywhere in the third, making a depth chart will be a challenge in and of itself as most WNBA rosters across the league are already full.
"This is going to be a tough year for players to make a roster," Stanley said. "All of us have a full roster of players so coming in with a mindset of energy and fight and skillset that allows you to compete because that's what it's about -- competing with the best in the world."
For a second consecutive year, Mangakahia's mental and physical fortitude shall be tested.
And if we know anything about the Brisbane, Australia native, it's the fight she keeps on fighting, with the love she keeps on giving.
"I think for Tiana if she wants to play, she can come in and fight for a spot," Stanley said. "She's somebody whose passion and love for the game will increase her chances."