On April 15, 2021, Syracuse’s darling point guard Tiana Mangakahia was picked up by the Phoenix Mercury following the WNBA draft.
Mangakahia was projected as a late second to third-round pick however was not selected in the draft. The Mercury had one pick in the draft which sat in the third round as they selected Lafeyett’s power forward Natalie Kucowski. Phoenix dealt their picks in hopes of winning a championship in the next few seasons – and it looks as if they are headed in the right direction -- with a solid roster featuring Britney Griner, Skyler Diggins-Smith, who they acquired in the offseason of 2020, and of course – the constant -- Diana Taurasi. The additions of Kia Nurse and Megan Walker were also part of the reason why the Mercury had a sole pick in the three rounds of the WNBA draft (36 total picks).
On Friday, Mangakahia sat down for a virtual media session following the WNBA draft. The floor general said she was a bit nervous before the festivities got underway. As players started to come off the draft board, Mangakahia was surprised at the way things were starting to shape up.
“There were a lot of players that were projected to go in the first round that didn’t go,” Mangakahia said. “I was just sitting there like, ‘wow,' because there were a lot of those."
As the draft rolled on, Mangakahia started to question whether she would be selected.
“When it got into the third round, I was like ‘wait, how many rounds are left,’ Mangakahia said smiling. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions.”
The point guard's goal going into Mercury’s training camp is to play her style of (pass first) basketball but also to work on her weaknesses.
“I don’t score enough. That’s the main thing,” Mangakahia said. “I’m the type of point guard who doesn’t score much, I never have, I’m a pass-first point guard. I need to get better overall with scoring; my jump shot, my 3-point shot. I just know I have to keep working hard.”
With that said, what’s the shot Mangakahia makes the final roster? We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know the Australian point guard never found true form during Syracuse’s 2020-21 season. Sure, she showed flashes of greatness with her uncanny ability to pass the ball and control the tempo of the game – it’s like a sixth sense – but it’s tough to point out a game in which Mangakahia looked like her old self.
Bad news? Depends on the lens one views it with; despite the roller coaster of a season, Mangakahia led the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists (it wasn’t close … Mangakahia averaged 7.3 while second-place finisher Raina Perez of NC State averaged 4.7). If Mangakahia is to get in the shape she was in prior to her battle with breast cancer, she will be the steal of this draft. Players who possess such basketball IQ as the Brisbane point guard does always have a chance to make the roster.
Despite what the future holds, Mangakahia is excited to lace it up with some of the best the game has to offer and learn from them on the go. Her initial reaction after picking Phoenix over a couple of other suitors, including the Minnesota Lynx, is one we can all understand.
“Oh my god I get to meet Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins,” Mangakahia expressed to the media.
As the emotions settled in, she realized exactly what this could mean for her career going forward.
Mangahia's affiliation with Mercury's coach and Australian native Sandy Brondello was the deciding factor in making her final decision, and the players are the gravy on top.
"The main reason was Sandy being the coach," Mangakahia said. But I think knowing that vets like Skylar (Diggins-Smith) and Diana Taurasi are on the team; I think that was an opportunity I could not pass up. Just learning from them in the next couple of weeks will help me a lot. That was why I decided to go that way."
With an uphill battle ahead, the 5-6 point guard from Lake Ginninderra will have to prove herself... yet again.