Top women's college players choose school over WNBA

DALLAS (AP) It's cool to stay in school in women's basketball.

About a half dozen top college players had the option to forego their senior seasons to enter the WNBA draft, and it appears nearly all have decided to stay.

Diamond DeShields, Kelsey Mitchell and Mercedes Russell all would have been taken in the first round - if not among the first few picks - had they decided to skip their final seasons. Instead they'll all go back for one more year.

''I'm not in a rush. I had a chance to sit down and workout with Kelsey Plum, Alexis Peterson, they're about to go and make their mark at the next level,'' Mitchell said in a sitdown interview with The Associated Press. ''For starters, my education is important to me, vital to me. I'm a person if I start something I'm going to finish it. My team can accomplish more. Win the conference, win the Big Ten Tournament. I didn't set myself up to leave and not accomplish something.''

The WNBA has strict criteria on when players can declare for the draft. So many were eligible this year because they had transferred schools. Mitchell's birthday just happened to fall at the right time to give her the option.

Mitchell was surprised by how many people were interested in her decision.

''I'd be out in the supermarket or around town and people would come and ask me what I was going to do,'' Mitchell said. ''I never even thought about leaving school early.''

Unlike the NBA, where players can make millions of dollars instantly by leaving school early, the WNBA salary for a rookie is about $50,000.

Over the past couple of years a few players have decided to leave early. Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B. both left college to turn pro in 2015. Mitchell said that Loyd and Sue Bird talked to the WBCA All-Americans on Saturday and Loyd was asked about her decision.

''She told us why she chose to leave early and that it was the right choice for her,'' Mitchell recalled.

ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, who will be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame this year, was happy that it's become a discussion.

''The first time we really started thinking about this was two years ago,'' she said. ''The first biggest surprise was Jewell. It's great that we at least are having these conversations, but I'm also thrilled that most of them are going back. It's a good thing. It is. They're still all getting their degrees, drums up a little more excitement.''

DeShields announced on Instagram on Saturday that she was returning to Tennessee to play alongside a heralded incoming freshman class. Russell, her Tennessee teammate had said earlier she was staying as well.

While DeShields, Mitchell and Russell have already said they are remaining, a few players in Sunday night's championship game haven't announced their intentions yet. South Carolina's Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis both could leave school since they lost a year to transferring. Davis didn't confirm she was staying, but made it sound pretty clear she was planning on returning.

''I'm focused on now. I'm in the Final Four and that's what I'm focused on. I'm definitely excited to be here and excited to share this experience, not only with my teammates but with my family as well. So that's what I'm focused on,'' she said. ''Obviously with next year being my last year, definitely those conversations will start to come up a little bit more.''

Duke's Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell could also enter the draft which is being held on April 13 in New York. Both have already been accepted to grad school at Duke for next year.

The deadline for declaring is Monday night.

''The WNBA, in its 21st season, is a staple in the sports world. These young women have completed four years of college or are already 22 years old, making them eligible for the ''W'' draft and the league as an established career choice,'' WNBA President Lisa Borders told the AP. ''As always, we will support each player's decision to come out and join the professional ranks or stay in school and complete their education.''

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