Jasmine Hassell in action for the Indiana Fever.
Sep 4, 2013
Getting drafted in the WNBA is a difficult task in itself, there are only 36 selections made after all. More challenging than getting drafted is staying in the league. Three former Lady Bulldogs have found out the hard way how difficult it is to make that lifelong dream a reality.
Four months into the season only 23 of those 36 draft picks remain in the league. The first 19 selections are all still on rosters as of September 4. Only four choices from the final 17 picks are signed to WNBA contracts as of that date. Three of those four are Georgia’s Jasmine Hassell, Jasmine James, and Anne Marie Armstrong.
Hassell was drafted 21st overall by the Indiana Fever with James going 31st to the Seattle Storm and Armstrong one pick later to her hometown Atlanta Dream. Both Hassell and Armstrong were able to make their respective teams out of training camp. Seattle, however, released James before the start of the season. It was an experience that the Memphis, Tenn., native had never been through before.
“It made me work even harder. I had never been through being cut from a team or anything like that before so it was an eye opening experience,” James said. “I didn’t let it discourage me too bad. I have seen a lot of good players go through that and I knew it was a part of the process so I continued to work on my goal and that was to be a WNBA player.”
Like their former teammate, Hassell and Armstrong would have to deal with being released by Indiana and Atlanta, respectively, as injuries and players returning from absences shifted the ever-delicate balance of the rosters. While a tough time to negotiate all three agreed that it only served to motivate them even more to achieve their goal.
“I was sad but I didn’t let it get me down,” Hassell said. “I knew that an opportunity would come one day and just had to keep focus on what I wanted to do and that was play in the league. I knew that at that time I wasn’t what they needed so I needed to get better. I learned more about the game, I learned more about myself, I learned a lot and I definitely got better mentally, physically and basketball wise.”
Having an agent helped remove the shock factor for Armstrong, but being released was still difficult for her to come to terms with at first.
“Having an agent you kind of know things before they happen, so I wasn’t too shocked about the situation,” she said. “I kind of knew it was coming so I think that helped me prepare for when they did waive me. It’s hard when you’ve worked hard, you’ve bonded with the team, you’ve got to know everybody, and play with everybody and to know you’re getting waived is definitely a big disappointment. It’s also something I could use to continue to help me strive to reach my goals and train hard so that if I did have another opportunity I’d be ready.”
For James the first WNBA contract she signed was a seven-day contract with the Phoenix Mercury as they looked to fill a void created by injury. Her play during two initial short-term deals has since earned James a contract through the end of the season. However, the initial offer came as somewhat of a surprise as she had been preparing for the 2014 season.
“There was a sense of relief. You’re sitting around at home and you’re training and you’re watching the WNBA games on TV and it’s like you’re training and you’re not exactly sure what you’re training for because you don’t have a team to play for so there’s a lot of uncertainty,” James said. “To get that call from them it was a great feeling and a great thing. Everything happens for a reason and something good may come out of something you see as bad.”
While James was able to stick in Phoenix; Seattle signed Hassell initially on a seven-day contract before she returned to Indiana until the end of the season. Armstrong resigned with Atlanta on a seven-day contract of her own knowing that her fight to stay in the league isn’t yet over.
Georgia head coach Andy Landers said that the perseverance the three Georgia standouts have shown is a testament to them as people as much as their basketball ability.
“They’re resilient, they’re mentally tough players because they stayed the course. Teams resigning them tells you that they believe in these players or they wouldn’t resign them, it’s not as if they released them because they were bad people or players,” Landers said. “At times in a season at that level you have people get hurt and you need to do certain things to bolster your team and make your team better. I think that’s a measure of what they’ve endured to stay focused, come back home, and keep working. I know for a fact all three of them did that.”
All three players say that Georgia and Landers prepared them well for their careers in the WNBA.
Seeing the three players make it and remain consistently on WNBA rosters is a source of pride for the Lady Bulldog’s hall-of-fame head coach.
“On a number of fronts it makes me extremely proud. We have three senior starters, all three of them get drafted and all three of them are on a team going into the end of the WNBA season. As far as a program it makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing, that you’re developing players that can play at the next level,” Landers said. “It makes you proud because you know you’ve helped young people realize their dreams. All three of these young ladies wanted to play at that level and they’re able to do that so that brings all of us a lot of joy and a lot of satisfaction.”
With the success of Hassell, James, and Armstrong the Lady Bulldogs now have 24 former student-athletes who have played in the WNBA. With all three planning to play overseas at the completion of their respective seasons, Georgia will also have sent 38 former players to compete overseas.