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canada africa partner reservation WNBA is more than just Caitlin Clark. What Bay Area fans need to see

WNBA is more than just Caitlin Clark. What Bay Area fans need to see

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Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark scored 21 points in her preseason debut against the Dallas Wings in Arlington, Texas, last weekend.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark scored 21 points in her preseason debut against the Dallas Wings in Arlington, Texas, last weekend.

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

A year from now, the yet-to-be-named Golden State WNBA team will prepare for its first game at Chase Center. It will have players and merchandise, a coach and more season ticket sales. This year will be the last before fans in the Bay Area have their own team.

At some point, the league will announce the date of a Golden State expansion draft and where the team will pick the collegiate draft next spring. It’s hard to predict who will be on their radar before then, but with a clean slate and an owner committed to winning, the expansion club could attract some big names.

WNBA fans in the Bay Area should keep their eyes on familiar faces: Stanford alumni Cameron Brink (Los Angeles Sparks), Nneka Ogwumike (Seattle Storm) and Haley Jones (Atlanta Dream) of San Jose, as well as Walnut native Sabrina Ionescu Creek (Freedom of New York). But the new team could be built around almost anyone.

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This should be a transformative year for the WNBA. Beyond the Bay Area intrigue, there are more storylines than ever across the country. Ahead of Tuesday’s season openers, here are a few things to look forward to.

Warriors co-executive chairman and CEO Joe Lacob speaks at a news conference announcing Ohemaa Nyanin, not pictured, as general manager of WNBA Golden State at Chase Center on Monday, May 6, 2024 in San Francisco, California.
Joe Lacob, co-executive chairman and chief executive officer of the Golden State Warriors, speaks at the podium during the announcement that the Warriors will be awarded a WNBA expansion team in San Francisco, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023.

The rookie class

Caitlin Clark will grab all the headlines, but the rest of this rookie class could be extremely exciting as well. Brink and Rickea Jackson, Los Angeles’ Nos. 2 and 4 respectively, will both see significant playing time.

In Chicago, the Sky rebuild got a lot more electric with first-rounders Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese. Cardoso will miss the first four to six weeks after suffering her shoulder injury in the opening match of pre-season, but she is still in Sky’s plans this season.

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Dyaisha Fair of the Las Vegas Aces is the third all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, falling to 16th overall, but she appears poised to make the two-time defending champion’s roster.

It will be a fun summer to see new professional talent.

CBA, media rights, charter flights

The WNBA is entering a new, more serious era, and that will require an upgrade in professionalism. This preseason, the Chicago-Minnesota Lynx game was not televised and instead drew nearly a million viewers on a fan’s live stream on social media.

It was another indication of how the league must catch up to its newfound popularity. That will be further emphasized over the next two years, when players can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement, the media rights agreement expires and the league’s finances could change as ratings rise.

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On Tuesday, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league will fund full-time charter flights starting this season. Previously, it only allowed teams to fly charters for back-to-backs and postseason games. However, the rising fame of the league’s biggest stars and safety concerns forced the league to take action.

Brittney Griner was approached at airports last year and Clark was filmed at the airport last week before her first preseason game.

Aces’ three-peat mission

After winning the past two WNBA titles, the Aces return as the favorites, led by superstar A’ja Wilson, Bay Area native and “Point Gawd” Chelsea Gray and two-time All-Stars Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum.

They even had a strong draft, despite only picking in the second round, with Fair and Iowa forward Kate Martin.

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The Liberty took the Aces to four finals games last year and have their own star power. Seattle also has talent, and the Phoenix Mercury could make themselves a contender. But it’s still the Aces and then everyone else in the league hierarchy.

They’re bringing back their entire postseason roster, Wilson is only getting better as her pro career progresses, and she’s got a bit of a grudge after her MVP nod last season. Even with Canadace Parker – who didn’t play in the postseason – retiring, the Aces have more than enough talent to turn it around.

No WNBA team has netted three times since the Houston Comets won the league’s first four titles in 1997-2000.

Veterans in new chapters

Last season, the Liberty brought in Breanna Stewart to reach superteam status. The offseason build wasn’t as dramatic this year, but Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith joined Seattle to potentially give the Storm some spice after the loss of Stewart.

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Meanwhile, this could be Diana Taurasi’s last ride. The 41-year-old has won three titles and has been the Finals MVP twice. She has little to prove yet, but the Phoenix star has not yet announced any retirement plans.

Tina Charles, 35, did not play last season. She joined Atlanta where she could help strengthen the Dream offense, especially with Jordin Canada dealing with a hand injury.

The Mystics will be without two-time MVP forward Elena Delle Donne, who is taking the season off, giving Washington a whole new identity.

Reach Marisa Ingemi: [email protected]; Twitter: @marisa_ingemi