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Sports Saturday

Former Young star Linnae Harper ‘super grateful’ for another shot at WNBA

The WNBA is one of the most exclusive professional basketball leagues in the world. When training camp begins April 26, a maximum of 180 women will compete for one of the 144 roster spots.

The Sky cut Linnae Harper before the start of the 2019 season.
Chicago Sky

When Linnae Harper learned the Lynx wanted to sign her to a training-camp contract, the first thing the former Young star did was call her mother.

“She was going crazy, she was just screaming,” Harper told the Sun-Times in a phone interview. “She was just so excited for me, she knows how hard I worked every day and just to be able to get another chance, it’s a great feeling.”

Harper knows how rare it is to earn an invite to training camp, let alone make a WNBA team, especially as an undrafted free agent. TheChicago native had been waiting for a call from a WNBA team for almost a year after being waived in the final round of cuts last spring.

“I’m just honestly super grateful just to get another chance at being in the league,” Harper said.

“It wasn’t the best feeling [getting cut from the Sky], but it just motivated me to just get back to the gym and work hard. All we can do is play our best and hope for the best, but at the end of the day, there’s only 12 spots.”

The WNBA is one of the most exclusive professional basketball leagues in the world. When training camp begins April 26, a maximum of 180 women will compete for one of the 144 roster spots. And unlike other leagues, first-round picks aren’t guaranteed a contract.

In comparison, the NBA, which has 18 more teams than its sister league, has 450 roster spots. And there are roughly 336 more opportunities for bubble players in the G League.

It’s not unheard of for an undrafted player to find her niche in the league. Take Fever guard Erica Wheeler as an example.

After going undrafted out of Rutgers in 2013, Wheeler played overseas for two seasons while she fought her way to the WNBA. She eventually earned a starting role with the Fever in 2016, and last July she became the first undrafted player to earn All-Star MVP honors.

Another player Harper draws inspiration from is Sky guard Allie Quigley.

Quigley, a second-round pick out of DePaul in 2008, bounced around her first five years in the league before finding a home with the Sky in2013.

“Those stories, definitely, I can relate to and just seeing those players who are great talents in the league being extremely successful,” Harper said. “It gives me hope all the time to know thatI can be just like that despite our journeys that are different, I can still be in the league, I can still make an impact and just continue to work on my craft and be a better player.”

Harper has a solid chance to be on the Lynx’ roster when their season opens against the Sky on May 15. The Lynx could use a point guard after Danielle Robinson signed with the Aces last month.

Harper showed promise with the Sky in 2018. In 24 games behindCourtney Vandersloot, Harper averaged two points and one assist in 6.1minutes. Then, in the offseason, she averaged 17.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 13 games with Ramat Ha Sharonin the Israeli league. She also played briefly in Latvia this fall.

“I’ve been grinding all day, every day this entire offseason,” Harper said. “So just to go there, to be confident, I think that’s the one thing that’s big when you get these opportunities just to hold nothing back.”

Harper was heartbroken when the Sky let her go last year. But she didn’t dwell on it. She hopes one day other players look back at her journey in a similar capacity to how people view Wheeler and Quigley’s.

“It just motivates me even more to never give up, to keep going despite any obstacles, because at some point we’ll all get our chance,” Harper said. “This is my chance again, so I’m just super grateful.”