Stanford women may have much more to celebrate

At a time when men’s basketball moves in a frightful hurry, all about players desperate to leave college for the professional ranks, the women’s game brings us common sense. It offers the true meaning of the collegiate experience. And it gives us Stanford, champions of the NCAA and absolutely loaded for next season.

As coach Tara VanDerveer celebrated with her grand sisterhood of a roster Sunday evening, the picture was about to change, dramatically. With the men’s championship on the line some 24 hours later, Gonzaga would be taking the floor against Baylor with a backdrop of regret. Jalen Suggs, who captured the nation’s fancy with his astonishing game-winning shot in the semifinal against UCLA, would be playing his last game. Just a freshman, he was already out the door, surely committed to entering the NBA draft as a potential lottery pick.

We’ve grown numb to the “one and done” climate that forces powerhouse schools to rebuild every year, and there’s no challenging its legality. Talented teenagers have every right to choose their career path if the demand exists. But there’s a lot to be said for continuity, in any business: assembling a winning team and getting the absolute maximum out of everyone. That’s where the women’s game shines, thanks to a set of rules that allows everyone to just relax for a spell.

Because the WNBA requires players to be at least 22 years old, to have completed their college eligibility, to have graduated from a four-year college or to be four years removed from high school, we won’t be losing sensational freshmen Paige Bueckers (UConn) or Caitlin Clark (Iowa) to the pros any time soon. It’s why we got such long, satisfying looks at Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, A’Ja Wilson and countless other superstars in college.

A certain reality comes into play, notably the WNBA’s average salary of just $100,000 per year. You won’t find anything remotely close to Zion Williamson leaving Duke to sign a three-year, $30,736,320 contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. That’s one reason Sabrina Ionescu turned down high prestige — eligible to become the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft — and returned for her senior season at Oregon two years ago.

But it wasn’t the only reason. After three years, the Walnut Creek-raised Ionescu had grown close to her teammates, her coach, the school, the community. For all of its faults, the NCAA churns out smart, well-rounded women who savored the college life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. If the WNBA awaits, that’s wonderful, but long-standing relationships — the kind VanDerveer has crafted among her players for decades — last a lifetime.

We’ve seen the last of senior guards Kiana Williams and Anna Wilson from this year’s Stanford team, and they will be missed. Remember, though, that VanDerveer gave significant playing time to 11 players during the intensely dramatic 54-53 win over Arizona in the championship game. Take a look at some of the key players returning for next season:

Two days after helping Stanford win its third women’s basketball national championship, senior Kiana Williams on Tuesday declared herself eligible for the WNBA draft.

“I am thrilled for Kiana as she is set to embark on this next chapter of her life,” said Cardinal head coach Tara VanDerveer in a statement released by the university. “I have loved coached her over the past four years and am very proud of both the player and person she has become.”

Williams played in every game the past four season for the Cardinals (137 combined) and started the last 128. The Most Outstanding Player in both the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA Tournament’s Alamo Region this year, she is Stanford’s all-time leader in 3-pointers (311), ranks ninth in assists (464), and 10th in scoring (1,834 points).

In its mock draft, ESPN – which will broadcast the WNBA draft on April 15 – has Williams going 11th overall to the Seattle Storm.

Haley Jones: Only a sophomore, the Mitty alum took on the leadership role at crucial times — notably the title game, when Williams and Wilson became uncharacteristically flustered against Arizona’s swarming defense. She’s likely to be forecast as a first-team All-American.

Cameron Brink: VanDerveer hesitated to start a raw, 6-foot-4 freshman until Brink made…

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