The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 10, 2021
These things I know — Interview with Erin Kane, The Clarion Agency — Must-click women's basketball links
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If you’re like me, your March has been spent consuming ungodly amounts of basketball on television, specifically the last bit of information we’re going to get on both WNBA draft prospects and NCAA teams headed to the tournament.
In general, it is a time of year when I’m swimming in information, trying to distill it all, with a healthy dose of humility, understanding that there’s plenty I don’t know. That’s only amplified by the distance of 2020-21, which has me covering the sport remotely, and the eccentricities of the season itself, with pauses and makeup games altering the typical flow of the unfolding drama.
That said, it is a relief when I can confidently conclude some things, despite all of these roadblocks, while I patiently (okay, not so patiently) await the sweet release of vaccination.
Charli Collier is ready for the WNBA
Sunday’s announcement made official what’s been clear to anyone watching Charli Collier all season: she is ready to take her game to the next level.
Though she’s just a junior, she’s battled through endless double-team and triple-teams all season, and the numbers she’s putting up despite it have her on my very short list for national player of the year.
There’s a lot of Bella Alarie trajectory in her, another player whose sole doubts from those evaluating at the next level came down to whether, despite her size, she was strong enough to consistently battle 5s at the WNBA level.
While Alarie proved she could in her rookie season, let’s say Collier had returned to school next season. Would she have gotten to do that? Collier wants to be the best player in the world. Does another year of college get her closer to that? Or does, say, a year playing every day in practice against Alarie and Satou Sabally, should Dallas pick her at 1, along with 36 games against the best centers across the league, get her closer to that goal?
It’s absolutely the case that with the elite guards Vic Schaefer has coming in next year, Collier could have put up video game numbers her senior year at Texas. But her story felt like one that included the jump now, to her and upon examination of her growth as a player, and it will be fun to see how she responds to the challenge of the W.
Maryland sure feels like a 1 seed
I know there are plenty of elite teams. But have you seen Maryland? Especially lately? I wrote a whole thing about their offense, link is below, but the defense is picking up lately, too. And they’ve managed most of the season without Angel Reese, who was the consensus second overall freshman coming into this year’s class, ahead of Caitlin Clark and just behind Paige Bueckers.
Take a second and imagine: how good is UConn without Paige this year? How good is Iowa without Caitlin?
Now Maryland adds Angel back into the mix, and she sure looks healthy. Here’s the reason I’m so bullish on them: who exactly has the personnel to guard that many versatile wings bigger than 6’1? Chloe Bibby, Angel Reese, Diamond Miller and Mimi Collins! Who can possible handle all four? And that’s before we get into the matchup issues with the nation’s best three-point shooter in Katie Benzan, elite playmaker Ashley Owusu, or that this group is coached by one of the best of her generation in Brenda Frese, who should be national Coach of the Year.
Wisconsin screwed up BIG TIME by firing Lisa Stone
Shortly after Wisconsin lost in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament Tuesday night — by 25 to Illinois, which, yikes — Wisconsin announced it was firing Jonathan Tsipis.
“I appreciate Coach Tsipis’s efforts during his five years with us, but we feel it is time for a new direction for our women’s basketball program,” Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said.
I couldn’t help but think of the echoes of what Alvarez said ten years ago, when he fired Lisa Stone on the heels of a postseason bid, one year removed from Stone winning Big Ten Coach of the Year.
“On the court, however, our women’s basketball program has not reached and maintained the level of success I believe is possible.”
Bobbie Kelsey followed with five losing seasons. Tsipis finished with a 50-99 record over his five seasons.
Lisa Stone is at St. Louis now. They’re 11-3 this year, she’s 154-118 at SLU, and they have a good chance of winning the Atlantic 10 tournament this week. I’ve had the chance to cover Stone through the years — she’s an elite basketball mind and tremendous motivator and teacher.
Time for Wisconsin to look within for what’s plaguing this program.
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This week in women’s basketball
Candace Buckner writes about the WNBA players and their next cause: COVID-19 vaccine advocacy.
Brian Hamilton goes in-depth on Brooke Wyckoff, rising coaching star.
Over at FiveThirtyEight I tried to break down what makes the Maryland offense so good, and the answer, honestly, is everything.
Jenn Hatfield looks at which early-to-college players have Talia’d the most von Oelhoeffens for their new Oregon States.
Make sure you click on this Shannon Ryan story about Eva Rubin’s impact on and off the court for Illinois.
Tweet of the week
If you’ll forgive the editorializing: about goddamn time.
Five at The IX: Erin Kane, The Clarion Agency
Big sports business news this week: Erin Kane, the high-powered WNBA agent (among many other sports and media figures), is opening her own shop. Here’s a full, unedited conversation with her about it all.
1. Tell me about how you first fell in love with sports, and
particularly, women’s sports.
Sports was always part of my life. My first memory of my dad is of the two of us on the putting green when I was about four. I had a cut down club one of the guys in the pro shop made me, and I’m pretty sure my dad was telling me not to drag my heels as I walked.
Sports was his job, so it was in every aspect of our lives as a family. I like to point out that he’s a better trash talker, but my mom is more competitive than he is. She had to channel that into other things because sports weren’t really an option for her. She signed us up for everything as kids, though, and pushed us. She taught my son how to throw and hit a baseball when he was little. Someone described the women in my family as relentless the other day, and I think that’s right, and it’s a huge complement as far as I’m concerned.
You’re asking how I fell in love with women’s sports, and it’s impossible for me to say when or how that happened. This past year there’s been more talk about recognizing and celebrating our differences on the path to true equality as people, as opposed to trying ignore them. Let’s extend that to sports women play. It’s not a version of men’s sports. It’s women’s sports. They’re there own thing. Let’s appreciate them that way. It’s not hard. And because I’m a woman, women’s sports was just sports to me. I played. My friends were athletes. Life revolved around practices and hanging out with teammates. Sports was my world.
My dad always made sure I saw women in sports business. I was way too old to go, but he used to take me to Take Your Daughter to Work day at IMG anyway. I actually always appreciated being able to see women playing high level sports and in executive roles because they were like me. I could see myself as them when I grew up. And now my admiration for the incredible talent, the work these people put in, the sacrifices they made, which I can now see first hand makes me love women’s sports even more. I’m invested.
2. When did you first decide that your best pathway into this industry
was through representing others, and what led you there?
Athletes are at the heart of this industry. Without their talent and work none of the rest of it exists, none of the rest of us have jobs. I always thought and continue to think that they should profit the most because of that. Athletes have always been change agents, and as far as I can see sports is the last true meritocracy. If I can be an advocate for those athletes, for what they represent, then I’m in.
3. Something I’ve noticed is just how much you’ve grown and developed
Elena Delle Donne’s profile and brand since you began representing
her. Take me through your thought process and what success looked like
to you when she came on as a client.
I love working with Elena. I am grateful every day to work with all the athletes I represent. It’s important to take an individual approach to each athlete. This is their life. Knowing their professional goals, and personal goals is essential. Then it’s a question of creating a roadmap to get where we want to go. With Elena helping her be comfortable with her voice, and finding opportunities that felt safe for her to speak honestly and authentically was absolutely key.
Nothing happens without the foundation of these athletes being successful in their sport, and then it’s possible to build on that. When I first met Elena and we talked, I had so many questions. I understood her talent, her work ethic, but we needed to talk about what would help her continue to be successful as a player, and then what her off-court goals were from a business and philanthropic standpoint. I got the sense that the person she worked with before me left a lot on the table, because that person had one way of working and it was up to the athlete to conform to the agent’s ideas. I don’t work that way. Each client, in my experience, needs something different. And my job is to figure out what that is, and provide it for them.
4. What is an Erin Kane client like? You’ve got an influential group,
but you’re selective in who you take on. What are you looking for when
you add someone?
My clients are incredible — on the court and as people. Jennie Finch is an icon who has truly changed women’s sports. Kristi Toliver, too, has changed the understanding of what’s possible as a basketball player and an advocate for equality. Arike Ogunbowale had an unbelievable season as a second year player in the W and is a literal game changer herself. Napheesa Collier, Rookie of the Year, and an All Star as a rookie, 2nd team All WNBA this year, and a podcast star on Tea with A + Phee. Both Arike and Phee again as social justice advocates and personalities off court. Lauren Cox has big things ahead this season. These athletes doing the work on the court. My job is to make things happen for them off of it.
I have three new clients — big wave surfer Maya Gabeira who surfed the biggest wave of anyone in 2020 male or female; and then working with Ari Chambers and Chloe Pavlech as personalities is a phenomenal opportunity. I love what they do and what they bring to the table. There’s a lot out there for them.
All of them are the absolute best as far as I’m concerned, and we work well together as a team. That teamwork is the critical ingredient. It’s about communication, collaboration, and then executing the plan.
5. To strike out on your own is a big decision. But it also provides
freedom to define your practice in your own terms. What are the most
significant ways The Clarion Agency will define itself?
Maybe let’s not use the phrase “strike out!”
Sports business — especially for team sports — has evolved primarily around men’s sports over the last century for many reasons. Sports requires leisure time and the freedom to spend money as you choose. And the people who had both those things were in one very specific group until about 50 years ago. We live the legacy of that every day. It is difficult to disrupt a status quo that’s working well for some people.
It’s 2021 and there are 3 women representing players on NBA rosters. There are a handful of women out of hundreds of men representing MLB players, or NFL players. It’s not because our brains don’t work, we’re bad at business, or we don’t understand sports. The first agency I worked for, I had men who flat out said to me, “you can’t be an agent, you’re a woman.” That was in 2007, not that long ago. I’m lucky I found a place between then and now that was more balanced and supportive, but the people I worked with in 2007 are still out there in this business, and so is that mindset.
That statement in 2007 actually was a blessing because it forced me to focus on brand partnerships, so I’ve spent years building relationships at brands and agency that benefit my clients today. And I learned how to sell. My dad always said, if you can sell you’ll always have a job, so I threw myself into that. I learned how to prospect, pitch, and construct deals, and I learned how much I like to close.
A clarion call is a call to action. I know I’m not the only one that hears it. I want to flip the script. It’s time to rethink how we do things — what works, and what doesn’t work. New voices need to be part of that conversation. As we grow we want the people who have traditionally been marginalized in the sports space to have full representation. That goes for the hires I make, the clients I work with and who work with me, and requirements for partnerships.
6. You work tirelessly for your clients, and rack up wins all the
time. But what was the most satisfying moment like that for you as an
When my clients are happy, I’m happy. Those are the moments I live for.
7. Did this move allow you to take a step back and consider what it
means to be central to the growth of women’s sports at this, a
seemingly paradigm-shifting moment?
I’m focused on the future, and all the opportunities that lie ahead. I hope we can look back in ten years and realize that this was a moment that a true and lasting shift happened.
8. When you look back at The Clarion Agency’s first ten years in 2031,
you want to be able to say…
I want to be able to say “that was fun, we made a difference in the culture of sport as a whole, and we made our clients a lot of money in the process.” My hope is that I can provide a platform for others that ultimately helps evolve the way the sports space looks. I’m definitely not the first who feels this way, and who has worked to drive change. I’m so grateful to everyone who came before me, including my dad who always celebrated the fact that I was different as a woman in sports. I continue to draw inspiration from women who came before me who I have the good fortune to know. That includes agents like Stephanie Tolleson, Sherry Whay, Kelly Wolf, or Micky Lawlor. And the absolute boss women who are part of my network now, like Lonnie Murray, Jade-Li English, Cait Burggraf, and Alyssa Romano. These are exciting times. I’m happy to be able to do what I do in this moment.
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