WNBA fate could be out of Katelynn Flaherty's hands

Sunday, March 11, 2018 - 4:43pm

Katelynn Flaherty's WNBA future remains relatively unknown.

Katelynn Flaherty's WNBA future remains relatively unknown. Buy this photo
Zoey Holmstrom/Daily

Last year, Michigan was the only school in the country to have players selected in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL Drafts. But the WNBA is absent from that list. More than just missing the draft, not one former Wolverine plays in the league.

Senior guard Katelynn Flaherty has a chance to change that. Michigan’s all-time leading scorer is currently projected to be a second-round pick by mock drafts from both Summit Hoops and Draft Site. But it’s not that simple.

The WNBA has a bizarre way of handling younger players. During training camp, many of the league’s stars are still finishing up their seasons in Europe. As a result, teams will take fliers on second-rounders, then cut them after training camp barring a strong performance. It’s not unheard of for first-rounders to get cut as well — former Michigan State guard Tori Jankoska, a top-10 pick in 2017, was cut by the Chicago Sky before ever playing in a game.

Flaherty will likely get a chance to prove herself. An anonymous WNBA talent evaluator described her as a likely late second-round pick with potential to go in the third, but was skeptical of her chances to make a team.

Flaherty’s size — she’s listed at 5-foot-7 — stands as a major detriment to her chances of sticking, especially if she plays shooting guard, her position at Michigan until this season.

“You really have to bring something special to get past that,” she said.

So, what does Flaherty bring?

To state the obvious, she can be a primary scorer. Flaherty has averaged 23.2 points per game this season, knocking down 41.8 percent of 3-pointers, a healthy portion of which come off the dribble.

“She’s definitely a focal point of the defense and she’s able to continue to score at a high level,” the evaluator said. “And that’s a key. She, at least, brings one thing to the table, which is the kid can flat-out score. … Being able to finish in a different way, floaters, against taller people, that’s something that she’s good at.”

Flaherty’s vision is also a plus. She stepped in at point guard this season and averaged over four assists per game, enough to make this evaluator believe she’ll probably play there at the next level. That would help mitigate the issue of Flaherty’s size — there are no shortage of small point guards — but her skills will have to translate to the next level immediately to keep a roster spot.

“I think she’s got a lot of tools, it’s just a matter of her getting a chance and then for her to go in there and really prove herself that she can play on that level,” the evaluator said. “And the Big Ten — the Big Ten is solid, but it’s not the best league. … There’s not a lot of defense that’s being played.”

Flaherty’s biggest challenge, it seems, has nothing to do with her ability on the court. The evaluator’s team is already set at both guard positions and with smaller players at that. Flaherty doesn’t fit there from a personnel standpoint. And yet, the evaluator’s team might still draft her.

“I don’t particularly think that she’s better than what we have,” she said. “So she’s somebody maybe, if we, in the second round or third round, want a player like that to come to camp, then that would be somebody we’d look at.”

And therein lies Flaherty’s problem. In such a situation, she could shoot the lights out during training camp and still be cut, which would likely prompt a choice between going to play in Europe or choosing a different career altogether.

The biggest factor as to whether she’ll stick in the WNBA isn’t how she plays, it’s where she goes. Unfair as it may be, that’s reality. After the Wolverines’ season finishes up, Flaherty’s fate could be out of her hands.