In the 2011-12 NBA season, Duke basketball alumni played more minutes and scored more points than any university in the country. The Blue Devil women have also made their own mark on the professional level as well.
With the WNBA set to begin its playoffs Thursday, Blue Devil fans will see many familiar faces taking the court in three of the four conference semifinal series. With eight players on seven WNBA rosters, 2012 marked another successful season for the Blue Devils—the league’s third-most represented team behind Connecticut and Tennessee—in the pros.
Duke alumnae—including Lindsey Harding of the Atlanta Dream, Mistie Mims, formerly Mistie Williams, of the Connecticut Sun, Karima Christmas of the Indiana Fever, Monique Currie and Jasmine Thomas of the Washington Mystics, Alana Beard of the Los Angeles Sparks, Krystal Thomas of the Phoenix Mercury and Chante Black of the Tulsa Shock—have all made an impact for their respective teams this year.
Four former Blue Devils will begin playoff runs this week, as Beard’s Sparks are set to take on the San Antonio Silver Stars, Mims’ Sun will face the New York Liberty and Harding’s Dream square off with Christmas’ Fever. Professional players who once called Duke home view the Blue Devils’ presence in the WNBA as a testament to the program’s success in recent years.
“It says a lot of things certainly about the talent, of course, but I think it says a great deal about the intangibles, the work ethic and being reliable. Professional basketball is very different than college basketball,” said Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “I think it speaks very well for the maturation of our student-athletes over the course of the four years that they’re here.”
Despite the competitive nature of their occupation, Duke-blue blood runs thicker than water in the WNBA. Whether they face each other as opponents or relive their college days by playing on the same team, former Blue Devils in the WNBA share a strong bond that transcends the game of basketball.
“Playing against other Blue Devils is always fun. It’s always fun to see each other and you know each other’s games,” Harding said. “At one point we were young and we were playing together and I don’t think we ever thought we would have the opportunity to play together professionally.”
These bonds withstand the test of time as well. Although some attended Duke during different eras and never shared the court together at Cameron Indoor Stadium, former Blue Devils of different generations still regularly keep in touch while on the road and rehash their memories playing in front of the Cameron Crazies.
“It’s also cool to see the younger ones play, the ones I never had the opportunity to play with. Jasmine Thomas, Karima Christmas—I never played with them but I definitely watched them after I graduated. And having the chance to play against them is great just to see how talented they really are,” Harding, who graduated in 2007, said. “It’s a pride thing, it shows how much our coaches have done at Duke to prepare us for this level.”
Although Currie and Thomas are the only former Duke players who currently play as teammates, many combinations of former Blue Devils have had the opportunity to play together in the WNBA throughout the years. Playing together provides former Blue Devils with an on-court advantage due to the chemistry Duke players have developed over the years, said Beard, who spent multiple seasons playing alongside Currie and Harding as members of the Washington Mystics.
“It was definitely an advantage. We were very familiar with each other’s games. It didn’t take us very long to develop the type of chemistry that we once had,” Beard said. “At this level you come into training camp and have two or three weeks to get ready, so you don’t really develop the chemistry until midway through the season, but playing with players you were familiar with like Monique and Lindsey, we had it from the get-go.”
Many of the former Blue Devils still find time to connect with the current Duke players and coaching staff. Almost all of the former Duke players in the WNBA said they are able to visit campus at least once per season. This both allows the former Blue Devils to reconnect with their roots and serve as role models to Duke’s current team, many of whom looked up to these current WNBA players while they played in college.
The former Blue Devils’ eagerness to stay connected with their university and basketball program demonstrates the strength of Duke’s network in the WNBA. Although some players graduated nearly a decade ago and may never have played a game for McCallie, Duke’s WNBA alumnae continue to give back to the program that guided them to realize their professional dreams.
“It’s an amazing thing and it’s a reflection of the kind of people they are. They’re great people, tremendously loyal to Duke, and they’re willing to help out any way,” McCallie said. “I appreciate them very much and love to see them coming back. It’s been great to get to know them a little bit, and I look forward to getting to know more as our current players graduate onto professional careers in the coming years.”