36 players heard their name called on Thursday night during the WNBA Draft. Syracuse Orange guard Tiana Mangakahia was not one of the players selected but she was offered multiple training camp contracts after the draft concluded. Mangakahia chose to sign with fellow Australian Sandy Brondello and the Phoenix Mercury.
Players work their entire careers to get that call on draft night and when it doesn’t happen, heartbreak and disappointment can creep into a person’s mindset. But, not for breast cancer survivor and Assist Queen Tiana Mangakahia.
“I feel very excited for this opportunity. It all happened so fast so you know there was no time to dwell on not being drafted,” Mangakahia explained during Friday’s media call. “I had a lot of options after the draft so I’m just glad that a team offered me a training camp contract and I’m really excited to go to Phoenix on Sunday.”
With just 144 spots available in the WNBA, every single player from the veterans to the undrafted free agents need to compete for a place on the final roster. Mangakahia explained how her mindset heading into camp did not change because she went undrafted.
“I know even if I did get drafted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m on the roster so I always knew going into a training camp that I have to prove to them why I should be on the roster and I have to prove to the other players there why I’m a good choice.”
In addition to Phoenix, Mangakahia was offered a camp spot from the Minnesota Lynx. Mangakahia ultimately chose The Grand Canyon State due to her relationship with Coach Brondello, who is also the Australian National Team Coach.
“My agent had called me right after and told me that Minnesota and Phoenix both wanted me at their training camps. Sandy is the Australian coach for the Olympic Team. I’ve been a part of that team for two years now and I have a really good relationship with her. I know no matter what happens she will support me and help me through the process.”
Mock drafts predicted Mangakahia to be picked late in the second round or early in the third round. None of them expected her to go undrafted. When asked about why she may have gone undrafted, the Orange’s all-time leader in career assists pointed to her scoring and being a ‘pass first point guard’.
“I think I don’t score enough. That’s the main thing. All these drafted players, they score so many points and I only averaged 11 points this year. I think I just need to get better overall with scoring, maybe my shot needs to be a bit better. I just know I have to keep working hard.”
Mangakahia joins Brittney Sykes (‘17, Los Angeles Sparks) and Kayla Alexander (‘13, Minnesota Lynx) as the only Orange players currently on a WNBA roster. She is the 13th overall Syracuse player to participate in a WNBA training camp. Mangakahia spoke to Sykes, the highest draft pick in Syracuse history, before the draft.
“She told me that being drafted, it doesn’t really matter when you get to the training camp and she told me that when I get there to just play how I play and do what I do best, get everyone involved and just play my game.”
The Mercury feature the Big Three on their roster: Diana Taurasi, Skylar-Diggins Smith, and Brittney Griner. The team went 13-9 last season and fell in the second round of the playoffs to Minnesota. Mangakahia’s face lit up when asked about meeting Phoenix’s All-Stars.
“I’m so excited. I actually said after like oh my gosh, I’ll get to meet Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins. I think the main thing is just to learn from them and their experiences. I think it will give me a great opportunity for the future.”
If Mangakahia does not make the final roster with Phoenix, she will head home to Australia and play professionally there. Mangakahia helped Australia to a third-place finish at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Cup in Lithuania. She also attended team camp for the 2019 Australian Senior National Team (Opals) and was named to the Australian Senior National Team in 2020.
“I will probably go home and play if I don’t make the roster and I do have something lined up already.”
The Mercury open the 2021 season on the road against Minnesota May 14 at 8:00 p.m. EST.