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Orange in the WNBA: The road to the final roster begins this week for Tiana Mangakahia

Sunday marked the first day of WNBA Training Camp. The 2021 season begins May 14.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Syracuse at Connecticut Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

WNBA Training Camps around the country began Sunday, including down in Phoenix Arizona at the Mercury’s camp. Amongst Mercury stars and WNBA Legends Diana Taurasi, Skylar-Diggins Smith, and Brittney Griner was former Syracuse Orange women’s basketball guard Tiana Mangakahia. Mangakahia went undrafted this spring but was quickly offered a spot in the Mercury’s training camp after the draft was over.

The Mercury have 17 players on their training camp roster and will need to cut that number down to at most 12 by May 13 at 5:00 p.m. EST. Phoenix will open the 2021 season on the road against the Minnesota Lynx on May 14 at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Four-Time WNBA All-Star Skylar-Diggins Smith reps No. 4 for Phoenix. Mangakahia, who wore No. 4 at Syracuse, was instead assigned the lucky Syracuse ‘44’ for her jersey number on the training camp roster.

During Sunday’s media call after the first camp practice, Phoenix Head Coach Sandy Brondello spoke on Managkahia, Syracuse’s all-time leader in career assists, and her best asset: court vision. Brondello called Mangakahia’s passing abilities some of the best she has ever seen.

“Her passing ability is her best asset,” Brondello explained. “I coached Tiana with the Opals (Team Australia) a few years ago before she had cancer and that’s what she’s known for, but today just seeing it up close and how many easy baskets that she created for her teammates was really good. Her court vision is one of the best I’ve seen quite honestly.”

Three-time WNBA Champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Diana Taurasi is one player Mangakahia could potentially be passing the ball to this season. Taurasi, the ‘White Mamba’, won three consecutive national championships at UConn and was the No. 1 overall pick by Phoenix in the 2004 WNBA Draft. During the call, she spoke on following Mangakahia’s college career and her potential to make the final Phoenix roster.

“We followed Tiana her whole career at Syracuse. What an incredible story, incredible fighter she is to be able to get through that, and to be back on the court doing something that she loves is pretty amazing. She does it with such an attitude and such joy,” Taurasi explained in regards to Mangakahia’s comeback from Stage 2 breast cancer.

“At the first day of camp, she’s just a little baller, she’s a great passer, a great teammate, a great shooter, and she’s going to have a great professional career because those are the type of people you want on your team and on the court. Her skill is undeniable,” Taurasi added.

Mangakahia joined the call shortly after Taurasi and detailed her first day of WNBA camp.

“It was really good, just a lot of learning and soaking up a lot of information. The girls have been so welcoming to me. I feel very blessed for this opportunity especially learning from Skylar and Diana so I’m just so grateful for this opportunity to come out here and show them what I can do.”

Though Mangakahia did play in one of the most competitive college basketball conferences, battling professionals is a whole new ball game.

“The physicality is a big difference. In college, a little tap is a foul and here you can get completely taken out by a screen,” Mangakahia explained.

From Brondello’s and Taurasi’s sound bites, Mangakahia clearly made an impression on Day One. If she continues to progress and shows exactly what she is capable of through the next few weeks, Mangakahia has a great chance to make the final Phoenix roster. The Mercury went 13-9 last season and fell in the second round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Lynx.