Pre-WNBA Draft buzz for Princeton’s Bella Alarie

Three-time Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie has long demonstrated that she’s a WNBA-caliber talent, and league evaluators are taking stock of her potential for success there. (Princeton Athletics)

With the nation continuing its fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the sports world on hiatus, the WNBA will provide some actual live entertainment on Friday night as the league’s draft will be televised at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN. Ivy hoops fans will have an additional bit of interest waiting to hear Bella Alarie’s name.

Alarie, a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year, four-time first team All-Ivy, two-time AP Honorable Mention All-America and all-time Princeton leader in both points and blocks, looks to be the third Ancient Eight athlete picked in Draft history and the first chosen in the opening round since Harvard’s Allison Feaster went No. 5 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks in 1998.

Between the team’s 10-24 record in 2019 and a series of deals, including trades of stars Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, Dallas accumulated pick Nos. 2, 5, 7, 9, 15 and 21 in Friday’s Draft.  On Wednesday, the Wings sent the #9 and 15 picks to the New York Liberty, as well as guard Tayler Hill, as part of a three-team trade with the 2019 champion Washington Mystics.

Most mock drafts have Alarie going to the Wings with either the seventh or ninth selection. Those that don’t have Bella in Dallas see her going No. 10 to the Phoenix Mercury.

Alarie would seem to be a solid match for Dallas, since head coach Brian Agler is looking for high character playmakers who can add length and shot-making ability to one of the league’s youngest rosters.  In addition, the team’s general manager told 105.3 radio in Dallas that the Wings are looking for athletes who can play multiple positions, shoot consistently from deep and have a strong commitment to defense.

Following Monday’s WNBA Draft conference call, Ivy Hoops Online talked to Wings President, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Greg Bibb to discuss Alarie’s potential for success in the WNBA.

Bibb worked for the Washington Wizards and Mystics between 2007 and 2012, then founded the Arlington-based Capital Sports Venture accelerator in 2013.  Even after he became involved with the Wings, starting as its GM in 2015, he remained in the Northern Virginia area until this past summer.

Bibb mentioned that it is more difficult to scout players outside of power conferences, since those players tend to be on teams’ radars for most of their college careers and there are numerous opportunities to see them play against strong competition.

Alarie, however, was an exception.

As a D.C.-based basketball professional, Bibb was familiar with both Bella and her father Mark, a former All-American at Duke and member of the Washington Bullets, who live in nearby Bethesda, Md.  While he kept his eye on the younger Alarie over the last few seasons, his interest became stronger once the Wings’ draft options came into focus.

Princeton may be considered a mid-major by many, but Bibb, a proud Marist alum, knows this year’s squad was a legitimate top-25 team and places the Tigers in a higher category based on the team’s long-term success.

The Tigers don’t have the same schedules as Oregon or UConn and the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament was a missed opportunity to showcase against top competition on a national stage, but the Wings were well aware of Princeton’s typically strong nonconference schedules and impressed with Alarie’s skills when watching video from a number of the team’s nonconference games over the last two seasons.

The Dallas leadership’s trip to Jadwin Gymnasium for a February Ivy back-to-back weekend and a recent videoconference call with Alarie only strengthened their interest in the Princeton star.

The Wings’ GM said that Alarie has great size, a long reach, good court vision and above average passing ability out of the post. She also has plus-shooting range, which extends to the three-point line. Perhaps the most valued skill for the 6’4″ forward is her ability to play as a guard, which developed due to Alarie’s late-high school growth spurt.

Alarie’s formal education at Princeton and her lifelong basketball education by her father, Courtney Banghart and Carla Berube are also huge pluses for Dallas.

Bibb pointed out that there are very few players that are ready to come into the WNBA and make an immediate impact, since the league’s 12 teams have the best 144 players in the world.  For Alarie, that means getting stronger as she battles down low, as a power forward or center, and improving her agility when she guards the perimeter as a wing.

The Wings’ CEO is confident that Alarie’s abilities, competitiveness, and natural leadership will make her a success on the court and in the locker room, no matter where she goes.

Alarie and Ivy fans will have to wait until just a few more nights to find out if she ends up trading Princeton’s Orange & Black for the Navy, Volt Green and Cyan of Dallas …. or perhaps the Mercury’s Purple, Orange, Gray and Black.

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Here are Alarie-related comments from the WNBA Draft conference call –

Q: I’ve got a question about Bella Alarie coming out of Princeton and wondering what stands out to you guys about her game, especially kind of a point forward, in-between player. And then how significant it is for the Ivy League to have a player who could go in the first round. Obviously, I know there are a couple of representatives from the Ivy, but Bella seems like she could be a big one.

(ESPN Sportscaster) HOLLY ROWE: I have a fun story: I just did a conference call with Bella. She’s still taking classes online and she’s writing a thesis right now. So I just think it’s fascinating, to your point, that we have an Ivy Leaguer available in the WNBA Draft who is currently working on her thesis about a 1920s Broadway show and how it impacted society. So balancing her education and her basketball is a fascinating, unique thing that Bella brings.

I just watched some great highlights of her and I love her mobility. I think the thing that stands out to me is her mobility and length. She’s got a huge upside to her game. And she has been able to overcome that her godfather is Jay Bilas. One of her greatest talents is she has been able to overcome that in her life. That’s said with a smile. That’s said with a laugh.

(ESPN Analyst) REBECCA LOBO: Holly was just talking about Bella Alarie. She’s one of those who a lot of people are excited about her talent, but would have loved to have seen her in the tournament against a different level of competition than maybe she’s got every day in the Ivy League. There’s always a player who can make her mark in big moments, and we missed out on all of that.

So there are a few players, especially from mid-major schools, coaches or GMs who say, I wish I saw this player in the tournament or in that moment, what kind of a winner are they. We missed out on that as fans of the game and of course the players missed out on that experience, which is a shame. But that’s one of the things I’m so excited about

Q. Rebecca, I want to talk to you specifically about three bigs who are talked about quite a bit and have been on this call in Satou Sabally (Oregon), Lauren Cox (Baylor) and Bella Alarie. When you look at those three, where do you see each of them standing out in terms of not only their ceiling but also what their floor is, not just the type of 4s that have been successful at the college level but where the 4 game is going as well?

REBECCA LOBO: I think Bella, the floor may be a little bit different for Bella just because of physical strength. She’s not quite as strong as those other two, but she can get there. It seems like her body is still in the process of developing and strengthening and turning into the grown woman that you see in the WNBA. But I think, again, hopefully a situation for her where she can continue to learn and doesn’t have to do too much her rookie year. She is a player with a really high ceiling, good work ethic, smart player, really good physical tools, but her body might mature a little bit later than those other two women.

Q. Sandy, can you discuss a little bit what you see  in (Megan) Walker (UConn), Alarie and (Mikiah) Herbert Harrigan (South Carolina)?

(Phoenix Mercury head coach) SANDY BRONDELLO: But I see a lot of upside in all of them, to be quite honest. (Bella) Alarie, obviously she’s got a great bloodline, that’s for one. It’s a pity that the NCAA didn’t continue because I think her stock probably would rise even more, but she’s a strong post player. She can shoot it. She can get into the post. I just think she’s going to get better and better. You’ve seen her play against tougher opponents, I think that’s probably what we would have all liked to see.

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