According to the NCAA, more than 430,000 women compete in high school basketball. Of those high school athletes, only 3.8 percent, or roughly 16,000, make it to the college level. The number of women who advance from college to the professional level is even smaller, less than 1 percent of all NCAA players.
Ole Miss graduate assistant Ariel Massengale is one of the few to do both.
Massengale played under basketball legend Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee from 2011-2015.
Looking back, Massengale feels her journey from high school basketball to college was all about personal sacrifice.
“(I missed) holiday meals and dinners with family members…because I was always in the gym making sure I was taking care of my body,” Massengale said.
After college, Massengale was selected 29th overall in the 2015 WNBA draft by the Atlanta Dream. She sat out her first season in 2015 due to a knee injury and played for part of the 2016 season before being released by the team.
According to a 2018 NCAA report, women playing college basketball have the lowest odds of being drafted by a professional team. Of the 18,712 student-athletes playing men’s college basketball, 1.2 percent get drafted to play in the NBA, compared to only .9 percent of women drafted into the WNBA.
Despite her short time in the WNBA, Massengale’s face still lights up when she thinks about her accomplishment.
“Out of all the girls that play college basketball, 36 people get to hear their name called, and to be one of those 36, it was a very humbling experience one that you feel like, ‘Wow I made it all my hard work has paid off,’” she said.
The work to become a professional basketball player starts not in college, but in high school.
Cliff Ormon is the women’s basketball coach at Oxford High School and has coaching experience at four other high schools. His players have gone on to play at the University of New Orleans, Blue Mountain College, and Delta State.
Ormon feels what separates a good high school player and a college player is the work done outside of practice.
“We have great kids that work every day, do everything we ask here in the gym but the separation from them and being to move on to that next level would be what they do outside of the gym,” Ormon said. “Whether working on ball handling, playing against other players as much as possible, and just trying to work on their weakness on their own.”
Ormon also said the level of commitment needed to play college basketball is significantly higher than it is in high school basketball.
“I try to tell my players, ‘We’re working hard here, but when you get to the college level, you’re going to go to the weight room in the morning, you’re going to practice in the afternoon, you might have another weight session or conditioning session after.’ It only amplifies every level you get to,” he said.
The jump to get from the college basketball to professional basketball is even more demanding.
Since the WNBA’S first season in 1997, only five Ole Miss Rebels have gone on to play in the top level of women’s basketball.
Ole Miss assistant coach Armintie Herrington is one of those five.
Herrington was an early standout. She was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and 2007, named to the first team SEC in 2007, and the third team All American in 2007.
After graduating in 2007, Herrington was drafted by the Chicago Sky as the 3rd overall pick of the 2007 WNBA draft. She went on to play nine seasons, and was named Rookie of the Year in 2007, and named to the WNBA’s All-Defense second team in 2011.
Herrington says that good isn’t good enough to make it to the pros.
“When you have the opportunity to go to that next level, it’s really about being great at something. I was great at driving to the basket, I was great at rebounding, not good, because good is college, but I was great at it,” Herrington said.
As a coach, Herrington is now working to help new players reach the next level of play. Herrington says the key to that is pinpointing the areas players need to improve upon.
“What are your weaknesses, let’s strengthen those weaknesses, and then what are your strengths let’s make those better, let’s make you great all the way around,” said Herrington.
Bianca Thomas was the last Ole Miss women’s basketball player to reach the WNBA when she was drafted in 2010 by the Los Angeles Sparks.
Story contributed by broadcast journalism students Thomas Goris and Kris Storey.