Dear WNBA GMs

Aari McDonald
·10 min read

Dear WNBA GMs,

My dad called it.

No lie. Before we even left for San Antonio, he called it.

He said, “Y’all are gonna play Stanford in the finals.”

At the time, I kind of laughed it off. You know, everybody always has their predictions. I appreciated his confidence. But then we got to the tournament ... and something started to happen.

We just kept winning.

We obviously wanted to win it all — and in the end, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. But you know what? Playing in the national championship was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. And I’m just glad that my teammates and I had a chance to go on that journey together.

(Also it was fun to eff up some of y’all’s brackets lol.)

Today is Draft Day. It’s hard to believe. But it feels good — I’m looking toward the future, and waiting on what God’s got in store for me next.

So to all my people reading this: Tune in tonight!! Bring that same energy you did for the tournament. Support us and tell your friends.

And to all the GMs out there: Here’s a few things y’all should know about me.

I’m only as good as my team.

I know, I know, pre-draft — it’s like a job interview. And you’re supposed to talk about yourself and whatnot. You’re supposed to sell GMs on what you bring to the table. But I can only be real ... and the truth is, the success I’ve had as a basketball player, that’s not just a “me” thing. I’ve been blessed with some of the best teammates on earth.

Like, take this tournament run we just went on. I got a lot of attention for it, and trust me I’m not shying away from that. I think I played really well for the most part. I love big moments and I tried to show out. But damn I’m proud of how we played as a GROUP.

Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics
Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

For example, we need to talk about Young Helena for a second. I definitely know what it’s like to be overlooked as a player — so before that happens to another Wildcat, I have to ask: How are people still underestimating Helena and her abilities?? I get it, her style is pretty lowkey. At first you might think she plays slow ... but actually, it’s more like she plays smooth. And she’s SO deceptive on the defensive end. Against Texas A&M, I remember I was on the bench, and she got beat deep on a baseball pass to Kayla Wells. We didn’t think she was gonna get to it — it was going to be an easy layup. But, nah. Should have known better than that. Helena got down there and just effortlessly blocked the shot from behind. When I say that got us hyped ... man. I was like, How did she do that??

And we also need to talk more about Sam — she was just wildly underrated her whole career at Arizona, even though she was essential to everything we did. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I guess it’s because she’s doing things that you can’t see on your TV unless you’re really paying attention: whether it’s a good block-out, or her help-side defense, or her communication. But Sam’s game is crazy. Her hands are literally on everything. She’s going to be a great pro, I know that much for sure.

And honestly, that goes for all our ladies. If any of my teammates were scared or nervous before any of those games, no one ever said it to me. This was a team that’s not afraid. We were fueled by being underestimated — that’s why we made it as far as we did. And it’s why you’re about to see a whole lot more of Arizona in tournaments to come.

I’m a product of my environment.

It’s not just as a basketball player, either, in terms of having a great team around me. Y’all have heard the story about me hooping with my fam in my grandma’s driveway enough times that I don’t have to tell it again here. But the main thing is, if you’re wondering about who I am as a person, I’d say look no further than my support system.

I’m not going to act like I’m self-made — I wouldn’t be here if not for the grace of God, and I owe a lot to the people who’ve been with me along the way. Everyone from my parents, to my siblings, to my fiancé, to my extended family. I couldn’t have made it this far without them. My family has guided me through it all.

And honestly? Coach Barnes ... I think of her as family now, too.

Like, yes, Adia can COACH (and y’all aren’t saying that nearly enough) — but something that’s always been important to me is how she also cares about us as women. I remember two years ago, Coach had us take an etiquette class together. What kind of coach has you doing an etiquette class? But honestly it was great. She had us dressing up and everything, and by the end of it I’d learned a lot.

Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics
Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Also, Coach made it a priority to organize these meetings for us with alumni who work in different professions — those were really big for us, I think. She wanted us to see all the other paths that were available outside of basketball. She wanted to prepare us for life, and to have us leave her program as true adults.

I’ll never be able to thank her enough for that.

Also, come on — she said “f*** the haters” on national television. If that didn’t hype you up, then I have bad news: you’re probably a hater (:

I learned a LOT about myself during our tournament run.

I learned that you should never be too cool to freak out.

Something about being at March Madness — when you’re on a stage that big, I think everyone’s thing is kind of to act like you’ve been there before, you know? Just be cool and stay focused. Don’t get too caught up in it. That was my mentality going into our first game.

Then we beat Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 … and that was really the end of that.

I got back to the hotel and immediately called my dad like, “We in here!!! We’re literally about to go to the Elite Eight THIS IS WILD.”

I just kept saying, “This is crazy. This is crazy.”

I was on such a high — I think I only got a couple hours of sleep after the game, I was so excited. And I’m not too cool to admit that.

I learned that postgame Q and A’s are a funny invention.

Like, who came up with that??

Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

After the games, you’re so tired. It’s funny having to come off of two straight hours of playing for your life, and then immediately pull on the headset and try to form words.

In my head I’m thinking, Just pay attention to the questions, Aari, and do not say anything dumb lol.

The one downside is, while I was getting snatched away postgame to do media with Coach, my teammates were enjoying the wins. So I missed out on a few of those celebration moments with them.

But once we got back to the hotel....

I learned that when you’re up — it’s OK to act like you’re up.

Basketball is supposed to be fun, right?? If you’re not having fun when you’re playing well, then you’re doing it wrong.

And we were turnt UP!!

After every win, everybody was so excited. I remember I went on Instagram Live after we beat BYU and had Cate dancing on there. We’d literally be in the hotel lobby for like 20 minutes blasting “No More Parties” and doing our dance. Everybody’s energy was just out of this world.

We were really trying to live in the present — not taking it for granted for a second that we were there. And not just there. But advancing.

I’m built for the moment.

Yeah, I missed.

Down one, game on the line, championship on the line ... and I missed. I missed, and we lost, and whatever else anyone wants to say.

But it’s not about that to me — it’s not about what happened in those final seconds.

It’s about who I was in those final seconds.

It’s about who I am.

I’m someone who’s built for the moment.

Make or miss, win or lose — I’m built for it. It’s hard to explain beyond that. But I’m just a resilient person. I’ve always been able to take the heat for my failures. I’ve always been able to shoulder a lot of pressure. I’ve always just had that level of confidence, that type of conviction. I’m the kind of player where, the more you’re getting nervous from watching the game, the more I’m probably thriving out there.

And that’s the player I was all tournament, but especially at the end against Stanford. No hesitation — no fear. I wanted the smoke. Whatever that trait is, I have it. I embrace it.

And I’ll never lose it.

Don’t forget what you saw.

Okay. Last but definitely not least, I gotta talk my talk for a second.

Big-time players step up in big-time games — I’ve shown you I can do that. I’ve shown you my grit, and what I’m capable of when things get real.

Come draft night ... just don’t forget what you saw.

Don’t forget how I’m relentless on both ends of the court.

Defensively? Put me on their best player, I dare you. I really dare you. I’m gonna make it impossible for them to find their rhythm. I’m gonna make them so frustrated they forget how to score. Like I said: You’ve seen how it goes.

And offensively? Let’s put it like this: They had to triple-team me.

They couldn’t guard me!!

(They can’t guard me.)

But I think my biggest asset that I can bring with me to the W, and to your team if you’re a GM reading this, it’s not on any stat sheet. It’s not in any advanced analytics. And it’s not just that I’m a winner.

It’s that I know what it’s like to work to be a winner.

I’m not coming from one of these schools that’s an assembly line of Final Fours and future W players. When Coach and I first got to Tucson, our program had never even been to the Elite Eight. Nothing was easy for us. But we put in the work, we grew a culture, we stayed humble. And we created a legacy.

So y’all can keep talking about my height, or my size, or whatever you think is gonna stop me — y'all can keep underrating me in these mock drafts. I’m gonna be focused on helping a WNBA team compete for a championship.

And I’m gonna keep on grinding until you become a believer.

Bet on that.

See you at the draft.