By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
Draft day resembled every day in the collegiate basketball career of Dayton’s Saicha Grant-Allen. No pomp, no circumstance. But she had patience, determination and hope.
“It was just myself, [Christy] Macioce and another friend I met freshman year,” Grant-Allen said about her gathering to watching the 2017 WNBA Draft. “We just sat there casually. There [were not even] appetizers or anything.”
Her patience paid off when the Los Angeles Sparks drafted the 6’4” center from Hamilton, Ontario with the 35th pick in the 36-player draft.
“I knew he had two picks,” Grant-Allen said of Los Angeles’ head coach, Brian Agler. “And that happened to be the 35th, the second to last, so I guess I was kind of waiting for it.”
Grant-Allen becomes the third women’s basketball player drafted from Dayton in the last three seasons. She joins Ally Malott and Andrea Hoover, who were drafted by the Mystics and Sparks, respectively, in the 2015 draft.
She led the Flyers with 275 rebounds this season and holds the school record with 290 career offensive rebounds.
Nearing graduation, Grant-Allen knew she wanted to continue her basketball career, but was unsure of whether the WNBA would present her an opportunity this year.
“I had the opportunity to speak with [Agler] maybe a week before the actual draft,” she said. “And he expressed his interest in me, but I wasn’t sure if it would result in a draft. So, when watching it, of course I was still hopeful. But seeing my name, [I] definitely had a sigh of relief.”
In 2015, Agler drafted Hoover following Dayton’s Elite Eight season. Hoover spent a good portion of the 2015 season with the Sparks before she left the league. But Agler’s familiarization with her and UD’s program certainly helped Grant-Allen’s stock in his eyes.
“Brian is definitely familiar with how we do things, and just the type of development and the players that we have here so I think that definitely gave him some familiarity with that,” said Dayton head coach Shauna Green. “And he really liked [Grant-Allen’s] length and her athleticism and what she brings and how she runs. He just felt like she still has even more potential with how much growth she made this year.”
“And then a couple days leading up to the draft, he had told her that he wanted to try to draft her if she was available,” Green said. “Even if she wasn’t going to get drafted, he said he was going to invite her to training camp. And then when she went 35th, it was awesome and I’m just so happy for her.”
Green was instrumental in Grant-Allen’s development over the center’s freshman and sophomore seasons, and gushed about her work-ethic that led to her development.
“First off, it’s a testament to Saicha, for her development,” Green said. “This whole process makes me really really proud of her. Because I remember when she was a freshman and with how far she’s come in terms of a basketball player, it’s really remarkable. And to think that she’s now drafted in the league is amazing. Where someone like an Ally Malott or even a Hoover, they kind of came in and made their mark right away, but Saicha just continued to develop and develop and develop and she made herself into the player that she is.”
Grant-Allen’s draft, too, is a testament to the development of Dayton’s program in recent seasons. The Flyers made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2010 and have returned to March Madness each year since then with the exception of 2016. And having Flyers advance to professional basketball helps sell the program on a national level.
“To have three players drafted in the past three years, I just think it’s great for our program and people see that,” Green said, before speaking hypothetically about a potential recruit’s thought process. “Hey, I want to go and I want to play professionally. I have that opportunity. I don’t have to go to a power five conference. I can get that from Dayton.”
For Grant-Allen, her opportunity becomes even more exciting because the Sparks are the WNBA’s reigning champions, having won the 2016 title over the Minnesota Lynx.
“I don’t think it’s added pressure,” Grant-Allen said of the fact that she may be headed to the league’s best team. “It’s something that not many people get the opportunity to do.”
Grant-Allen has already departed Dayton for Los Angeles, where she will begin training camp in the coming days. The Sparks begin the preseason with a game against the New York Liberty on May 2. The regular season will begin May 13.
The quick turnaround may be daunting, but Grant-Allen relishes the opportunity.
“It’s a chance to grow and learn from some really, really good players, and whatever happens happens,” she said. “I think I’ll be able to come away with some different tools, some insights regardless of the result.”
And she’s embracing this next challenge with the same optimism that led her to success as a Flyer.
“I believe in great things, so we’ll see what happens.”
Photo courtesy of David King/Staff Photographer