Notre Dame's Maya Dodson on NCAA denial: 'There wasn’t any way to persuade them otherwise'
SOUTH BEND — For aspiring pro basketball player Maya Dodson, what happened Monday night was a joyous, long-imagined, long-chased moment … and a consolation.
Dodson saw her name called during the WNBA draft. She went early in the third round with the 26th overall pick to the Phoenix Mercury.
Yet, it still felt like a consolation.
Even as rising projections for Dodson as a pro took shape over the final two-thirds of what would be her final collegiate season, and her first with Notre Dame, and even though she’s 23 and has been a college student since 2017, she desperately wanted one more year with the Irish.
On that, Dodson never wavered.
The problem is, the NCAA never waivered.
“I’ve definitely loved playing here and wanted to come back, but it didn’t work out,” Dodson said Tuesday afternoon, a day ahead of her flight to Phoenix.
It wasn’t for lack of trying that it didn’t work out.
“Basically, I tried to appeal (multiple times),” Dodson said. “It’s been a long process, but it came down to them not willing to reopen it. There wasn’t any way to persuade them otherwise.”
Dodson says even now she doesn’t fully understand the NCAA’s reasoning, especially given how players in similar, if not necessarily identical, circumstances have been handled.
“I was not really given an explanation. I kind of left it to my parents and coaches,” Dodson said of the appeal process. “It was just that I didn’t fit the regular requirements to get the waiver. There were just some different things.”
The NCAA itself doesn’t seem in a hurry to clear up the mystery.
A media inquiry regarding Dodson’s case was submitted online to the association on Monday morning. On Tuesday, a call to the media relations department was met only with a recording providing instructions to submit an inquiry online. As of Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA still had not responded.
In the meantime, many are miffed, among them Hall of Fame ex-Irish coach Muffet McGraw.
“There are WBB players in their 6th even 7th season,” McGraw tweeted Friday in response to Dodson’s appeal being denied. “Many are on their 3rd school. It’s a ONE time transfer rule with a waiver necessary after that, yet no one has been stopped from playing EXCEPT maya dodson, who hasn’t even played 4 full years. SMH at the absurdity of the Ncaa.”
Reviewing the circumstances
At a minimum, there’s a cruel irony to Dodson being denied a fifth active season.
Because of the pandemic, virtually all players who competed in 2020-21 did not have that season counted against their four seasons of playing eligibility by the NCAA, in effect giving them five seasons of playing eligibility.
The twist for Dodson is that she did not compete at all in 2020-21, even citing a case of COVID in her family as one of her reasons for sitting out, after participating the previous three seasons at Stanford.
Another unfortunate turn in Dodson’s career is that she missed all but the final nine games of her 2019-20 junior season due to a foot injury. Dodson thus met a stated NCAA threshold of competing in less than 30% of her team’s games to qualify for a medical redshirt, and effectively another active season, but she did not meet the standard of having her injury be season-ending given that she came back to play.
“I think I was more sad,” Dodson said of whether the NCAA’s denial last week made her angry. “I wanted to play again with my teammates, but I had to realize it wasn’t for me. It’s frustrating when you think you deserve another year. But you don’t always get what you deserve.”
Dodson’s desire to keep playing collegiately flew in the face of what many pro-caliber players want — to turn pro as soon as possible — but the 6-foot-3 post claims she was not torn.
“It’s once in a lifetime to be at Notre Dame and to be in college,” Dodson said. “Being a pro is great as well, but it’s a different atmosphere. I felt like I could come back, do well and be drafted (even higher) next year, so that was the thought process. You hear from your parents, from everyone, that college is the best years of your life.”
Dodson says it stuck with her when she heard something similar from former ND star Skylar Diggins-Smith, who happens to be a member of the Mercury.
“I remember when Skylar came to talk to us,” Dodson said of Diggins-Smith meeting with the team after its Feb. 27 loss to Louisville, “and she shared how much she missed the college experience.”
Now the pro experience, while it wasn’t Dodson’s immediate first choice, is at least becoming exciting and intriguing.
In Phoenix, it’s going to be spiced with reunions, too.
Dodson was in high school when she first met Diggins-Smith while on an official recruiting visit to Notre Dame. On Monday, she exchanged texts with the Irish icon upon being drafted.
“Now I get to work with and learn from her,” Dodson said. “It’s funny how things happen, and I know no matter what happens, she’ll be there for me.”
Yet another familiar face expected to be present when training camp opens next week is guard Kiana Williams, who recently signed with Phoenix after spending part of last season with Seattle.
Williams and Dodson arrived at Stanford together in 2017, were roommates and are “super close,” according to Dodson.
“The funny thing is Kiana’s birthday was a week or so ago, and when I told her happy birthday, she wished me luck on my next steps and said it would only be a matter of time before we’d have a chance to play each other,” Dodson said. “Now we’re teammates, so it’s going to be nice.”
A powerful roster and a stiff challenge to make the team await Dodson with the Mercury.
Unresolved is the status of star center Brittney Griner, whose Feb. 17 detainment by Russian authorities is expected to last until at least May 19. The WNBA season starts May 6.
Even without Griner, who was taken into custody at a Moscow airport after a search of her luggage allegedly revealed vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis, Phoenix appears stacked inside.
Two weeks before Griner was detained, the Mercury signed fellow Olympic center, reigning WNBA scoring champ, former league MVP and four-time rebounding leader Tina Charles.
Led by blossoming ex-Irish standout Brianna Turner, five other players who project as centers or power forwards are expected in camp as well.
“They played in the finals last year and definitely have some great pieces,” Dodson said of a team that also boasts star quality at guard. “They’re loaded, so I’m going to do what I can to enhance a team that already has a lot of talent.”
Meanwhile, Dodson is leaving a Notre Dame team that certainly appeared loaded itself as recently as last week with potentially all five starters back from a 24-9, Sweet 16 club. Now Dodson — its top rebounder, top shot blocker and No. 2 scorer — is subtracted from that fivesome, and three key backups have entered the transfer portal.
Irish coach Niele Ivey could add reinforcements through that same portal and two-time Ms. Ohio Basketball KK Bransford is arriving as a freshman.
“It was hard to hear about the NCAA decision,” Dodson said, “but one thing I want to say is my team and coaches were there for me through that.”
They were there again Monday, watching with Dodson on TV as she was drafted. Her mom was there as well.
“It was very emotional,” Dodson said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. It was just a great moment. I was happy to be sharing it with my team. I’m happy I came here.”