Notre Dame women's basketball legacy of Jewell Loyd forever changes

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Didn’t see that comin’, did ya?

Hours after Notre Dame women’s basketball junior guard Jewell Loyd said how Tuesday’s 63-53 national championship loss to Connecticut would be “motivation for us for next year,” she bailed on next year.

Wednesday night, Loyd announced she would make herself eligible for the April 16 WNBA draft.

She offered no explanation, just a "thanks for the memories'' in a statement.

Strange. Really strange.

Loyd was headed to Los Angeles Thursday for the Wooden Award banquet, since she is a finalist. A Notre Dame spokesman said she was unable to respond to interview requests due to being in transit to the West Coast.

That means everyone outside the inner sanctum of the Irish program is left to speculate about why the second-best player in the country (behind UConn’s Breanna Stewart) would opt to leave a team that seemed poised for a serious run at the national title in 2016.

Definitely a head-scratcher.

If there were cracks or fissures within the group of 13 athletes, they weren’t visible to those allowed inside the ropes on occasion. Whether it’s the company line or a true indication of feelings, freshman Brianna Turner’s comment Tuesday night — “I had to come out and play hard for my teammates” — was the mantra that came from all in the locker room.

Leaving a year of college eligibility on the table for an opportunity in the WNBA hardly comes with the promise of a payday early departures for the NBA will earn.

Odds are Loyd will end up with the Seattle Storm. Hope she likes coffee. And rain. Seattle owns the first and the third picks in the upcoming draft. Tulsa, already stocked at guard with Skylar Diggins and Odyssey Sims, has the second selection.

Even a top pick won’t be considered rich. Heck, the total salary cap for the WNBA roster of 15 players is around $878,000. The best players in the league, veterans with about four years of experience, make just over $100,000. Rookies have a minimum salary of about $38,000, while the average player salary in the league is $72,000.

Not terrible, considering the regular season runs from June to September. Pretty good summer work.

But, is it worth abandoning those teammates that had been so special for three years?

Or, are there extenuating circumstances that might have made the decision easier for Loyd? Some sort of issue that could have put her eligibility for next year in jeopardy?

It would be unfair to jump to that conclusion, but for such a dramatic, “out of the blue” occurrence that defies logic on so many levels, it at least deserves to be considered.

Knowing what is known now, it’s interesting to look back on Loyd’s recent games to see if the gravity of her impending decision impacted her performance. A 45 percent shooter for the season, Loyd was never better than 38 percent in her last five NCAA Tournament games. She was a dismal 3 of 15 against DePaul, 5 of 18 against Baylor and 4 of 18 against Connecticut.


Granted, every defense is designed to shut her down. But it’s been that way the entire season, and it’s just starting to wear on her now?

Smooth and technically sound throughout her career, Loyd has seemed to force the offensive issue recently. Bad shots. Ill-fated, out of control bull-rushes to the basket that rarely end well.

There just seemed to be something different about Loyd’s game in the last month. Now, maybe it’s a little easier to understand.

That doesn’t change who Jewell Loyd is. During her three years in the public eye at Notre Dame, she has always been a respectful, uber-competitive spitfire who, more often than not, found a way to deliver.

Her legacy, though, has been changed forever. Rather than one of the all-time greats, Loyd will be the mystery who left her teammates dangling.

Too bad. It coulda been special.