Playing career over for ex-Irish Peters

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

The infusion of all five starters off Notre Dame’s national runner-up team into the WNBA has landed the Irish at No. 2 for most former players on current league rosters with nine.

More on those nine in a moment, but that No. 2 standing has been achieved even with a pair of Notre Dame’s WNBA veterans stepping away from the league since the end of last season.

Not that those two — Devereaux Peters and Lindsay Allen — aren’t busy as well.

Peters four weeks ago joined NBA player Joakim Noah and the NFL trio of Xavier Rhodes, Delanie Walker and DeAndre Washington as the founders of the Everytown Athletic Council.

That founding followed eight months of lead-up work.

The council is teaming with Everytown for Gun Safety, touted as the largest gun violence prevention organization in the United States.

Peters, who lost a cousin to gun violence, has long been openly passionate about a number of issues, including better pay for women and empowering athletes to speak up.

Recently, she’s also been a regular contributor on ESPN’s “Around the Rim” women’s basketball podcast with LaChina Robinson.

One thing Peters, 29, apparently isn’t involved in, though, is reconsidering her decision to retire as a player.

“I’m really gonna need y’all to stop being shocked at my retirement,” Peters said as part of a good-natured tweet a couple weeks ago. She reminded that she’s had 10 surgeries in her injury-peppered career, reiterated that “I’m not coming back,” and said she’s enjoying retirement.

Peters — a two-time All-Big East first-team player and two-time Big East defensive player of the year during an Irish career that culminated with national runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012 — finishes at six seasons in the WNBA (she did not play in 2017).

Despite her injuries, Peters averaged 4.3 points and 3.6 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game, and helped Minnesota to league titles in 2013 and 2015. She played for Indiana in 2016 and Phoenix last season.

Allen, a two-year WNBA veteran, is not back in the league, either, after undergoing knee surgery in late February, but the former ND standout point guard re-signed just last week with the Melbourne Boomers of the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia.

Allen led the Boomers to a second-place finish in an eight-team circuit last season, averaging 18.2 points, fifth in the league, and 5.3 assists, good for fourth.

The WNBL regular season runs from early October to early January.

Even minus Allen and Peters, Notre Dame’s nine players on current WNBA rosters is bested only by Connecticut’s runaway 18. Duke’s third at seven, while Baylor, Maryland, South Carolina and Tennessee are each at six.

More than half of ND’s nine come from that most recent draft class of Jackie Young (taken first overall), Arike Ogunbowale (fifth), Brianna Turner (11th), Jessica Shepard (16th) and Marina Mabrey (19th).

Each of that quintet was part of Notre Dame’s national title team in 2018 besides adding a runner-up finish in April.

By virtue of each making the teams that acquired them on draft night, they join Natalie Achonwa, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride as Irish products on 2019 WNBA rosters.

With a regular season that concludes Sept. 8 about a third over — teams play 34 games, followed by the top eight in the 12-club league making the playoffs — here’s a look at how ex-Irish players in the WNBA are faring (Ogunbowale is profiled in a separate story):


Indiana Fever

Achonwa is averaging 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 22.5 minutes per game in her fifth season, all with Indiana. She’s also shooting 58.8 percent from the field, fourth in the WNBA and less than 1 percent off the lead. That’s upped her career mark to 54.7, second in Fever franchise history.

Achonwa, a 6-foot-3 post, saw her streak of 77 straight games dating back to 2016 snapped two weeks ago when she missed a pair of contests with a calf injury.

In the four games since her return, all losses for Indiana (5-9), she’s dipped to 6.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 18.0 minutes.

Meanwhile, 6-7 rookie post Teaira McCowan, the overall No. 3 pick in the April draft, has seen her time grow and has produced averages of 10.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 26.7 minutes over her last six outings.


Dallas Wings

Diggins-Smith practiced Wednesday for the first time this season after giving birth to a boy in the spring.

According to Dallas coach Brian Agler, Diggins-Smith will not play in a game until at least the Wings’ first contest after the All-Star break, which is Aug. 1, and it’s not certain that she will be ready then.

“She knows herself and her conditioning better than anybody else,” Agler said of the two-time All-WNBA first-teamer and four-time All-Star. “She said after practice she felt good and was excited, but her return is sort of up in the air. She’s gotta get her conditioning back, but everybody knows what type of competitor she is, so she’s chomping at the bit.”

Diggins-Smith, a South Bend native, entered the league in 2013. If she does resume game action during her seventh season, she’ll break a tie with Peters for most WNBA seasons played among ex-Notre Dame players.


Seattle Storm

Loyd appears to have dodged the long-term setbacks encountered by a couple of her fellow Seattle stars, but is expected to miss at least a few more days after suffering a severe ankle sprain in the opening quarter of a four-point loss on June 25 loss at Las Vegas.

After helping the Storm capture the WNBA title last season, Loyd is averaging 15.8 points to rank second on the team and ninth in the league this season. She’s also at 1.8 steals, tied for fifth in the league, to go with 38-of-40 free throw marksmanship.

Seattle (8-7 overall, 1-3 since Loyd went down) is already without two of its premier players for the entire season in Breanna Stewart (ruptured Achilles’) and Sue Bird (knee surgery).

Loyd, a 5-10 guard, left Notre Dame a year early and wound up the overall No. 1 pick and WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2015 with the Storm.

She earned her first-time All-Star nod last season on the way to averaging 15.5 points and career bests of 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists.


Los Angeles Sparks

Mabrey hasn’t made a start yet, but the rookie’s gotten into all 12 of the Sparks’ games, averaging 4.9 points in 14.8 minutes.

Valued for her potential as a sniper, she’s hit just 10-of-39 outside the arc so far for 26 percent, but she also has compiled LA’s best steal rate at one every 17.7 minutes and the team’s second-best assist rate at one every 10.4.

Mabrey’s season highs of 14 points and 28 minutes came in an 89-77 loss four weeks ago at Connecticut.

The Sparks (6-6) have a national TV appearance coming up Tuesday when they visit Dallas for a 1 p.m. contest to be broadcast over both Fox Sports and Twitter, and Mabrey comes to Indiana three days after that when LA meets the Fever in a 7 p.m. July 12 matchup.


Las Vegas Aces

There’s no concentration of Irish in the WNBA quite like in Vegas, where not only McBride and Young are starting guards for the Aces, but where fellow Domer Bill Laimbeer is the head coach and president of basketball operations.

McBride, a 2018 All-Star, is averaging 14.8 points. She leads her team in 3-point accuracy at 43.2 percent (sixth in the league), free throw accuracy at 91.1 on 41-of-45 and in minutes at 29.0 per game. She’s also grabbing rebounds at a 4.8 clip, best of her career.

It’s all helped Vegas to an 8-5 record, third in the league behind Washington (9-3) and Connecticut (9-4).

The Aces feature the 1-2 inside punch of A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage at a combined 32.0 points, 14.7 boards and 2.9 blocks, but it’s McBride who’s been the face of the San Antonio/Vegas franchise by virtue of all six of her seasons spent with the team.

Over that time, she’s averaged 15.3 points and never less than her rookie-season 13.0.


Minnesota Lynx

Shepard’s promising rookie season ended after just six games on June 8 when she suffered a torn ACL to her right knee late in an 89-85 loss against Los Angeles.

The 6-3 forward with deft passing skills was averaging 4.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 18.7 minutes per outing off the bench. Her assist rate relative to playing time remains best on the Lynx and her rebound rate second.

Minnesota, 4-1 heading into the game in which Shepard was injured, is 7-6.

“My best is yet to come,” Shepard promised in a tweet the day after her injury. “I’ll be back.”

For Shepard, it’s her second torn ACL. The other one came to her left knee and cost her most of her high school senior season in Nebraska.


Phoenix Mercury

Landing on a team that already boasts a pair of standouts with size in 6-4 DeWanna Bonner and 6-7 Brittney Griner, Turner has decidedly played the most sparsely among dressing ex-Irish.

The 6-3 center has logged 23 total minutes while appearing in eight of Phoenix’s 10 games.

She’s taken just five shots, making two, but has added 10 rebounds in her limited action. Bonner and Griner are averaging a combined 37.6 points and 14.6 rebounds. And 6-4 Alanna Smith, drafted three spots ahead of Turner, has been getting the most extended look among the 5-5 Mercury’s rookie bigs.

Nevertheless, Turner already has landed her winter gig, signing in early May with the WNBL of Australia’s Adelaide Lightning. Fellow ND alum Natalie Novosel has signed with that same team.


Las Vegas Aces

Young is still often deferring, and doing it well.

The surging rookie who has started every game is averaging 4.8 assists, ninth in the WNBA, and over her last five outings is at 7.2, helping Vegas go 4-1 during that span.

Perhaps more pivotal, she’s at a 5.1 assist-to-turnover ratio in those last five contests and her season ratio of 3.4 ranks third in the league.

On the flip side, the overall No. 1 pick who came out of Notre Dame a year early has struggled to shoot consistently, standing at just 31.9 percent on 2-pointers, 31.3 percent on 3s and 69.6 percent at the line. Overall, she’s at 5.8 points in 22.8 minutes per game.

The playing days for former Notre Dame and Minnesota Lynx forward Devereaux Peters (14), shown grabbing a rebound in a 2013 WNBA game, are over.
Minnesota Lynx guard Odyssey Sims drives around Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner during a June 6 WNBA game in Minneapolis.