South Dakota pushed its way into national headlines this past college basketball season.
Macy Miller became the Summit League’s all-time leading scorer, guiding South Dakota State University to its first Sweet 16 berth. Fellow Jackrabbit Mike Daum climbed to seventh on the NCAA’s career scoring leaderboard and Matt Mooney became the darling of the Final Four, albeit with Texas Tech via the University of South Dakota.
While Miller, a Mitchell native, was the only one to hear her name called on draft night -- she was the 36th and final pick by the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Draft -- all three are fighting to keep their basketball journeys alive.
Daum and Mooney find themselves preparing for the Las Vegas Summer League with the Portland Trail Blazers and Atlanta Hawks, respectively, though could sign elsewhere after summer league concludes. Meanwhile, Miller, who was released by the Storm following the preseason, is taking her talents overseas to Spain.
Miller signed with the Universitario de Ferrol, which went 3-23 last season and was relegated to Liga Femenina 2. The top-two teams every year in Liga Femenina 2 get promoted to Liga Femenina, the top-tier league.
Playing overseas doesn’t shatter Miller’s WNBA dreams, though. She’ll report to the team in September and play during the WNBA’s offseason, which even the league’s stars do considering the WNBA’s max salary in 2018 was $187,000.
Making a WNBA team will always be tough until the league expands past 12 teams. But the possibility of signing with a team with fewer guards and guaranteed contracts than the Storm had this season would make that task significantly more obtainable.
For Daum and Mooney, those dreams are still alive, something SDSU’s Skyler Flatten can’t currently say. Flatten had numerous pre-draft workouts, including with the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings, but still, surprisingly, finds himself unsigned, despite proving he can stretch the floor by shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc as a senior.
Daum and Mooney are on summer league rosters, but similar questions surround them. Many wonder if they’re athletic enough to play in the NBA, along with their advanced age in a league always looking for the next young prospect. Daum will be 24 years old nine days after the NBA season begins, while Mooney will be 23 in February.
Still, both present silky-smooth jumpers. Daum was a bucket-getter at SDSU, shooting a career 41 percent from 3-point range, but there’s questions about his defense, too.
Despite the concerns surrounding the 6-foot-3 Mooney, he projects to be a 3-and-D player at the next level, which NBA teams are always looking for. He shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range and averaged 1.8 steals per game for the Red Raiders.
“While the limited size is an issue for Mooney in some ways, his combination of shooting and defensive acumen is appealing,” SB Nation’s Brad Rowland wrote. “He was a high-end defender in college, both on the ball and within a team scheme, and Mooney is certainly worthy of an extended summer league evaluation.”
Portland opens summer league against Detroit and Atlanta takes on Milwaukee on July 6, but Mooney and Daum are both seemingly longshots to stick with a team.
If neither makes an NBA team, their options are simple -- G-League or overseas. Former SDSU standout Nate Wolters has made a living overseas as he recently signed with Israel’s Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv.
He did play 13 G-League games in 2017-18, which led to a five-game call-up with the Utah Jazz, but Wolters hasn’t sniffed consistent NBA playing time since 2014-15. Although, overseas, he was a consistent contributor for Lithuania’s Zalgiris, averaging 11.2 points per game in EuroLeague action.
Whether Daum and Mooney try to earn a call-up, which is a gamble even in a 30-team league, or follow the path of Wolters -- and now Miller -- this year added three players with South Dakota ties in the professional ranks.
Savor the moment. Because with the difficulty of being drafted in the WNBA if you’re not from Connecticut, Baylor or Notre Dame, along with both in-state men’s programs not gleaming with NBA Draft prospects next year, the next professional player with state ties might not be until now-UNLV’s David Jenkins in 2022.