Army basketball: Kelsey Minato gets a chance to play in WNBA
UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Kelsey Minato dreamed of playing in the WNBA growing up but wasn't sure that would ever become a reality.
Minato enrolled at West Point four years ago and has a military service requirement after graduation. Yet she recently finished off the most decorated career in women's basketball history at the school, and now, she just may get that chance.
The guard was invited by the San Antonio Stars to training camp by coach Dan Hughes. She already survived the team's first round of cuts but knows it's a long shot she'll make the roster when the season opens on May 14.
"It's been a great experience," she said Wednesday before the Stars played in an exhibition tournament in Connecticut. "A chance to see what the WNBA is all about. Whatever happens, happens. I'm just so grateful for the opportunity they gave me."
Hughes first heard of Minato from Detroit Pistons general manager Jeff Bower, who was friends with her coach at Army. Other college coaches also had recommended that the Stars coach take a look at the guard.
As soon as Minato wasn't drafted, Hughes picked up the phone and invited her to join the Stars in camp.
"She deserved to have an opportunity. What goes beyond that, that's life," Hughes said. "My son's going to the Air Force Academy next year. I appreciated what she had done. When you look at what she accomplished, when you throw her name in with David Robinson. This girl deserved a chance to get on the court."
Robinson, who graduated from Navy, starred in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs and led them to two titles.
"To be mentioned in the same conversation as him is special," Minato said.
Like Robinson, Minato needed to get special permission to even try out for the Stars because of her service commitment.
"This really started coming to fruition this past winter," she said. "I didn't get approval until about one or two weeks before the draft. I got it and now just need to make the most of this opportunity. I had to write an exception of policy memo of what I wanted to do and how that would work. That got passed up the chain to the Department of Defense."
Minato is on an unpaid leave of absence from West Point while she's with the Stars. And the Army has said she will be allowed to play in the WNBA if she makes a team but can't pursue other playing options overseas. She has final exams next week and graduation on May 21. She's been keeping in touch with her professors at West Point while she's been in Texas.
"It's an incredible opportunity," Army coach Dave Magarity said. "It's such a positive thing for her, for the academy, for our program, for the Army. To have a young lady who's so accomplished where she has a chance to play at the highest level speaks volumes of who she is and what she's been able to accomplish."
Minato isn't the first player from Army to have a chance to play in the WNBA. Katie MacFarlane, whose scoring record Minato broke this year, was invited to Connecticut's training camp in 2004. She played in one exhibition game for the Sun before getting cut.
Minato, who is from Huntington Beach, California, averaged 23.2 points her senior season for Army (29-3) and was second in 3-point percentage in the nation (.478). In her sophomore season, she scored a Patriot League-record 49 points in a game and made an NCAA single-game record 26-of-26 free throws.
The honorable mention AP All-American played in two games this week for the Stars. She saw her first action in the second half of the opener against Atlanta on Wednesday, playing four minutes. She played for 6 minutes on Thursday against Connecticut. She didn't attempt a shot in either game.
"Just to see her on the court and having a chance is something really inspiring," Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike said. "There are a lot bigger things out there then basketball and knowing that she's serving our country when this is done is amazing."