With young players taking a large share of the spotlight in this past college season, scrutiny about the WNBA’s draft rules is greater than usual. The rules did not end up changing with a new CBA so there should not be any expectation that future prospects will be able to accelerate their draft clocks at this time. There is one talented young player who is in an unusual situation because of the draft rules issue that used to get all of the attention, the one that created a difference in draft time for players who were considered international. Emerging Lithuanian wing Juste Jocyte turns out not to fall under the international designation, which would keep her out of the WNBA longer. Given the current rules, this year would be the one time where she could take action to move her draft year up to the same year as international players born in the same year as she was. Is there a loophole that she can use that would allow her to be drafted earlier?
Jocyte’s father Alvydas Jocys played college basketball in the United States, first at the North Platte campus of Mid-Plains Community College for two seasons then at NAIA school Bellevue University for two seasons. As part of his career, he worked at Lithuania’s embassy to the United States. That proves to be a critical detail in this situation because it meant that his daughter was born in Washington, D.C. in 2005 as opposed to another country. Birthplace is a key component of draft eligibility in the CBA and is obviously not something that can be changed after the fact. That the family subsequently moved to Lithuania does not matter. Jocyte’s older brother Rokas is also a promising young basketball player who is playing in Italy with Stella Azzurra Roma, which has a strong history of player development.
Jocyte’s first moment on the global stage was at the inaugural Jr. NBA World Championship in 2018 as she was one of the players selected to represent Europe. Her team made it through the international bracket to the final game as she received the Teamwork award at the conclusion of the tournament. Even at that time, she was beginning to show the scoring ability that was going to gain her notoriety the next summer. In 2019, playing two years up for Lithuania’s U16 team, she led her team in an impressive run through the knockout stages as they lost a heartbreaker to Russia in the final. While the country has a long and storied basketball tradition, recent success for their women’s teams had been hard to come by and everyone was looking forward to the team participating in a global youth championship in 2020, but the pandemic delayed those hopes. Her play during the tournament demonstrated an impressive arsenal of skills at her age, allowing her to consistently execute high degree of difficulty shots as the team increasingly put the ball in her hands during crunch time.
Playing in France:
After a strong start to the domestic league season in Lithuania, Jocyte made her senior national team debut in their EuroBasket qualifier against Albania in November right before her 14th birthday. That was also the time that moving out of the country and developing in a different environment became a serious consideration. Tony Parker had long been actively involved in the roster construction of ASVEL and when the club added Lyon’s premier women’s team to the group, also took on that role for that part of the club as well. Nicolas Batum also had a role with the club and in this case, played a critical part in the recruiting process. The duo convinced her and her family to agree to a three year plan for her to develop there, which has reportedly now extended through 2025. While there were also opportunities to play with their youth team in France’s third division and school obligations, she was quickly handed a top division debut and the youngest debut in the current incarnation of EuroLeague. The wait for her to play significant minutes in a critical club situation continues, but she played extensively with the national team during the rest of their qualifying campaign, showing additional promise as a secondary playmaker.
Section 1 of Article XIII of the CBA is the one that covers player eligibility for the draft. Subsection e is the one that covers Jocyte’s status as a non-international as it states “For purposes of this Section 1, an “international player” means any person born and residing outside the United States.” Most non-internationals then fall under paragraph i of subsection b for their earliest draft eligibility as “will be at least twenty-two (22) years old during the calendar year in which such Draft is held” is the first part of the first possible entry criteria. As we discussed here, that is two years later than the age at which international players can enter. Non-internationals do have more options listed in the following two paragraphs if the player “has graduated from a four-year college or university prior to such Draft, or “is to graduate” from such college or university within the three (3)-month period following such Draft” or “attended a four year college or university, her original class in such college or university has already been graduated or “is to graduate” within the three (3)-month period following such Draft” then she can be in the draft. Unlike the NBA, there is no age requirement for the last two items so a non-international player can get to the WNBA sooner than the age 22 year. Quanitra Hollingsworth enrolled at VCU when she was 16 so she was drafted at age 20, turning 21 after the season and therefore reaching the league a year earlier than would typically be expected for a player born when she was.
Given those rules, this is the last year that Jocyte could enroll in college in the United States and then leave college and be eligible for the 2025 draft, assuming that she would not actually stay in college and graduate early. The language in the CBA specifies a four-year school, but that does not seem to address the possibility of schools in other countries that typically award degrees after three years as there is no mention of the location of the school, unlike for international players. Also, as a non-international, there is no reference to actually competing or exercising eligibility in school, merely attending, so online courses would probably be sufficient to qualify under this criteria. Not necessarily needing to play would also mean not needing to qualify under the criteria necessary to play sports and simply being able to be admitted as a regular student might be enough. Some people have wondered if young Americans could play professionally overseas and accelerate their draft clocks. As shown here, that would not be possible without also attending college, which could be done without planning on actually staying there.