When you think of the most successful women’s college basketball programs, names like UCONN, Baylor and South Carolina stick out. Each have filled the WNBA with talent over the past 26 years, but the Ohio State Buckeyes have a history of their own.
A good place to start for interesting Scarlet & Gray to WNBA connections is where it all began: the 1997 season. Katie Smith, the 1996 B1G Player of the Year, is known as one of the best Buckeye alums to play professionally, but Smith isn’t the first Ohio State player in the league.
Smith opted for the American Basketball League, an independent league that ran two complete seasons and part of a third before folding. When it came time for the 1997 WNBA Draft, not a single Buckeye was drafted, but three found time on the court in the league’s inaugural year. Of the three, one split the season as a player and coach.
On June 21, 1997, the first three WNBA games tipped off. Guard Adrienne Johnson, who finished her Buckeye career with Smith in 1996, was the first Ohio State player to compete in the league. Johnson played 5:47, had one assist but no points in the now defunct Cleveland Rockers’ first game — a 76-56 rout at the hands of the Houston Comets.
In Cleveland’s second game, a June 26, 1997 win over the Utah Starzz, Johnson scored two points, making them the first for Scarlet & Gray in the league.
Johnson was the most successful Buckeye in the first year of the league, earning 25 appearances, all off the bench. She continued to play until 2003, with stops in Orlando with the now defunct Orlando Miracle and her final season with the Connecticut Sun. After the WNBA, Johnson held multiple roles within the University of Louisville Women’s Basketball program.
Joining Johnson in Cleveland was guard Marcie Alberts, who signed as a free agent after graduating in 1997. Alberts, a Wooster, Ohio native, was prolific in Scarlet & Gray. She left the program second in three pointers made and attempted as well as ninth in assists. In Cleveland, Alberts made five appearances all season, and didn’t register a point.
Alberts coached at the collegiate level after her lone professional season. In 2016, the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Alberts for her high school and collegiate exploits.
The final 1997 WNBA Buckeye is 1985 graduate Yvette Angel. Angel played for the Sacramento Monarchs, making three starts in five appearances in a span of 10 days, scoring 14 points overall. On July 28, 1997, Sacramento fired then head coach Mary Murphy and promoted Angel to an assistant coach.
In 1999, Angel was inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame after leading the Buckeyes to four straight conference titles with over 1,400 points in Columbus.
Check back for more between the WNBA and Ohio State before the Buckeyes tip off this fall.