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What Aari McDonald had to consider when returning to Arizona

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aari-mcdonald-arizona-wildcats-womens-college-basketball-improvement-2021-senior-wnba-adia-barnes Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before Aari McDonald announced she is returning for her senior season, I was planning to publish a piece that weighed the benefits of declaring for WNBA Draft and returning school, hoping to give our readers some perspective on what likely was a tough decision for the Arizona Wildcats point guard.

But even though we know which route she took (and because I don’t want my work to go to waste) here are some of the factors she undoubtedly had to consider in what was a win-win situation.

Pros of entering the draft

Money, duh

Historically, WNBA salaries have been minuscule compared to other professional leagues, the reason many superstars feel the need to play overseas in the offseason. That’s where the big bucks are.

But that is slowly changing. The new WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, signed this winter, sets a minimum player salary of $57,000, raises overall compensation by 53 percent, and sets an average salary of $153,000, the first time that number has been six figures.

Even if McDonald fell to the second round, she would have signed a three-year, $187,000 deal with a fourth-year team option worth $76,000. (Though rookies typically don’t get guaranteed money and securing a roster spot is awfully difficult in the 12-team league.)

If McDonald would have been selected in the latter part of the first round—which was very possible—she would have signed a deal worth slightly more than that.

Here is the full 2020 WNBA rookie scale:

While still not a whole lot compared to what NBA players make, it is still a solid salary for someone’s first job out of college, not to mention it’s earned by playing basketball.

Pretty sweet gig if you can get it.

A longer pro career

An interesting analysis conducted by Positive Residual (linked below) shows that most WNBA players peak around age 25 and start to sharply decline around age 28.

If that’s true, then McDonald’s clock is ticking, and the 22-year-old would have benefitted from starting her pro career sooner rather than later.

That could be especially true for her since she is an undersized point guard with elite quickness. Her game, theoretically at least, won’t age as well as, say, a skilled 6-foot-5 post.

Injuries are always a possibility as well.

Better competition

This is pretty self-explanatory. McDonald is a fierce competitor, so much so that she used to play against boys in grade school, and the chance to put her skills to the test against the best players in the world had to have been appealing.

And there is no doubt McDonald has what it takes to run with them.

“She’s an excellent playmaker, and a legit two-way contributor right away,” said Howard Megdal, editor-in-chief of HighPostHoops.com “She’d absolutely be effective in anyone’s rotation, and a number of teams are watching her decision closely.”

A chance to move on in life

McDonald recently got engaged to former Arizona football player Devon Brewer, and declaring for the WNBA Draft could have been the next step in moving on to life as an adult.

Then again, if Brewer is still living in Tucson, McDonald playing in a different city could have been a challenge.

Pros of staying in school

Taking care of unfinished business

The Wildcats’ goal this season was to reach the NCAA Tournament, and while they were a lock to make it happen (and host), the coronavirus crisis prevented them from enjoying the fruits of their labor.

As much as McDonald has meant to the program, ending her UA career without playing on that stage would just feel wrong, and it’s totally understandable that she, like Sabrina Ionescu who could have been the No. 1 pick last year, felt she had some unfinished business to settle.

With McDonald back in the fold, the Wildcats will likely enter the season as a top-10 team, and a real Final Four contender.

As she said, “the best is yet to come.”

A chance to break records/become a legend

On a similar note, McDonald has a chance to cement herself as the greatest women’s basketball player in Arizona history.

McDonald, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and first Wildcat to be named a Second-Team All-American, already broke Adia Barnes’ single-season scoring record and needs 752 more points to break Barnes’ career scoring record, completely doable considering McDonald scored 890 as a redshirt sophomore.

What is even more impressive is McDonald could do that despite spending her freshman season at Washington.

McDonald also has a shot to lead Arizona to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005, its first Elite Eight and Final Four, as well as its first Pac-10/12 championship.

And with Ionescu graduating, McDonald has a chance to not only be the best guard in the Pac-12 but the entire country as well.

That could translate to big money down the road in the form of endorsements, more than she could have ever made had she declared this year.

Boost that draft stock

Being the best guard in the country would also mean McDonald’s draft stock rising past where it is now. Most experts had her as a fringe first-round pick.

If McDonald can solidify herself as a first-round talent, her rookie salary could be as much as $3,000 to $8,000 more per season than if she would have declared this year (though she is missing out on a whole year of salary by returning to school).

Earn a master’s degree

McDonald can now make progress toward a master’s degree and even complete a one-year, accelerated program, which would set her up nicely for life after basketball.

Yes, she could always return to school when her pro career is over, but the experience wouldn’t be the same (going to college in your 30s is not like your 20s) and she would no longer be on full scholarship.