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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Arella Guirantes' dream drifts into Twilight Zone

Arella Guirantes of Bellport, who is playing at

Arella Guirantes of Bellport, who is playing at Rutgers and is one of the best players in the Big Ten. Credit: Rutgers Athletics/Ben Solomon

It is a night Arella Guirantes has thought about ever since she first picked up a basketball in Bellport.

Guirantes has dreamed of attending the WNBA Draft with her family. She’s dreamed of hearing her name. She’s dreamed of hugging them all and then walking up on the stage and receiving the jersey for the team she will play for professionally.

But that dream, like just about everything in today’s COVID-19 world, has taken an unexpected turn. The WNBA announced Thursday that it will hold its draft as scheduled on April 17, but it will be using video conferencing in the hopes of recreating that moment that Guirantes and so many other aspiring WNBA players have dreamed of.

Guirantes, a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection at Rutgers this season, is a draft-eligible junior. That means she has until April 7 to decide whether to declare for the draft.

Right now, she said it is 50-50 whether she will decide to make herself available. Complicating that decision is the fact that it is unclear what would happen to players like her, who still have a year of eligibility left, if they are drafted but the WNBA season ultimately is canceled.

“I’m not leaning toward anything right now,” Guirantes told Newsday. “I’m trying to weigh all my options. I’ll probably wait until the last moment.”

It’s hard to weigh options, however, when the facts aren’t completely clear, and they are a work in progress. In response to my inquiry about Guirantes and other eligible juniors’ situation, NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham issued this statement in an email:

“NCAA leadership and membership committees are identifying and working through the considerable implications related to championship and season cancellations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement read. “While some decisions can be made quickly, others may take time to reach a conclusion. As details become available, we will share with our membership and the public.”

Presumably, those details will have to become available before college athletes are forced to make a decision.

The past couple of weeks have been fairly surreal for Guirantes.

When I spoke to her three weeks ago, she and her Rutgers teammates were on the way to the Big Ten Tournament. The 5-11 guard was riding a big high after leading the conference in scoring at 20.6 points per game. Rutgers lost to Indiana, 79-60, in the second round of the tournament, but Guirantes scored 30 points and made a school-record 15 of 16 free throws.

Guirantes then returned to New Jersey with her team and was getting ready for the NCAA Tournament. The bracket hadn’t been announced, but Rutgers (22-9) was expected to make it.

“I saw the NBA shut down, and I started losing hope,” she said. “Our men’s team, we were about to watch them in the Big Ten Tournament. They were going to play in front of nobody. And then it was canceled 10 minutes before the game.”

The NCAA postseason isn’t the only thing that has changed for Guirantes. She was supposed to go to the Olympics, now postponed, this summer as a member of the Puerto Rican team.

Guirantes now is back with her family in Bellport. They have weights in their house and she is able to do some shooting and drills with her father. She said she knows she is fortunate and that there are people dealing with much worse things than an abrupt end of a basketball season. Still, she said it’s hard not to be disappointed with the way the season ended.

“It’s painful, because I was just getting started,” she said. “The last five games, I was averaging 26 or 27 points a game. I was thinking I would have a lot more cooking in front of a lot more people. It kind of sucks to get in your groove and have it cut short.

“I felt like I wasn’t finished.”

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