411OnTheForty: Former UT standouts begin WNBA seasons Saturday

21 Jul By

AUSTIN, Texas — Playing for the Longhorns, Ariel Atkins and Joyner Holmes became focal points of the Texas offense and defense, helping the program make the NCAA Tournament on five different occasions.

The 2020 WNBA season will kick off at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with all 12 teams, including Atkins' Washington Mystics and Holmes' New York Liberty, playing a 22-game schedule.

Joyner Holmes
Former Texas forward Joyner Holmes will begin her first WNBA season with the New York Liberty Saturday against the Seattle Storm, the team that drafted but opted not to sign her (photo courtesy texassports.com).

Holmes will begin her first season at the pro level after graduating from Texas in May. The Liberty has seven rookies on its roster, including No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu, and will face the Seattle Storm to open the season Saturday at 11 a.m. (Central time) on ESPN.

Holmes was originally drafted by Seattle, but was cut May 26 before even practicing with the team. Nearly a month later, the Liberty signed the 6-foot-3-inch forward as a reinforcement in the post.

The 2017 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Holmes finished her four-year career averaging 11.1 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and hitting 43 percent of her field goals.

Atkins is beginning her third season in a league in which only about 25 percent of draft picks last three seasons. She excelled in the postseason last September, starting nine games, shooting 93 percent from the free-throw line, and averaging 7.2 points per game for the Mystics, who won the WNBA championship. A two-time member of the WNBA All-Defensive team, Atkins has carried over her defensive success from the Forty Acres, where she led the Horns during the 2016-17 season with 64 steals.

Former Texas guard Ariel Atkins has made the WNBA All-Defensive Team in each of her first two seasons in the league (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

The Mystics, who beat the Connecticut Sun in five games in last season's WNBA Finals, return to action at 4 p.m. (Central time) Saturday against the Indiana Fever in a game that will be broadcast on CBS Sports.

In addition, former Longhorn guard LaShann Higgs began her international career July 17 with Embutidos Pajariel Bembibre PDM, a pro team in Spain.

Guard Lashann Higgs is among the Longhorns playing professionally overseas after signing with Embutidos Pajariel Bemninre PDM (photo courtesy of texassports.com)

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Riley Zayas is a high school freshman and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, his personal blog 360 Sports, and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website.