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After the final buzzer: Brianna Kiesel looks to WNBA following Pitt career

By Jasper Wilson / Senior Staff Writer

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Even though Brianna Kiesel’s college basketball career has ended, she may not have taken her last shot.

After a decompression period following the Pitt women’s basketball team’s 77-67 loss to University of Tennessee on March 23 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the senior met with associate head coach Kathy McConnell-Miller to discuss the possibility of pursuing a WNBA career.

“I’m like a kid. I’m nervous. I don’t know what to expect,” Kiesel said of transitioning to the next level.

The nerves subsided when her coach laid out a plan.

McConnell-Miller would serve as her go-between with agents, some of whom had attempted to contact Kiesel directly via social media during the season. McConnell-Miller had already been in contact with WNBA coaches who expressed interest in the point guard. In the coming weeks leading up to the WNBA draft, she and the coaches would work out.

“Anything I could help her with, I did,” McConnell-Miller said.

Toward the end of her junior year and start of senior year, Kiesel began seriously considering the possibility of continuing her career after college. Over this past season, though, she wanted to keep her focus on the time she had left at Pitt. The coaching staff encouraged the approach, not bringing up any aspects of what was to come after Kiesel’s last basket for Pitt.

“She did a really good job of staying present in the moment,” McConnell-Miller said.

Now that her collegiate career has ended, it is time for a new reality.

A major first step in the professional recruitment process is the draft, which starts at 7 p.m. EST on Thursday, April 16. ESPN2 will broadcast the draft’s first round, and the second and third rounds will subsequently be available on ESPN3.

The 12-team draft consists of 36 picks broken up over three rounds. Shavonte Zellous is the only former Panther to be selected since it began in 2001, going 11th to the Detroit Shock in 2009.

In addition to the aid of McConnell-Miller, who has WNBA coaching experience herself, Kiesel also had the experience of head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio to draw from.

McConnell-Serio coached the Minnesota Lynx for three and a half seasons, and she played with the Cleveland Rockers for three years.

Before joining McConnell-Serio after she was hired at Pitt in 2013, McConnell-Miller spent two seasons with the Tulsa Shock as an assistant coach.

Kiesel’s college career has positioned her well to find an opportunity at the next level, however it comes. She was a first-team All-ACC selection this year and ranks fifth on Pitt’s all-time assists and scoring lists. She led the team in both categories each of the past four seasons.

Since that final, memorable postseason game, in which she scored a career-high 32 points, Kiesel has been working out and going to class.

The workouts, run by McConnell-Miller, are meant to incorporate professional elements and terminology into Kiesel’s game. They build on what she did the last two seasons running the pro-set system McConnell-Serio uses, which features the different types of pick and rolls and screens all over the floor that are common in the pros.

“So if I do get an opportunity to go to a training camp, I’m not completely bamboozled and I have no idea what to expect,” Kiesel said.

If she goes undrafted, Kiesel’s next goal becomes just that: getting invited to a team’s training camp, which start two weeks after the draft. There, she can compete for — and hopefully earn — a roster spot.

“We know for sure she will be in somebody’s training camp,” McConnell-Miller said. “We just don’t obviously know if it will be through the draft.”

Former Pitt players Marcedes Walker and Laine Selwyn appeared in WNBA regular season games in 2008 after taking this route — Walker with the Houston Comets and Selwyn with the Indiana Fever. The teams waived both players before season’s end, however.

According to McConnell-Miller, teams can invite 15 players to camp, but need to cut that number to 12 by the start of the regular season in June. Many of the contracted players on WNBA teams arrive to camp late because of their just-ended or currently ongoing overseas seasons, resulting in some players being brought in just to serve as practice players in the interim.

Selwyn, who has participated in multiple other WNBA training camps in addition to primarily playing abroad, said in her experiences, making the final roster after coming in as a free agent is a challenge.

“Everyone is good. It’s extremely difficult,” Selwyn said. “And I have to admit, I’ve been in situations where they’ve drafted a player than I might be better than, but they kept that player because they drafted her. It would look bad if they cut that player after they drafted them.”

If Kiesel doesn’t secure a place at a training camp, overseas possibilities will likely come, in an instance where having an agent — Kiesel signed one within the last week — is crucial, given the need for foreign connections.

And if those opportunities do come, she’ll go.

“What better way to travel the world than doing something that you love?” Kiesel said.

Despite so much uncertainty about her immediate future, Kiesel maintains a positive outlook.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s stress, I think it’s excitement,” she said. “There’s always something that I can fall back on. I really want to play basketball. I really do. And I want to give it my all. But if they’re not interested, then they’re just not interested.”

If Kiesel doesn’t stick — or does, but her playing career ends prematurely — she is still confident in her future plans. She received a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice last spring and is nearing completion of another one in legal studies, as well as a certificate in communication.

Graduate school is a possibility, too. On Feb. 19, Kiesel received a $5,000 scholarship from the ACC to pursue a graduate degree. The conference distributes awards to student-athletes who have “performed with distinction in both the classroom and their respective sport, while demonstrating exemplary conduct in the community,” according to the ACC’s website.

Additionally, she is looking into the possibility of entering coaching. She pent the Final Four weekend in Tampa, Fla., taking part in the “So You Want To Be A Coach” program sponsored by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association — an educational and networking event for female college basketball players interested in possibly entering the profession.

“I may not make a team, or I may only make it to the first day of training camp,” Kiesel said. “But the point is to make it, just to get an opportunity. ‘Cause all anybody wants is just a chance.”

Editor’s Note: Brianna Kiesel has since been drafted by the Tulsa Shock of the WNBA.

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After the final buzzer: Brianna Kiesel looks to WNBA following Pitt career