Under Armour has signed Bella Alarie and Tyasha Harris of the Dallas Wings and Kaila Charles of the Connecticut Sun to its basketball lineup, the shoe giant announced Thursday. As part of their individual multi-year deals, the trio of rookies will wear the UA HOVR Breakthru, Under Armour’s first basketball performance footwear specifically designed for female athletes, this season.
Alarie was drafted fifth overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft in April, becoming the highest-drafted player to come out of Princeton in the program’s history. The 6’4 forward averaged 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists last season for the Tigers while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three on 2.6 attempts per game. She led Princeton to a 26-1 overall record, including a 22-game winning streak, en route to being named the Ivy League Player of the Year for the third straight year.
After a stellar season at South Carolina, Harris was selected by the Wings with the seventh overall pick. Under head coach Dawn Staley, the 5’10 guard developed into a strong passer, averaging 5.6 assists per game along with 12 points per contest in her senior season. The Gamecocks had a season to remember in 2019-20; the team earned the No. 1 ranking in the country after posting a 32-1 overall record and winning their fifth SEC championship in six years before the COVID-19 pandemic shut sports down.
Harris and Alarie will be looking to make their professional debuts this weekend when the Wings play the Atlanta Dream in their first game of the season on July 26 at 5 p.m. ET. We caught up with the Dallas rookies on Thursday to talk about their new shoe deal with Under Armour, life in the “wubble” and the Wings’ expectations for the 2020 season.
First off, how are you? What has your experience in the “wubble” been like so far?
Alarie: It’s obviously not how I expected my rookie year to go, being here in Florida. But I see it as a huge blessing in disguise, getting to know my teammates really well and the women all over the league. It’s just been a really cool experience, so my first two weeks have been awesome.
Bella, you went from playing at Princeton to getting drafted fifth overall, and now you just signed a shoe deal with Under Armour. What has that journey been like for you, especially as a player coming from an Ivy League school?
Alarie: Yeah, I take it with a lot of pride, having such a unique journey. And I’ve always kind of seen myself as a little underrated, undersized growing up. Getting recruited, I wasn’t on a lot of the Power 5 teams list of players to recruit, and so for me, I’m really proud of how much I’ve grown as a player and person. Going to Princeton, it was an easy decision for me because they have an amazing basketball program, but they felt like a family there and I knew that it would push me on and off the court. And so now, I got the best of both worlds. I got to graduate with a degree from Princeton and get drafted No. 5 in the WNBA.
How did this shoe deal come about and what drew you to signing with Under Armour?
Alarie: Growing up in Bethesda, I’ve seen Under Armour all around me as it’s a Maryland brand, so it was a big part of my life in basketball. And so I loved it from the start. I was super excited when they reached out and started talking to me about a shoe deal and everything. And Jay Bilas is part of the Under Armour family; he’s my godfather, so that was like a family-business thing. But I’m excited to kind of be in that partnership with him, too, and be a part of this family with someone who’s a part of my family as well.
— Patrik Frisk (@PatrikFrisk) July 23, 2020
Recently, we’ve seen some noteworthy shoe deals in the WNBA with Natasha Cloud and Converse, Sabrina Ionescu signing with Nike and Liberty duo Asia Durr and Kia Nurse joining Jordan Brand last year. What do you think it says about the growth of women’s basketball and the WNBA that large sneaker companies are trying to further develop their brand on the women’s side?
Alarie: Every time I step on the court, there are young girls who look up to me and all the the other players in the WNBA, and so I’ve just seen — from the little time I’ve been a part of the Under Armour brand — how much they focus on growing the women’s game specifically with not only products, but just supporting them and growing the game for them. It’s awesome for all these women who are getting shoe deals, but I’m just happy that Under Armour is really focused on growing the game for the women’s side as well.
Harris: It’s amazing, I kind of picture it as a female Steph Curry because of how he ran off with Under Armour and blew it up in the NBA. It feels good to be one of the first people to rock and support Under Armour in the WNBA. There are a lot of people who rep Nike, but I’m always for not going the traditional route and trying to do something different, and [Under Armour is] behind me with that.
Looking forward to this weekend and the start of the 2020 WNBA season, how are you feeling?
Alarie: It’s kind of that mix of excitement and nerves because it’s going to be my first game and you kind of don’t know what to expect until you’re out there on the floor. But I feel like in these past few weeks of training camp, my coach is really preparing me and my teammates to go out and win these games. Especially in our first matchup — I’m excited, we’re playing the Atlanta Dream on Sunday and the only other Princeton player is on that team, Blake Dietrick. I think it’s a really cool story to see the only two Ivy Leaguers out there on the court together.
What have the team scrimmages been like so far in terms of getting you acclimated to the league?
Alarie: We’ve played a handful of teams already — we’ve played the Seattle Storm, Las Vegas Aces, Phoenix Mercury, and we’re playing the Minnesota Lynx today, so I’m getting a taste of all the best teams in the league early on which I think it really awesome for me to have that experience before I play my first official game. But it’s obviously an adjustment and these teams all have different playing styles. I know me and my teammates get excited when we get to play someone other than ourselves because we get to put on the same color and compete and see how much we’ve grown in the past few weeks, but it’s been really cool to go up against people like Breanna Stewart and Brittney Griner in my first few weeks of training camp.
Harris: It was good going against other teams and getting a feel for how other people play. For me personally, it’s good for me just to get to run up and down the floor, call out plays [and] play against players that I’ve looked up to since I was young.
Are there any specific parts of your game that you’ve been trying to work on in particular?
Alarie: I think for me it’s about being more versatile and a match-up nightmare when I can be. And so, especially in the offseason, I spent a lot of time working on my three-point shot and working on my strength obviously. Working on post moves, things like that, using my height to an advantage and my versatility will be important for me this season.
Harris: Having a scorer’s mentality and being more aggressive. It just comes with being more assertive with my play and more aggressive for my team, while still being a point guard on the floor.
Ty, what is the biggest thing that you learned at South Carolina that you are taking with you to the WNBA?
Harris: Everything that [Coach Dawn Staley has] done, I’m going to dream that that’s my goal to do [as well]. She taught me a lot — everything that she said to me at South Carolina, I took it and put it in my pocket because I knew I could use it for the future. The biggest thing she taught me is that being a point guard is a mind game — you can have all the skills in the world, but I think having a high IQ and the mental capacity to play the game with the team and the coach is what’s going to take you far in life.
This year, the Wings have one of the youngest teams in the league. What are your expectations for this season?
Alarie: We’re definitely setting high expectations for ourselves because we have a lot of talent, and we can be a really great group if we just continue to work hard and trust our coach. We’re young but we’re really talented and once we’ve spent enough time together, developing our chemistry, I’ve already seen in the first week, how much we can grow and learn in such a short period of time. I think we’re going to be a really fun team to watch because we are surrounded by a lot of great players.
Before the 2020 WNBA Draft, a lot of people mentioned how the tough Ivy League defenses you faced at Princeton could potentially help you adjust to the WNBA. Now that you’ve spent a little bit of time in the league, do you think there’s any truth to that?
Alarie: When I played in the Ivy League, I got double-teamed, triple-teamed all the time, and so I had to learn how to play in a lot of congestion with the defense really focused on me. And so now, because I’m surrounded by a lot of great players and playmakers, players like [Arike Ogunbowale] for example, I find myself more open. And because we have players that can create for each other and because we can all do a lot of different things on the floor. So I think it opens the game up for me in a lot of ways.”
Since you’ve played with Harris for the national team before, was it helpful at all to have that familiar face when you walked into the Wings locker room, especially in such a strange season?
Alarie: I’ve known her since after my freshman year in college — we played U19 basketball together and we played together last summer in the PanAm games, so I have spent a fair amount of time with [Harris], and it was really nice to see her get drafted too, to have that familiar face on the Wings. I do think we do have a little bit of chemistry from playing together in the past and that definitely has translated over to the Wings because we kind of know each other’s strengths.