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'Three to See' is generating interest among WNBA's fans

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published July 02. 2013 4:00AM   Updated July 02. 2013 7:43AM

Mohegan - No other state in the union has done more for women's basketball than Connecticut. This just in. We cultivate it, watch it faithfully and cover it the most (sometimes to the chagrin of the not-so-inclined), leaving us as the game's self-proclaimed proprietors.

Which is why our state remains awash in wrinkled noses at the thought of the ESPN-created and WNBA-perpetuated "three to see" marketing plan, the machine that trumpets erstwhile college stars and WNBA rookies Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins.

A more cynical sort might dismiss Connecticut's distaste for "three to see" by reasoning that none of the three hail from UConn, thus creating haughty disapproval. Maybe others here who have obtained a more global view could tolerate "three to see" if it didn't have a flavor-of-the-month feel and if similar effort went into marketing those who came before them (Diana, Maya, Candace, etc.)

No matter our opinion about the "three to see," though, we here in our state should be the first to admit that any marketing plan that moves the needle, especially outside Connecticut, is good for the game we love.

So now we propose the following question:

What if "three to see" is actually working?

To wit:

Diana Taurasi last week at Mohegan Sun Arena: "They should (get the attention). When they were in college, they were huge stories. They were cool stories to follow. Everywhere we go, it has been sold out."

A blog on forbes.com, a source for business news and financial information, reported that Delle Donne has signed endorsement deals with Nike, DuPont (a Delaware-based paint company) and Genesis Today, a company that produces all-natural supplements.

And Diggins, despite being relegated to Tulsa, the WNBA's version of witness protection, remains the league's best bridge between basketball and pop culture with her 403,194 (and counting) followers on Twitter, including a well publicized friendship with Lil Wayne.

Maybe Diggins is the best example now of how the best sports marketing transcends the game. That's how games grow. Diehards only get you so far.

Diggins is a bit of a lightning rod. The question gets asked frequently, even within the game's intelligentsia: Is she really that good?

She's had a decent rookie season, averaging 8.8 points and 5.1 assists but shooting 16 percent from 3-point range (5-for-32). An informal poll of coaches, media members and players within the league produced the following consensus about Diggins: If the WNBA ran under NBA rules - anyone is eligible to declare after their freshman season - she'd have been no better than the eighth pick in this year's draft.

Players that would have gone ahead of her (in no particular order): Griner, Delle Donne, Alyssa Thomas (Maryland), Odyssey Sims (Baylor), Chelsea Gray (Duke), Breanna Stewart (UConn), Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford).

Now for the better question: Does it really matter?

Diggins has charisma that sells. That counts. It's the confluence of Notre Dame, pop culture, ability and some attitude. Griner, the shotblocker and dunker, gives the ESPN viewer a different frame of reference. Delle Donne is the forward with the guard skills, not to mention the cover photo looks.

It's the best news for women's basketball in years.

Fans of the Connecticut Sun got to see Griner here the other night. She's a happier kid than ever, now that she gets to be who she is and not Baylor's version of it. They get to see Diggins tonight in a game that was part of the original ESPN television schedule. That's until both teams sunk to the cellar of their respective conferences, thus prompting ESPN to dump it for Seattle-Chicago (and Delle Donne instead).

But that doesn't change what Diggins means.

The folks here in Connecticut can't stand the idea that their college team won the national championship and yet all the attention has fallen elsewhere. And they may have a point. But this isn't Utopia, where the masses always appreciate teamwork and tradition as they should. The game UConn fans have sustained all these years is growing up. And it's growing on the shoulders of a guard, forward and center from other outposts.

Note to Connecticut: Get on board. It's about time others learn what we already know about women's basketball.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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