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UCLA’s Japreece Dean is hoping some WNBA team takes a chance on her

UCLA guard Japreece Dean in the first half against Colorado on Jan. 12 in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

In scouting a diminutive point guard from Texas, Cori Close was repeatedly told two things about Japreece Dean.

No. 1, the Texas Tech transfer was “a gym rat,” the UCLA coach was told. And No. 2, Dean had “that dawg inside of her.” That was enough to convince Close she needed Dean in Westwood.

Three years and 1,074 points later, Dean is hoping to convince another team she’s worth picking. She is trying to achieve her lifelong dream of playing in the WNBA, even after the coronavirus outbreak ended her college career early.

“I’m a winner and a competitor and I like to make my teammates better,” Dean said of her pitch to WNBA teams. “I love to compete. I love to win.”

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The point guard, who is listed at 5 feet 7 but appears to be no taller than 5-4, hopes she’ll hear her name called in theWNBA draft Friday, but there’s nothing certain beyond the virtual event.

Guard Johnny Juzang adored UCLA while attending Studio City Harvard-Westlake High, but opted for Kentucky. A year later, he is transferring to UCLA.

WNBA training camps have been postponed indefinitely. Players competing overseas have returned, so when the WNBA season does start, all players should be available, making it even more difficult for rookies to break through.

There’s more uncertainty than ever, Close said. But the coach is certain of this: “Japreece Dean is going to be a great pro. Period.”

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Dean, projected as a third-round pickin an ESPN mock draft last week, earned her first All-Pac-12 honor this season, averaging 13.6 points and 5.5 assists per game for the No. 10 Bruins. She recorded the eighth triple-double in program history with 20 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds in a game against Yale.

But the dynamic guard felt the best was ahead of her. She averaged 14.1 points in NCAA tournament games during her first two years at UCLA and knows the sudden end to her senior season cost her an opportunity to prove herself on a big stage.

UCLA's Japreece Dean reacts after making a three-point shot in overtime against Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 17.
(Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

“That’s what hurts the most,” Dean said. “Anybody who performs well in the NCAA tournament in those big moments against those big teams gets their draft stock rising a lot.”

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With Dean orchestrating the offense this season, UCLA secured its fifth straight 20-win season, was the final undefeated team in the nation at 16-0, and earned No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, the highest of Close’s tenure.

The Bruins were excited to prove themselves in the NCAA tournament, Dean said.

It came to a crashing halt March 12 when the NCAA announced the cancellation of winter and spring sports.

A heartbroken Dean almost immediately moved onto her next venture, flying home to Texas that day. Having already earned her sociology degree, she’s been training at home in Austin, lifting weights in her uncle’s garage every other day, running and shooting by herself on a hoop at a local playground. She doesn’t know when the WNBA will resume, but she wants to stay ready, she said.

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UCLA guard Chris Smith, who was the Pac-12 Conference’s most improved player this season, announced his intention Tuesday to enter the NBA draft.

There aren’t five people Close has come across during her 27 years of coaching who love the game more than Dean, the coach said.

Dean’s passion for the game might have knocked the guard off kilter this season as she shot a career-low 32.3% overall and 25.9% from three-point range. Dean attributed the struggles to getting in her own head. She was worried about having to perform a certain way.

Close said it was some of the late shot-clock attempts Dean was forced to take. For those who have done their research, they won’t be scared off by Dean’s shooting woes, Close said.

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“She’s got a fighter’s mentality,” Close said. “She’s not afraid to dream big. She’s also not afraid to work even bigger.”


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