Livin’ the “Dream”: With Princeton Alum Blake Dietrick, Atlanta Secures #2 Seed in WNBA Playoffs

By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan and www.Facebook.com/CoachMcCartan)

WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK – Atlanta Dream’s Blake Dietrick, at the Westchester County Center, was playing 941 miles away from the Dream’s home base, 178 miles away from her hometown, but only 80 miles from Princeton University’s Jadwin Gymnasium. It was in that gym that Dietrick (class of ’15) worked to earn her spot in numerous Princeton Women’s Basketball “all-time” categories. Among many other categories, she’s tied for third in most points in a single-season (483) and holds fourth place in: career assists (346), three-point field goals made (210), and three-point field goal percentage (.395). Dietrick is one of the most decorated Tigers: a member of the 1,000 point club, the All-Academic team, and a unanimous selection for Ivy League Player of the Year.

Dietrick is also only one of two Ivy League players to ever make a regular-season WNBA roster. The other player, Allison Feaster (Harvard ’98), enjoyed a ten-year WNBA career (1998-2008). Ivy-leaguers can ball too! “It’s awesome. It’s just great to represent our league and show people that you can have a great education and ‘make it’ professionally as an athlete, as well. So, I’m just happy to be here and I have so much support from our alumni and my teammates, so it’s great.”

Dietrick, in her second WNBA season (she has also played professional basketball abroad), credits much of her overall WNBA experience to the Princeton Women’s Basketball program- a program which has become synonymous with its head coach, Courtney Banghart, since 2007. “We play[ed] fast and we play[ed] pretty free. Coach Banghart let us do our thing: run in transition. That’s very similar to how we play in the W[NBA]. So, I think I’m definitely very well-prepared. It’s obviously more athletic and faster, but I was definitely prepared by Coach Banghart.” To this day, Banghart and Dietrick share a close relationship.”[Coach Banghart has] been huge. Every time I come home from overseas, she’s willing to get shots up and be apart of my growing process even after my four years of college, so I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s done for me and continues to do for me on a daily basis.”

IMG_8027…and what an outstanding resource to have in your corner. “The winningest coach in program history, Banghart has amassed a 232-93 (0.714) overall record with a 125-29 (0.812) mark against Ivy League opponents.” After Dietrick’s final season, one in which she was selected as Ivy League Player of the Year, Banghart earned the 2015 Naismith National Coach of the Year award. In that season, the Princeton Tigers posted a 30-0 regular-season record: the best ever in Ivy League basketball history, men’s or women’s.  That same season, “under Banghart’s guidance, the Tigers also achieved the highest-ever ranking for an Ivy program, climbing as high as No. 13 in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. The Tigers would go on to finish with a program-best mark of 31-1. With an 80-70 first round victory over ninth-seeded Green Bay, Princeton became just the second Ivy program to record an NCAA win” (GoPrincetonTigers.com). Dietrick’s favorite memory from that season? Winning a bet against teammate Annie Tarakchian. If the Tigers finished the season without losing a single game, Tarakchian had to bleach her hair. A beaming Dietrick told me: “I take full responsibility for that.”

I asked Dietrick, obviously a professional basketball player, her opinion: does Banghart have what it takes to make the jump from the NCAA to the WNBA? With a smile, she replied: “Coach Banghart can hang with anybody. My coaches in Atlanta are fantastic, absolutely fantastic. I love every single one of them, but if Banghart wanted to go pro, I think she could, for sure.”

This season, Dietrick has played in 26 of 34 games for the Eastern Conference leading Dream and has averaged slightly over seven minutes per game. She has enthusiastically embraces her off-the-bench role.”If I can’t be on the court, I’m going to do everything I can to make my teammates who are on the court comfortable, positive, and playing their best. So, anything I can do to help our team win, is what I’ll do: if it’s on the court, on the bench, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m happy to do it.” I noticed from my court-side seat that after every time out, Dietrick was the first player to jump off the bench and high-five a teammate, to offer words of encouragement, or to discuss strategy or mechanics.

In the WNBA playoffs, the coveted 1 and 2 seeds earn a double-bye week.  The Dream locked up the number two seed two days ago. Dietrick told me that was Atlanta’s goal.  Now? “I’m just excited to have some home playoff games and to lock up the two seed… once we do that” they can begin to prepare for their (still undecided) upcoming opponent. Based on the seeding, it should be the Connecticut Sun. The Dream has won all three regular-season matchups by an average of about four points.

After missing Princeton Women’s Basketball’s alumni weekend last season due to a professional basketball commitment abroad, Dietrick excitedly told me: “I’ll be back this year!”

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