Official: Tiana Mangakahia will play for Syracuse this season
After a battle with breast cancer, Syracuse’s all-time leader in assists is back
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After taking a year off to battle breast cancer, one of the most dynamic guards in all of college basketball will return to the court this season.
And she might give Louisville’s Dana Evans, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, some competition for this year’s trophy.
Syracuse announced Friday morning that Tiana Mangakahia has been granted an extra year of eligibility from NCAA. When Quentin Hillsman’s side takes the court this season, the Australian will be the running point.
“I’m super happy about this news, Mangakahia said during a Zoom call Friday. “And obviously, like, I just feel really excited for this season and I just feel very blessed that to have this opportunity again to play with Syracuse University.”
Hillsman added: “She's really fought hard to have this opportunity. So, I'm just super excited for her, just to be able to finish her career... I think that it's gonna be one of those deals where, you know, you're going to see a player come back really, really strong and she’s been really good in workouts. Just really excited to have her back.”
Syracuse had to apply for a waiver for Mangakahia because the five-year clock on her eligibility ran out last season, according to NCAA rules. Because of her sudden cancer diagnosis and the difficult circumstances around that, the case presented to the NCAA was tough to argue against.
“I think the hardest thing about this process was just reliving all that led up to this decision. You have to pretty much tell the story again,” Hillsman said. “It was a little emotional trying to go back and relive those moments again... If there was ever a case to grant a waiver, I thought this was one of them.”
It had been widely assumed for a while that the NCAA would grant Mangakahia an extension, but the official announcement further cements the Orange’s status as contenders this season, not just for the ACC crown, but also for the Final Four. Mangakahia will pair with All-ACC selection Kiara Lewis, three other returning starters, and the nation’s fourth-best incoming recruiting class. Syracuse was tabbed 23rd in ESPN’s latest preseason poll.
“I believe this is the best guard tandem in the country. And it’s not just coach-talk either. I really believe that” Hillsman said. “I’m confident in their play. We are a veteran team.”
“Now it's time to step up and do what I came to Syracuse for,” Mangakahia said.
The last time fans saw Mangakahia play was in the 2018-19 season. The 5-foot-6 guard finished the year with a WBCA All-American Honorable Mention nod and was a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award. She averaged 16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per-game as Syracuse went 25-9 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Her 2018-19 assists totals were an ACC record and second-best in the country. Her assist-percentage mark was an all-time best in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
This year, Mangakahia might be scoring a bit more to increase her WNBA Draft stock. Some scouts have compared her to Courtney Vandersloot.
“I am not a score-first (point guard) I tend to pass first. But I think, you know, sometimes I do just need to score myself and for myself. Maybe that's what I need to do to be drafted,” she said. “The WNBA — it’s definitely still what I want to do. And I want to be a top 10 pick.”
Mangakahia considered turning pro after her junior season, but announced in April 2019 she would return to upstate New York.
Two months later, Mangakahia discovered a lump and began a courageous and public battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and went through eight rounds of chemotherapy and two surgeries. This past February, she was cleared to return to practice.
After spending a few months in her native country, she returned to Syracuse’s campus in late June and has participated in the team’s off-season workouts for the past several weeks.
On a scale of one to 10, Mangakahia said Friday that her fitness level was probably at a “seven or an eight” currently.
In July, Mangakahia was named to the Australian national team for the postponed 2021 Olympics by Sandy Brondello.
“Obviously, that’s still something I dream about and something I want to do,” Mangakahia said.
Mangakahia became the fastest player in Syracuse history to reach 1,000 career points, doing so in just two seasons. This year, expect her to add to her records and continue to create highlights with flashy and neck-breaking passes as she tries to push Syracuse to its first Final Four appearance since 2016.
“I know I’m ready. I know I’ve put in work,” she said. “I’m ready to get on the court and play our first game. I just kind of want it to happen tomorrow.”