Skip to content

Young stars like Cameron Brink key in WNBA's expansion era

Julian Catalfo / theScore

When the WNBA staged its second Canadian exhibition game earlier this month in Edmonton, it wasn't the league's accomplished veterans who captured the sell-out crowd's excitement.

Hometown hero Kia Nurse was certainly the crowd favorite, but a close runner-up was a newcomer who had yet to set foot on WNBA hardwood: Cameron Brink.

Brink, who the Sparks drafted second overall in 2024, is a part of the women's basketball boom ushered in by the likes of Sabrina Ionescu, Aaliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and Paige Bueckers. The Canadian crowd's cheers underscored the stark difference in attention between Brink's era and her WNBA forerunners, who were constantly campaigning for more eyeballs.

"I'm excited for her to come into this league and take it by storm," Nurse said of her 6-foot-4 teammate. As the WNBA plans to expand to the Bay Area in 2025 and Toronto in May 2026, it'll look to Brink and her contemporaries to put their stamp on a new era of growth and fandom.

Sparks forward Cameron Brink talks to theScore's Jolene Latimer before her WNBA preseason debut against the Storm on May 4 Sergei Belski / NBA / Getty Images

On the floor

The current era of women's basketball has been marked by personality - trash-talking, flashy outfits, and outspoken politics. But none of that has overshadowed what happens on the floor.

"You've got to win," said Nneka Ogwumike, who earned a championship during her 12-season run with the Sparks before signing with Seattle last offseason. "There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it."

Brink might have the ability to help the Sparks do just that as they look to return to their former glory days. They haven't made the playoffs since 2021 after winning three chips and only missing the postseason four times following their inception in 1997.

"I think for her, what's really exciting is that you're going to have this opportunity here in L.A. because I think we're kind of in a bit of a rebuild phase right now," said Nurse, who was traded to L.A. in January. "It's a very new team in terms of who's here."

It's the Stanford alum's basketball IQ that has Nurse hopeful.

"I think Cameron Brink has the ability to be a very versatile big for us," she said. "I think her outside game and her face-up game is going to continue to develop as she comes into this league.

"If you think about it, at her size, her skill level, her ability to kind of face up and play that kind of mid-range game as a passer - Stanford runs a lot of read-and-react offense. … You have to have a basketball IQ to be able to play in that. And that's massive coming into the WNBA."

Improvisation matters in the pros, and that's what might set Brink apart and help her gain fan interest.

"You kind of know what everyone's going to do in the professional ranks," Nurse said. "Everybody's got their go-to moves, but it's very hard to keep them from doing their go-to moves. They do a great job of using their IQ and getting to those spots ... to be successful. And Cameron will develop that herself."

Brink's immediate job is to learn how to operate in the Sparks' system.

"Our league is hugely centered around ball screens, both offensively and defensively," head coach Curt Miller said, adding that Stanford's system "involved very little ball screens." "She is a newbie. She is a true rookie when it comes to a lot of ball screening. Just look for her to continue to grow."

Brink described the opportunity with the Sparks as "a dream come true" and a "really crazy, full circle." When she thinks about basketball in L.A., it's that winning culture she holds close.

"Lisa Leslie, Candice Parker, (and) Nneka Ogwumike have been great for the Sparks, and there are so many great Lakers like Kobe Bryant, so I'm just thankful to be a part of it all," she said.

Brink believes she's up to that historical challenge.

"I see myself doing whatever I need to do to help the team win," she said. "I see myself playing defense, scoring offensively, just being a good teammate."

Brink smiles after the game against the Seattle Storm during the WNBA preseason game on May 4 Jordan Jones / NBA / Getty Images

Not only does Brink have the game that could help the Sparks recapture their winning pedigree, she also has the personality that could turn her into a veritable star as the WNBA looks to expand its reach.

"It's great to see that she's in a place that can develop her game at a high level," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. "But also, there's the other things that Cam brings off the floor; she's a very charismatic individual."

Brink sees that potentially translating into an off-court brand in the future.

"I love fashion, I love being girly, I love modeling and all that good stuff," she said.

It's part of why fans are already gravitating toward her as a fresh face in the league.

"She seems like a really outgoing, really bubbly person," Nurse said.

Expansion plans

Brink and her contemporaries have propelled the growth of women's basketball to unprecedented heights. Some call the ballooning viewership numbers and ticket sales the "Caitlin Clark Effect." Clark's Indiana Fever jersey sold out within hours of her being drafted, while a record 2.45-million people tuned in to watch the selection. Her preseason pro debut drew a crowd of 13,000, the largest in franchise history.

The 2023 preseason matchup between Chicago and Minnesota sold out the 19,800-capacity Scotiabank Arena in Toronto Jordan Jones / NBA / Getty Images

That momentum has made the league confident enough in the trajectory of the sport to announce its first expansion teams since 2008.

"The game is growing at a high level," Quinn said. "We saw what happened in Toronto last year with the preseason game selling out, we're seeing what's happening on the college landscape with those college players coming into the W - it's amazing to be a part of this growth.

"The fact that we're globalizing means that we're not just playing in front of our fans, but now other countries have the ability to watch us."

With the expansion, Canadian fans will be able to support the league in person. It's something Nurse would never have fathomed as a young basketball fan growing up in southwestern Ontario.

"When I think about it, and I go back to my early days when I started playing basketball, when I was 4, I probably never would have been able to sit there and say, 'I'm going play a WNBA game on home soil,'" she said.

Now, young four-year-olds in Canada will be able to have that dream.

"I feel like, at some point, it's kind of just supposed to be that way, right?" Nurse said before Toronto's expansion was reported. "We have a top-ranked, top-10-ranked national team in the world on the women's basketball side. And we've had that for a number of years ... We've got talent out the wazoo coming out of Canada."

It's that talent - both among Brink and her contemporaries and the next wave of young basketball players, including homegrown Canadian talent - that Nurse believes will make the WNBA's expansion a success.

"It's no longer just players that are going to the NCAA and playing those roles where they kind of come off the bench and they play 10 or 15 minutes," she said. "You've got stars. We're talking about stars at TSN's March Madness tournament for a reason. And they're Canadians. It's so exciting to have that.

"Think about what a team does to that next generation. Maybe there's 10, 20 of them now that are going to be superstars. You put a team there, might be 100 of them."

Jolene Latimer is a features writer at theScore.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox