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WNBA prospect, Syracuse PG Tiana Mangakahia granted eligibility waiver after breast cancer

Cassandra Negley
·3-min read

Tiana Mangakahia will return to the court for the Syracuse Orange this women’s basketball season after the NCAA approved her Extension of Eligibility Waiver.

Mangakahia, an Australian national team Olympic hopeful, missed last season while she beat breast cancer.

“I just want to say I’m super happy about this news,” Mangakahia, 25, said at a virtual news conference on Friday, via The Daily Orange. “I just feel very excited for the season and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity again.”

Mangakahia back after breast cancer

Mangakahia was about to enter her senior season at Syracuse as one of the collegiate game’s best point guards alongside Oregon sensation Sabrina Ionescu, now with the New York Liberty. Along with Ionescu, she opted not to declare for the WNBA’s 2019 draft after a 25-8 season with the Orange and more in their sights.

In June 2019, she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer (Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, specifically) and underwent months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. She missed the entire season. The team and school rallied around “Tough4T.”

The team announced she was “officially cancer free” in November 2019 and she rejoined practices earlier in 2020. She attended home games and could be seen signing autographs for both kids and adults, who thanked her for being open about her fight and sharing their own cancer stories.

WNBA prospect prepares for comeback

Tiana Mangakahia in a white Syracuse jersey dribbles the ball.
Syracuse's Tiana Mangakahia was granted a waiver by the NCAA to play this year. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi, File)

Mangakahia and head coach Quentin Hillsman applied for an extra year of eligibility since it was her fifth year. She sat out her first two seasons with Hutchinson Community College in Kansas before transferring.

In two seasons at Syracuse, she averaged 17.1 points and 9.1 assists per game. She’s the school’s all-time leader in career assists (591). They made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March 2019.

“I’m super excited,” Mangakahia said, via ESPN. “I know I put in work. I’m ready to get on the court and play our first game. I want it to happen tomorrow. No other concerns.”

With her back in the lineup, the Orange will again be top-25 contenders. They went 16-15 last season and have all-ACC first-team guard Kiara Lewis returning as well as the No. 4 ranked recruiting class.

Mangakahia said she feels she’s at a “seven or an eight with my conditioning” but will be a 10 by the time the season starts. Hillsman joked she was deep on the depth chart at the moment.

Eyeing Tokyo Olympics with Australia

She is also a member of the Australian national team, which grew its roster in July in preparation for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. The team is led by Phoenix Mercury coach Sandy Brondello.

“It helps me be able to showcase what I can do after everything,” Mangakahia said of playing this college season, via ESPN. “If the Olympics occurred this year, I wouldn’t have been able to play. One more year here ... gives me a better opportunity to make that team. That’s something I still dream about.”

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