The cancer survivor not giving up on her WNBA dreams
Cancer survivor Tiana Mangakahia knew her path to the WNBA was going to be different.
The Brisbane product was considered a certainty for the world's best women's basketball league two years ago after establishing herself as one of the superstars of US college basketball at Syracuse University.
She was so dominant during her first two seasons at college, she even earned herself a spot in the Australian Opals squad at just 23-years-old.
But then the former Brisbane State High School student took on the fight of her life after being diagnosed with breast cancer and all her basketball dreams were put on hold.
However with the support of family, friends and basketball fans around the world - the disease proved no match for Mangakahia as she quickly overcame the illness and returned to the court for Syracuse.
And despite not quite returning to the form she showed in the 2018/19 season, the former Townsville Fire WNBL point guard still impressed averaging 11 points and 7.3 assists per game on her team's way to the NCAA Tournament.
Mangakahia was then predicted by most experts to be selected in the third round of last Friday's WNBA Draft but to the surprise of many wasn't selected.
However, it was Australian Opals and Phoenix Mercury coach Sandy Brondello who quickly gave her a lifeline after offering Syracuse University's all-time assists leader a training camp contract.
An opportunity Mangakahia plans to grab with both hands as she prepares to go face-to-face with and learn from the likes of WNBA superstars Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith at the camp starting Sunday.
The now 25-year-old said her life-threatening battle with cancer has her ready for any challenge thrown her way.
"I've always wanted to play in the WNBA since I was a little girl, so I'm just really grateful and excited to start camp," Mangakahia said.
"When my name wasn't called it wasn't the end of the world, I just knew my path was going to be a little harder.
"Coming into camp I knew I'd have to prove to coaches why they should pick me. I'm confident in my abilities as a point guard and my passing skills isn't like anyone else's.
"I'm confident but also just going to give it my all and see what happens."
"When I look back to what I had to go through and now having this opportunity it just shows that it's important to push through adversity and to never give up.
"It would have been easy for me to quit ball and just live my life, but this is what I've always dreamt of and I'm so proud of myself for making it this far."
Brondello, who also selected Mangakahia in the Opals camp for the Tokyo Olympics, said she was confident the young star could return to her pre-cancer form.
"Tiana showed pre-cancer how good she was and while not there yet, she will be with more time back on court and playing," she said.
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"Once back, her speed, passing ability out of pick and rolls will suit the professional game.
"If she can become a more consistent outside shooter, she will be hard to stop.
"But lastly her love for the game and how hard she works will help her achieve all of her goals.
"It will be hard for her to make my team this year but I know she will get an opportunity soon.
"She is a great kid who has overcome so much, it's hard not to love her.
"I look forward to watching her compete and learn from Diana and Skylar."
Originally published as The cancer survivor not giving up on her WNBA dreams