Playing at the professional level of any sport is a dream for many athletes. Tonight, 36 young ladies had their dreams come true when they heard their names called during the StateFarm WNBA Draft.
Due to the coronavirus, for the first time ever, the draft was held virtually. It was a twist for the draftees and spectators but still a monumental moment for those who heard their name called on Friday. Being able to still enjoy a fantastic moment in the comfort of their homes with their family.
Before the night started though, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored three young ladies who had aspirations to play in the league before they died in a tragic helicopter crash a couple of months ago. Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant, and Payton Chester were all honored as WNBA honorary picks for the 2020 draft.
“I think it was a very beautiful thing that the WNBA did to be able to draft those three girls,” draftee Sabrina Ionescu shared. “They deserved it. I know they’re looking down and smiling and really excited.”
Here’s a look at each of the picks each franchise selected on Friday.
New York Liberty (Picks 1, 9, 12, 13, 15, 26)
First, on the clock Friday night, was the New York Liberty who had three first-round picks and six overall. Last year the Liberty finished second to last in the league and earlier this week lost its centerpiece in Tina Charles who was traded to Washington.
As expected, New York selected Oregon phenom, Sabrina Ionescu as the No. 1 overall pick. Ionescu was a handful for opponents during her career as a Duck. She finished her colligate career as the only NCAA player to have 26 triple-doubles. She also was awarded 46 postseason awards, including multiple John Wooden honors.
After months of speculation on Ionescu being the overall No. 1 pick, she stated what it felt like to finally hear her name called.
“Just that I’m blessed. I think I’ve been working for this for my entire basketball career, and just super excited to be able to see that come to fruition. I’d just say obviously very humbled and excited for the opportunity.”
During the first round, New York also selected Megan Walker and Jazmine Jones, respectfully. Walker, the 2020 AAC Player of the Year, is a sharpshooter from UConn. She has been efficient from deep and a time that seems to be a rebuild for the Liberty, it is a strong start to bring in a shooter.
Defensively New York is already better with the addition of Jones. The Louisville product can cause havoc defensively. Furthermore, she is a slasher who can finish strongly at the rim but could pull up for the mid-range shot as well.
The Liberty’s last three draft picks were ACC Defender of the Year in Louisville’s Kylee Shook, Duke’s attacker Leaonna Odom and do-it-all Erica Ogwumike from Rice. Ogwumike will be joining her older sisters Nneka and Chiney who play for the Los Angeles Sparks. However, later in the draft, Erica was traded to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for Stephanie Talbot.
Dallas Wings (Picks 2, 5, 7, 21)
In recent years, more juniors are electing to forgo their final year of college to enter the draft. For Satou Sabally her decision to leave Oregon paid off in a huge way as she was drafted No. 2 by the Dallas Wings. Sabally is a long athletic player who could help Dallas improve immediately.
“It means a lot. I think it means a lot to me, my family and the Oregon community that I was just able to go to Dallas now,” Sabally explained after going second behind her teammate Ionescu. “It means so much to the German community. So I’m just really happy, and I can’t wait to get to Dallas.
Followed by Sabally, Dallas drafted another inside player in Princeton’s Bella Alaire. Alaire was named the Ivy League Player of the Year three times before graduating. She is also a player who can play with her back to the basket, but can step out to drain a three-pointer. The Princeton grad will also be a defensive presence opposing teams will have to worry about when they drive to the paint.
The Wings concluded their first-round draft picks with the selection of Tyasha Harris from South Carolina. Harris is a true point guard who dishes the ball out to the open player, yet can attack to score for herself. Harris could be a good partner to go with the energetic and quick play of Arike Ogunbowale.
In Round two, pick number 21, the Wings selected Luisa Geiselsöder a power forward out of Germany.
Indiana Fever (3, 14, 28)
With first-year head coach Marianne Stanley, it is unknown the type of offense the franchise will run. While it might not be a big indicator, but maybe the Fever will look for a strong inside game. The first selection for Indiana on Friday night was Baylor’s Lauren Cox. Cox is a proven winner who has shown she can work a great high-low game with another post. Her abilities to be a strong scorer or drop a pass to new teammate Teaira McCowan, will be a good combination for the team.
“I’m really excited. I’m going to play for a coach who just came off a championship last year with the Mystics,” Cox stated on joining the Fever. “I’m going to play for a former player who was also recently inducted into the Hall of Fame. I’m going to get to play with another big, so I’m going to get to utilize my passing skills. I’m really excited.”
The Fever will also welcome picks 14 and 28 with the selections of Kathleen Doyle and Kamiah Smalls. Doyle was named the Big 10 Player of the Year this past season for Iowa. Not only can Doyle fill the stat sheet with points, but she is also great at finding her teammates. Small was also named player of the year for her conference, the CAA. The James Madison product can score the ball from the outside, mid-range or use her speed to get to the rim.
Atlanta Dream (Picks 4, 17, 25, 27)
There were three players in this year’s draft who left college early, Sabally, Walker and the No. 4 pick, Chennedy Carter. The dynamic scorer out of Texas A&M knows how to put on a show when she’s on the court. In fact, those who have watched the young star might have heard her be called “Hollywood” with the admiration of her flashy game. Carter will definitely be a spark for the Dream.
The Dream also drafted Brittany Brewer (Texas Tech), Mikayla Pivec (Oregon State), and Clemson’s Kobi Thorton.
Minnesota Lynx (Picks 6, 16)
This year head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve only had two picks for Minnesota. The team selected Mikiah Herbert Harrigan from South Carolina as the No. 6 pick. This may have been the biggest curveball of the draft with the selection of the Gamecocks’ forward. Known as a ferocious defender, Herbert Harrigan also has a big upside to her offensive development in the game.
The Lynx did address their point guard vacancy with the selection of UConn’s speedy point guard, Crystal Dangerfield. While not drafted, Minnesota did add the newest and youngest Ogwumike sister to the team.
Chicago Sky (Picks 8, 30, 32)
With its first pick of the draft, Chicago selected Ruthy Hebard from Oregon. For the past four seasons, Hebard has been a part of the one-two punch the Ducks had in terms of the pick and roll. Hebard is accustomed to playing with a fantastic point guard in former teammate Ionescu, who always found ways to get her the ball. Joining the Sky, Hebard should continue to receive dime passes from point guard Courtney Vandersloot who also is a phenomenal passer.
Chicago also called the names of Japreece Dean a guard from UCLA and Florida State forward, Kiah Gillespie.
Phoenix Mercury (Picks 10, 18, 29)
This offseason Phoenix has been busy with trades, the biggest in acquiring Skylar Diggins-Smith. Friday night, the Mercury drafted Jocelyn Willoughby out of Virginia. She is known as a strong rebounder despite only being six-feet. Although she is undersized, Willoughby isn’t afraid to attack the rim and finishes well under pressure.
Before the night concluded, the Mercury traded its draft pick in Willoughby to New York and now have the contract of Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
Despite the change, Willoughby is still excited for the next chapter in her life after being drafted No. 10 by Phoenix to now heading to New York.
“Oh, it was an emotional night, but just super, super exciting, and to be able to just share it with so many people who mentored me and groomed me along the way was so special, and yeah, so just emotional, exciting, and yeah, it’s kind of like a dream come true.”
South Carolina’s Te’a Cooper and Stella Johnson from Rider also were selected by Phoenix.
Seattle Storm (Picks 11, 19, 31)
Seattle already has a big upside to this season with the return of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird. Both stars missed last season with injuries. On Friday, the Storm drafted South Florida’s quick-release shooter, Kitija Laksa. On her career as a Bull, Laksa shot 40% from deep.
The Storm’s new member — who is currently home in Latvia — expressed how exciting being drafted is even with it being five o’clock in the morning.
“It’s definitely a crazy feeling. I mean, a dream come true. Couldn’t have gone any better, couldn’t have gone and joined a better team. I’m very
excited. Definitely a very, very good feeling right now.”
Seattle also selected forward Joyner Holmes out of Texas as well as Duke’s guard, Haley Gorecki.
Los Angeles Sparks (Picks 20, 22, 34)
For the purple and yellow, three players heard their names called on Friday during rounds two and three: Beatrice Mompremier (Miami), Leonie Fiebich (from Germany), and Tynice Martin (West Virginia). Fiebich and Martin are both guards whereas Mompremier is a strong forward.
Connecticut Sun (Picks 23, 35)
Last year’s runner-up, the Sun picked up Kaila Charles, a former Maryland guard/forward. Baylor’s Juicy Landrum also will be joining Connecticut.
Washington Mystics (Picks 24, 36)
The 2019 WNBA Champions, only had two picks in the draft. With the 24th pick on the night, the Mystics selected Creighton’s, Jaylyn Agnew. Washington made Agnew the Blue Jays first-ever WNBA draft pick. To end the draft, the defending champs selected Sug Sutton from Texas as pick No. 36.
Las Vegas Aces (Pick 33)
With back to back years with the overall No.1 pick, the Aces only had one pick in the draft. Las Vegas drafted Holy Cross forward, Lauren Manis. This past season for the Crusaders, Manis averaged 18.6 points and 11.5 rebounds while shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range.
Engelbert wrapped up the night with the announcement of the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award. The award will recognize an individual or group for making significant contributions to the perception, visibility, and advancement of women’s and girl’s basketball at every level.
“Kobe was an incredible champion of women’s basketball and Gianna shared his passion and dedication to our game,” announced Engelbert. “The Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award will honor their legacy and reflect Kobe’s commitment to mentoring the next generation of players, promoting the game and giving back to the community.”
Currently, the WNBA is still expected to tip-off on May 17.