A WNBA draft like no other

Kentucky's Rhyne Howard (r.) came in first overall.

Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard (r.) came in first overall.
Photo: PA

The first HBCU player selected in two decades, first-round picks from the Northwest and Gulf Coast of Florida, UConn and South Carolina waiting for the second round to hear the names of their lists called – the WNBA Draft yesterday showed us just how shaken the world of college basketball has become.

Now in its 25th year, this week’s draft was representative of a bigger change in DI women’s basketball – a sport historically dominated by a few blue bloods, whose talent often seemed leagues above the rest of the court, begins to equalize. As the level of play improves and viewership grows rapidly, this year’s upset and near-upset tournament demonstrated the parity that suddenly showed up in NCAA women’s ball. And the league sees it too.

The diversity of schools in the first two rounds of the draft this year is unprecedented, as is the remarkable number of upsets in this year’s tournament – ​​and it would be misguided to pretend the two are unrelated. In 2019, of the 11 players selected from American schools, more than half the field came from longtime powerhouses UConn, Notre Dame and Mississippi State. In 2018, four of the NCAA’s 11 athletes came from those three schools, including a fifth from South Carolina. If we go back to 2017, three first rounds came from South Carolina alone.

But over the past two years, the composition of the draft has changed, reflecting the same change in the composition of the women’s college basketball court. This year, none of the four schools listed above have seen a player advance to the first round of the draft. Only Baylor saw more than one first-round pick. In the 36-man draft, UConn ultimately saw three of its athletes selected, all in the second round.

Of course, a lot of those draft numbers depend on the age of the athletes being drafted. If UConn had recruited an entry-level class in 2018, these numbers might be different. But the blue bloods’ dwindling first-round representation isn’t all that’s changing — as the 25th draft pick, Jackson State’s Ameshya Williams-Holiday became the first HBCU player to be drafted to the WNBA in 19 years and second-highest HBCU draft pick ever after JSU’s arrival this on the verge of winning the title of the first 13-seeded seed in women’s tournament history before falling in the final minutes against LSU.

And there’s more. Ali Patberg became only the fourth player in Indiana University history to be drafted, and FGCU’s Kierstan Bell became only the second player in his school’s history to be drafted. , and the first to participate in the first round not only of his school, but of her. the whole conference. Michigan’s Naz Hillman, who placed 15th, became the highest-drafted player in Wolverine history after her team qualified for the Elite Eight this year. IUPUI, South Dakota and Hawaii were all represented in the draft this year.

Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard went to the Atlanta Dream with the first draft pick — the Dream acquired the Washington Mystics’ first overall pick in exchange for the third and 14th picks last week. Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith came in second behind Indiana Fever, joined by Louisville’s Emily Engstler, who was picked fourth. Shakira Austin of Mississippi came in third.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the draft was South Carolina star Destanni Henderson, expected to be a mid-first-round pick by ESPN and Bleacher Report, left on the board until the second half of the second. round. The Indiana Fever used the 20th pick in the draft to sign Henderson, who had an absolutely outstanding game against UConn in this year’s national championship.

As the sport moves away from its resemblance to college football by diminishing the looming presence of never-losing powerhouses, it begins to reflect the diversity of the CFB Draft among underdog schools — of course, where you played the college ball, but if you can get out there and perform on the court anywhere, you might have a shot at the pros.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.