March Madness is over. Time to toss your brackets and turn your attention to the 2017 WNBA Draft, held Thursday in New York City and aired live on ESPN. Which 12 players will go first round? Who won’t make the cut?
Before you place any bets, learn what top experts are saying about this year’s draft class. College basketball analyst LaChina Robinson, Olympic-medalist-turned-commentator Rebecca Lobbo and Los Angeles Sparks head coach Brian Agler discuss the seven most important things you need to know about the new prospects.
1. This year’s draft is just … “solid.”
While there’s a lot of buzz around this year’s draft, the 2017 talent pool is no more impressive than it has been in previous seasons. Last year, four-time NCAA champion (and now 2016 WNBA Rookie of the Year) Breanna Stewart stole the show as the No. 1 pick, signing with the Seattle Storm. Her former UConn teammates Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck took No. 2 and 3, respectively. Stewart and Jefferson have had a immediate and significant impact on the WNBA, but experts say that may not happen with this year’s talent.
“I don’t think there’s going to be one player who comes in and really blows anybody away,” said Robison. “The [professional] game is bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than we have ever seen it, and I think it’s harder to come in and make an impact for those reasons. But I think we have some very talented pieces that can come in and either get a team over the hump as they look to get into the playoffs or increase the quality of depth of a team that’s already one of the best in the league.”
Agler agrees, adding that the WNBA is so competitive that there’s a chance that even some first round picks could get cut from the teams that recruited them.
“It’s tough for anybody to make a team,” said Agler.
2. Kelsey Plum should go as the No. 1 pick.
Washington’s Kelsey Plum was one of the best players, if not the best, of 2016–17. This season, the Huskies guard broke the all-time NCAA record for most points scored in a single season and was named the Associated Press Player of the Year.
Lobo says that Plum has far from peaked in her abilities.
“I think Plum has the best chance of being a star in the league,” said Lobo. “Not necessarily her rookie year. She’s a pretty special offensive talent, and coaches will get her to where she needs to be defensively. I’ll be really surprised if she’s not picked first.”
The San Antonio Stars have the No. 1 pick, so if Plum is drafted as the top choice, she’ll be packing her bags for training camp in Texas.
UW, thank you for the last four years. It's been truly an honor wearing HUSKIES across my chest. Thank you to this amazing city for all the love and support. It means the world to me. To my Teammates, we have made so many special memories together. I'm so blessed to have played with each and every one of you, what an incredible group of women! To my coaches, UW staff, trainers, Doctors, Admin, thank you it's been a pleasure. Washington will always be in my heart, Go Dawgs 💜
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3. But then again, don’t count out Alaina Coates.
If Plum doesn’t get the first pick, experts say the Stars will choose South Carolina’s Alaina Coates. The 6-foot-4 center is an accurate shooter and was one of the top rebounders in the SEC this year, helping the Gamecocks enter the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing. Coates, however, did not play in the tournament due to an ankle injury, for which she recently had surgery. While she is projected to miss part of the season due to surgery, experts say she’s still a top pick.
“If you were looking at just San Antonio’s needs, Coates fills their needs immediately,” said Lobo. “She [could] be the No. 1 pick. But I think right now, Kelsey Plum just has too much value for her not to go No. 1 whether or not San Antonio keeps her or trades her.”
4. Juniors Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis are prepared for the pros.
Earlier this month, South Carolina juniors Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis announced that they will bypass their senior seasons to play in the WNBA. The move, though, left some fans wondering whether Gray and Davis were ready for such a jump. Robinson says they’ll be just fine.
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“I was surprised that they declared, not because of their readiness, but just more so of what South Carolina put on the floor this season with winning a national championship,” said Robinson. “I thought they would have a good chance to do the same next year. But I think these are two players that are ready for the WNBA. When you look at their size, their skill, their versatility, their athleticism, their strength … [They] can impact the game from just about anywhere on the floor.”
5. Chantel Osahor’s biggest challenge will be her health.
Washington All-American Chantel Osahor is known for her unconventional, yet highly accurate 3-point shots. Her quick hands and keep-it-cool demeanor make her a favorite among many, including Lobo.
“I love watching her play,” said Lobo. “For a big player to be able to rebound the way she does … She’s actually undersized to be able to rebound that way. She’s a phenomenal passer.”
Despite these attributes, Osahor has had to overcome many injuries in her four-year career with the Huskies. During her freshman year, she was hit by a car, damaging the joints in her right shoulder. Then, after recovering from the crash, she suffered a stress fracture in her foot. That same season, doctors discovered a tumor in her knee that needed to be surgically removed. Additionally, Osahor has also struggled to lose weight in order to maintain fitness.
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Huskies head coach Mike Neighbors altered her workouts and limited her training so that Osahor would be healthy for game days. That makes Lobo wonder whether the Phoenix native can handle the next level, where the pros frequently play back-to-back games.
“[Osahor] will definitely be in a training camp,” said Lobo. “I think she’ll go in the second round and she’ll have chance to show coaches what she can do. The question is [if] she is a kid who can practice everyday [and] can perform with the rigorous schedule the WNBA provides.”
6. Nia Coffey would be a good fit for the Chicago Sky.
Ever since the Washington Mystics acquired small forward Elena Delle Donne from the Chicago Sky in February, the Sky have been looking for players who can fill in the All-Star’s shoes. Both Lobo and Robison think that Northwestern’s Nia Coffey has the potential to help.
“[Chicago’s] got a big void,” said Robinson. “You need everything without her. I know one thing that [head coach] Amber [Stocks] talks about is wanting to have a better rebounding identity. I love Nia Coffey [for that].”
“You see Chicago’s need being a [small forward] who can extend the floor and make 3’s,” Lobo said. “Coffey is more of a [power forward] right now, but you can see her in the future becoming that.”
7. Alexis Peterson is one of the smartest players on court.
Syracuse guard Alexis Peterson was an offensive threat in the ACC this season, averaging 23.4 points per game. Robinson says coaches will also have a hard time overlooking the value she can bring off the court, as well.
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“I run out of words to describe her,” Robinson said. “She’s one of the most mature players I have ever come into contact with. Tremendous basketball IQ. She pretty much willed her team to the national championship game last year. She put the team on her back. She’s just a confident leader. She’s a player who can create her own shots from anywhere on the floor. She’s tough, sees the floor extremely well. She’s an asset.”
To watch the WNBA draft, tune in this Thursday to ESPN 2 from 7-8 p.m. EST, then to ESPNU from 8-9 p.m. EST.