I literally just hung up the phone after listening to player, coaches and analysts talk about Monday’s WNBA draft (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2) for an hour and a half. Here are some of my first impressions from the call:
Nneka and then who?
The analysts, coaches and even the reporters asking the questions almost glossed by the Nneka talk as it is nearly a foregone conclusion that Ms. Ogwumike’s name will be the first one called. The talk then turned to the next three possibilities, and others down the line almost exclusively for the first part of the call.
“I think specifically for this draft, everybody assumes that Nneka is going 1 to Los Angeles, that would be a big surprise if she didn’t,” said Rebecca Lobo. “But then it gets interesting because we don’t know yet what Coach Agler from Seattle is going to do with No. 2 pick and after he chooses the other pieces obviously will fall into place a little bit. But I think you’re looking at a group of three players that have an opportunity – or have the best chance – to go to that No. 2 pick … and I think that’s Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Shenise Johnson. But then the rest of the draft is going to be interesting.”
So what’s the plan after No. 1?
Lobo mentioned the possibility of Samantha Prahalis landing in Phoenix, Natalie Novosel and Julie Wojta both getting picked somewhere between 9 and 12 and Tulsa having the ability of picking the ‘best available’ player with the fourth pick because of having more needs than other teams.
Minnesota’s Cheryl Reeve is working with a nearly full roster from her championship team, so her idea of needs is a bit more specific in terms of obtaining role players and training camp competitors.
“I think more than anything, the 2011 season is in the books and now we’ve got to gear up to figure out how we can put ourselves in position again to contend in 2012,” Reeve said. “We will certainly try to utilize the draft to continue. I think we’ve got a great balance of veterans and young players and we’re going to try and continue down that road of adding talent that we think will be able to stick in the future and try and keep this thing going.”
Reeve went on to say, “We’re in a unique situation in that we feel like we have talent and depth at each position. I think when we describe our greatest need we talk about we need a player that certainly, first and foremost is talented. But we’re looking for a second component which is someone that can understand playing a role, or even a diminished role on a team … we’re hopeful that we’re able to combine the talent with the mindset of being selfless, which was such a big part of our championship run.”
“We had a chance to evaluate quite a few of the players in the draft pool and we’re looking forward to Monday in terms of making our decision,” Seattle’s Brian Agler said of the second pick. “It’s a big decision for us. We haven’t had a lottery pick since 2001 and this pick for us will be somebody that we feel doesn’t have to be a starter right away but at some point in their career can be a significant piece of the puzzle for the Seattle Storm.”
Gary Kloppenburg from the Tulsa Shock fielded a question about the 2013 draft and the potential to trade into additional slots in what looks to be a banner year for incoming players.
“I think coaches, we’re on the phone and calling coaches about all kinds of different things right on up until draft day,” Kloppenburg said. “I know a lot of conversations will go on. The general feeling I get from talking to coaches is nobody really wants to give up any picks in next year’s draft just because of [the depth of the 2012 class and] the high quality of the players that are coming out next year. There definitely will be a lot of talk and coaches and GM’s trying to maneuver to do that.”
Both Carolyn Peck and Lobo didn’t think there was a “Courtney Vandersloot”-type coming out party for any players in the NCAA tournament, but did think there were a couple people that might have jumped up the leaderboard a bit. Peck mentioned Ogwumike’s phenomenal season, but you can’t really go higher than 1. After that, came mentions of Sasha Goodlett (Georgia Tech), Julie Wojta (Wisconsin-Green Bay), Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters.
“I love Devereaux Peters’ game. I think one think that hurts her for not being mentioned in the top four is just her injury history,” Lobo said. “But she is a high energy rebounder … I think her rebounding will translate to the WNBA. I think she’s attractive because she can defend out on the perimeter and pro coaches like to have the flexibility of switching screens … she’s a player, if she stays healthy which because of her history is a question with the grueling schedule that takes place in the WNBA with back-to-backs … she could be a very, very good pro.”
Lobo also heaped a bit of praise on fellow UConn Husky Tiffany Hayes. “I think her experience being a complimentary player is a good thing for the WNBA because that’s what she’s going to be in the league. Tiffany has got a lot of things you look for in a pro – she’s got good size, she can get to the free throw line, she can pass the ball, she can rebound the ball, she’s a high-percentage field goal shooter and 3-point shooter. I think Tiffany is going to be a really good pro.”
“I think she would be a good compliment to any team because of her basketball I.Q., her court knowledge,” Peck said of Green Bay’s Wojta. “She has a fantastic knack of being able to get in and create contact and get to the free throw line and she has that perimeter threat of being able to score … in a system that does a lot of trapping and shooting gaps off the ball, I think she’s very smart there.”
But Lobo warned, “[Wojta] will have to make the transition from the post to the perimeter and that’s the hardest transition to make going from college to the WNBA, especially defensively. But she’s a good tough player … it comes down to the best fit for every player and the team that drafts them.”
People talk about her as just being relentless,” Lobo said of Glory Johnson. “Just has a great motor because she’s constant energy, terrific rebounder, good size, good length. The negative to Glory’s game is you don’t know what her strength is exactly offensively. What is her go-to move? She did a little bit of everything.” Lobo went on to make a comparison to Swin Cash in college.
But Shenise Johnson got the highest praise I heard all day.
“The versatility that Shenise Johnson brings and with her size, her scoring ability, her ball handling ability, the way that she plays defense and I liked her court maturity in different situations and her leadership and throughout the season saw that on a consistent basis and that’s got to be attractive to every GM and coach in the WNBA,” Peck said. She then went on to call Johnson’s game a bit of a mash up of the styles of Teresa Edwards’s size and Sheryl Swoopes’ scoring ability. (!!!)
Character question marks
“(RIquna) Williams is interesting because of what happened late in the season with her suspension,” Lobo said. “I haven’t got a great handle of how that will impact her. But talking to some of the coaches and GM’s around the league, not talking about her specifically but about players in general, often they bring up good character kids. I’m not saying Riquna is not that, but I think it’s something that they’re thinking about.”
Kloppenburg addressed the situation of Williams later in the call. “That was obviously a difficult situation at the end of their season. I think that in my mind you definitely want to know exactly what happened there, why that happened, is that going to affect her going forward at the next level. No question she’s talented enough and can score the ball. I think we all as coaches and GM’s we definitely look at how is this young player going to come in and affect the chemistry in your locker room.”
Reeve pointed towards the fact that this will be a subjective decision for a team to make. “Our job is to win games,” she said. “I think it comes down to an individual franchise’s tolerance for maybe questionable situations.”
Roster wrangling is a tough sport
“I think that there is some talented seniors in this class, but as the league has continued to evolve the competition of making rosters has increased …,” Peck opened with. “It just continues to make the league better. Each year, we’ve seen the competition and the play on the court improve and I think it’s because of the preparation that the young college athletes have received in college and as they move on to compete at the next level.”
Agler explained the difficulty of transitioning to the league as well as sticking on a roster.
“When a player comes from high school into college level, they’re going to compete with people basically still in their age range – 18-22 years old. When they come in from the college ranks into the WNBA, now all of a sudden they come in and they are competing against people that are aged from 20 all the way up to 36, 37, 38, maybe even better than that. That’s a big leap.
“I think Carolyn made note just to how difficult it is to make a team anymore because of 11-person rosters. There’s many more players that come in than retire. Probably some places the biggest positive influence on a young player making the team is the amount of money that they’re going to be asked to take from the salary cap.”
If women could be one and done, they wouldn’t
Nneka Ogwumike was asked if things would be different in the women’s system was like the men’s and players had an opportunity to play the “one and done” game and get $4 million bucks as a rookie.
“If any of that was true, I would think that a lot of other things in life would go differently for women … my family really values education. There’s always life after basketball because I can’t play when I’m like 70. I think in that situation I might have possibly tried to accelerate my graduation process. So graduate even earlier, but definitely finish school. School would have been a priority regardless of how much money I would be able to make in the league.”
Tiffany Hayes and Devereaux Peters agreed that education would remain a priority.