Most picks made sense in WNBA draft
BRISTOL, Conn. -- The deck was stacked in Minnesota's favor to have an enthusiasm-boosting draft day, and the Lynx didn't disappoint.
The WNBA held its annual draft at ESPN headquarters for the first time, a move that just made a lot of sense for maximum publicity. And that's what the Lynx got out of their selections, as they added three-time Wade Trophy winner Maya Moore of UConn and Xavier star forward Amber Harris with the Nos. 1 and 4 picks, respectively.
Mechelle Voepel interviewed guards Courtney Vandersloot, Danielle Robinson and Jasmine Thomas, as well as post Jantel Lavender. To watch their draft-day videos, click here.
The Lynx, who haven't made the playoffs since 2004, got exactly whom they wanted, and you'd have to say this was an "easy" A for coach Cheryl Reeve's squad. But will the team's grade still be that high by season's end?
What of Tulsa? The Shock stumbled through their first season in Oklahoma, making trades that didn't add up and winning just six games. But with their two picks on draft day, the Shock also chose wisely. At No. 2, they selected 6-foot-8 Australian sensation Liz Cambage, who filled a kind of belle-of-the-ball role Monday with her fun personality and striking outfit. At No. 7, Tulsa chose 6-4 do-everything post player Kayla Pedersen from Stanford.
There was a big draft-day trade between Washington and Atlanta, some wheeling and dealing by New York, and an expected low-key day for defending champion Seattle.
Here's a look at what transpired in the 2011 draft, with a quick look at what every team tried to improve. Some definitely did for others, we'll reserve judgment.
Minnesota: There wasn't much way the Lynx could botch this draft, but they still get credit for doing it right. Maya Moore is pro-ready but will immediately work hard to get better. Just like her UConn predecessors, she's going to make an impact from the start of her career. Amber Harris gives the Lynx a versatile 6-5 player who should develop into one of the most talented big women in the league. They traded Jessica Breland, the first pick of the second round, to get Marquette guard Angel Robinson, along with a 2012 draft pick. Robinson, of St. Paul, Minn., was selected late in the second round by New York. If she makes the team, she could be a good understudy for Lynx veteran Lindsay Whalen. Speaking of Whalen, she now has quite a group of players with which to run Minnesota's offense. The Lynx and their fans have had a lot of bad days, but this was one of the best.
Tulsa: Liz Cambage has the kind of engaging personality that is going to make her popular in Oklahoma right away. UConn coach Geno Auriemma was asked to compare Cambage to fellow 6-8 player Brittney Griner of Bayor, as he has coached against both. He said Cambage, in part because of her pro experience, is probably a more polished offensive player. And because of her size/strength, she is harder to move on the low block. Actually, he said Cambage was impossible to move. Stanford's Kayla Pedersen also brings size, but she has more versatility and will make a very good high-low tandem with Cambage. Second-round pick Italee Lucas of North Carolina was playing her best at season's end and would seem one of the guards in the draft most likely to fit well into Nolan Richardson's style of play.
Chicago: This team needed a point guard. And in Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot, the Sky got the player many think might be the best at that position out of this college draft. Bulldogs coach Kelly Graves said, "The great thing about Courtney is that she can adapt to whatever style of play is needed. I hope the post players in Chicago are excited, because she will get you the basketball." Coach Pokey Chatman, in her first season with the Sky, was a point guard herself and can appreciate the way Vandersloot sees the court. Don't discount the Sky's second-round picks, Boston College's Carolyn Swords and Tennessee's Angie Bjorklund. Swords is 6-6 and shot 72.2 percent from the field this season, 67.7 percent for her career. True, that's not against the physicality of WNBA defenses, but some players couldn't shoot that well against no defense. If the 6-foot Bjorklund could get closer to her 2009-10 shooting form, when she made 102 3-pointers, she could stick in the league.
Los Angeles: The Sparks were a subpar rebounding team last season, especially after Candace Parker was sidelined with injury. Ohio State center Jantel Lavender, who averaged 10.5 rebounds in her Buckeyes career, will help immediately in that area. She also was Ms. Consistency as a scorer, averaging 20.7 points in her time in Columbus. She runs the court well and should benefit from playing with a calm, veteran point guard such as Ticha Penicheiro. The Sparks were focused on getting one good player out of this draft with their No. 5 pick, and they got that. Lavender said she's eager to play alongside Parker and learn from other very experienced L.A. players such as Tina Thompson.
San Antonio: Going into the draft, coach/GM Dan Hughes was intrigued by Danielle Adams, who was the Final Four's most outstanding player for Texas A&M. But he wasn't going to use the No. 6 pick to get her. Instead, he opted to go with Oklahoma point guard Danielle Robinson in that slot but then Adams was still available when the Silver Stars picked again in the second round at No. 20. Oklahoma's Sherri Coale, who coached one Danielle and coached against the other in the Big 12, said Hughes chose well. "I think he's the perfect maestro to put it all together," Coale said, adding about Robinson, "Decision-making is going to be the key. She's got to take better care of the basketball. Her speed will translate. She's still going to have to finish over size, but she had to do that her whole college career."
Atlanta: Last year's WNBA runners-up didn't really need size -- not with the likes of Sancho Lyttle, Erika de Souza, Alison Bales and Yelena Leuchanka on the roster. So when they drafted 6-6 Ta'Shia Phillips of Xavier at No. 8, you figured it had to be a piece of the puzzle in the much-rumored deal with Washington for point guard Lindsey Harding. And just hours after the draft, that's exactly what happened. The trade also means the Miller twins are split up again; this time it's Kelly Miller going to D.C., where sister Coco played for several seasons. The Dream also dealt No. 18 pick Rachel Jarry of Australia to Minnesota for No. 14 selection Felicia Chester of DePaul. At 6-3, Chester is a workhorse forward. Ultimately, the biggest thing on this day for the Dream was obtaining Harding, who wanted out of Washington and, entering her fifth WNBA season, should do a solid job of running the Dream's offense.
Indiana: The Fever definitely wanted a guard, and once Courtney Vandersloot was gone, Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen was their choice at No. 9. Pohlen learned to play point guard with the Cardinal, although shooting guard is more naturally her spot. At 6-foot, she's big and strong on the perimeter. And she made 96 3-pointers this season, shooting 41.7 percent from behind the arc. She had 171 assists and can look to Fever veteran Katie Douglas as a good example of how you can make versatility work to your advantage as a perimeter player. Pohlen, like former Stanford teammate Jayne Appel, will start her pro career in the same city where her college career ended. Appel went to San Antonio last year after the Cardinal had played in the Final Four there. Pohlen likes Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse -- even if she didn't like Stanford's result there in the Final Four -- and she's eager to return with the Fever.
New York: There were big changes after last season, as coach Anne Donovan left to take over at Seton Hall and general manager Carol Blazejowski -- who'd been with the Liberty since the WNBA's inception -- was relieved of her duties. Former Sacramento coach/GM John Whisenant took over in the Big Apple, and he needed a true post player. He didn't get that with the No. 10 pick, instead going with 6-1 wing Alex Montgomery of Georgia Tech, the only player chosen in the first round who wasn't present at the draft. Credit Whisenant for his 2005 WNBA title, but in Sacramento, he had a somewhat inexplicable attachment to tweeners who didn't shoot well from behind the arc. Montgomery, though, made 237 3-pointers in her Yellow Jackets career. But the Liberty also got, via draft-day trades, North Carolina post player Jessica Breland and Texas A&M guard Sydney Colson. All three of those players are good defenders and could help the Liberty, and in the end, Whisenant got what he wanted from this draft.
Washington: After their best season in 2010, the Mystics had the kind of offseason chaos that this franchise is unfortunately known for, with both GM Angela Taylor and coach Julie Plank leaving. Trudi Lacey has both roles now and pulled the trigger Monday on the trade that had been expected. Harding absolutely wanted out of D.C., and so she was sent to Atlanta in exchange for Phillips and Miller. The Mystics had been getting by with some aging post players the past few years. But now they have an infusion of youth there with Phillips, Nicky Anosike (obtained recently in a deal with Minnesota) and Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap, picked at No. 11 Monday by Washington. They can team with fourth-year forward Crystal Langhorne, who had a breakthrough season last year. Not sure, still, what veteran guard Katie Smith is going to do, and Monique Currie is out this season with a knee injury. The Mystics concluded a busy draft day in OK shape but who's really their point guard now?
Seattle: The defending champions have all their key pieces back from one of the league's most successful seasons. So they weren't looking for a whole lot on draft day, when they had the last pick in each round. They got Duke teammates Jasmine Thomas at No. 12 and Krystal Thomas at No. 36. In between at No. 24, Brian Agler's team picked Arizona forward Ify Ibekwe, a good defender and rebounder. Whether the two post players actually make the roster remains to be seen, but point guard Jasmine Thomas seems more likely to get a spot and can learn from veteran guards Sue Bird, Tanisha Wright and Erin Phillips. But she will have to cut down on turnovers in the WNBA.
Connecticut: The Sun had the No. 1 pick last season with eventual rookie of the year Tina Charles, but this year's draft day was quieter. They didn't have a first-round pick, trading it to Minnesota for Kelsey Griffin last year. On Monday, they took point guard Sydney Colson from NCAA champion Texas A&M at No. 16 in the second round. She acknowledged afterward that she was nervous about trying to make a team that already had guards Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson. So she was just as glad to hear she was traded to New York for Kalana Greene, who now rejoins former UConn teammate Charles. Connecticut also picked Louisiana Tech's Adrienne Johnson in the third round, but it will be an uphill battle for her to secure a roster spot. One of the Sun's first-round picks from last year, Danielle McCray, missed what would have been her rookie season with a knee injury. She is back and should help form a talented young core for the Sun.
Phoenix: Like the Sun, the Mercury didn't have a whole lot going on during draft day, with no first-round pick. At No. 19 in the second round, they took 6-1 forward Brittany Spears of Colorado. If she can make the roster, Spears should fit the Phoenix system well -- she is a natural scorer from all over and runs the court well. She also was a good rebounder for the Buffs, and that could aid the Mercury, too.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.
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