- Graham Hays, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
Like a good movie released between the peak summer season and winter holidays, this year's WNBA draft class might slip through the cracks for many fans. It's the draft subsequent to Diana Taurasi's arrival and preceding a class in 2006 that includes Seimone Augustus, Monique Currie, Cappie Pondexter and Sophia Young.
But like that movie director freed from the constraints of summer special effects and holiday schmaltz, this class could offer a compelling and lengthy story. Uncertainty remains about who will go No. 1 to Charlotte in Saturday's draft (ESPN2, noon ET), but it's a class that could go 15 to 20 players deep in terms of eventual WNBA contributors.
Here's a look at the top 10 prospects, and one potential first-round darkhorse:
Janel McCarville, Minnesota, 6-2, C, Stevens Point, Wis.
The safest pick in this year's class, McCarville will give up a couple of inches to some WNBA centers, but she's not going to be pushed around in the post. A tremendous passer out of the low and high posts, she continues to improve as a low-post scorer and has the range to hit consistently from anywhere inside the arc. Others might have more athletic upside, but she has the all-around skills to be a regular all-star. Early attitude questions at Minnesota are a thing of the past; she's a fiery leader with the same engagingly frank personality as Diana Taurasi.
Sandora Irvin, TCU, 6-3, F, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
All you hear about are the blocks, and they're certainly impressive Irvin was three-time Conference USA defensive player of the year for a reason. But she's far more than a one-dimensional shot blocker. She has terrific range (24 3-pointers on 38.1 percent shooting as a senior) but steps away from her post responsibilities only when necessary. She's not a floater who tries to play like a guard.
Tan White, Mississippi State, 5-7, G, Tupelo, Miss.
White's upside is she's a women's version of Allen Iverson (on the court). And it speaks to the allure of that upside that teams at the top of the first round are apparently willing to overlook her diminutive size. Then again, she certainly played bigger than 5-foot-7 in averaging seven rebounds per game during her career at Mississippi State, while never averaging less than 18 points per game in a season. Not a point guard (more turnovers than assists this season), but could move over to spell a point guard for a few minutes each game.
Kendra Wecker, Kansas State, 5-11, F, Marysville, Kan.
Might have to play more on the wing than she did in dominating the Big 12, but that could actually work to her advantage. Wecker has excellent range (39.8 percent from behind the arc for her career, including 42.2 percent the last two seasons) and the quickness to stay with WNBA wings. And given her post experience and near-freakish strength, she'll be able to exploit weaker defenders down low. With a couple more inches, she'd be the top pick. As it is, she's still a complete package.
Sancho Lyttle, Houston, 6-4, F/C, St. Vincent, British West Indies
The X-factor of the first round, Lyttle is far from a finished product after a late introduction to organized basketball and just two seasons at the University of Houston. But at 6-4 with good quickness and little awkwardness, she has more than enough polish to be off the board by the middle of the first round. And after averaging 17.6 ppg against the same Conference USA competition as Sandora Irvin, she's not getting by purely on measurables.
Dionnah Jackson, Oklahoma, 5-9, G, St. Louis, Mo.
Like White, slightly undersized for a league increasingly building around big backcourts (see: Diana Taurasi). Nowhere near the kind of pure scorer that White is, but Jackson is both slightly bigger and better prepared to handle point-guard responsibilities, at least in a reserve role initially. Averaged a career-best 5.8 assists per game as a senior at Oklahoma, while cutting her turnovers sharply. All you need to know about her toughness is that at 5-9, she averaged 8.5 rebounds per game last season.
Kara Braxton, Georgia, 6-6, C, Westview, Ore.
Reportedly had a good performance at the WNBA pre-draft camp last weekend, which should ease concerns among GMs after her time away from the game (she last played at Georgia during the 2003-04 season). The 2002 SEC Freshman of the Year never quite lived up to that initial showing in parts of two subsequent turbulent seasons playing for the Lady Bulldogs (due to suspensions, Braxton didn't play more than 21 games in either of her last two seasons in Athens, Ga.). But you can't ignore a 6-6 post with good hands and agility who put up 16 points and seven boards in her first taste of SEC competition. Would be a perfect fit in Connecticut's up-tempo attack, learning from fellow mom Taj McWilliams-Franklin, but Braxton might not last until the No. 8 pick.
Tanisha Wright, Penn State, 5-11, G, West Mifflin, Pa.
Probably the least talked about lock for the first round, just as she was the least talked about star in the Big Ten. Wright earned first-team all-conference honors by doing the little things in Kelly Mazzante's shadow as a junior and then repeated that honor as Penn State's focal point as a senior. The only knocks on Wright are that she lacks 3-point range and her field-goal percentage slipped dramatically when she took over for Mazzante as the primary offensive option. But even if her offense still needs polish, Wright is a perfect all-around threat for a playoff contender looking to add role players in the second half of the first round.
Jacqueline Batteast, Notre Dame, 6-2, F, South Bend, Ind.
Struggled at times to live up to the hype she generated for herself with an outstanding freshman season, but the totality of her résumé, not to mention her ideal size and quickness, are imposing. Batteast simply looks like a basketball player, with her deceptively long reach fueling both steals and blocks in a defensive game that could blossom under the right coach. The biggest question for Batteast, aside from her measurables, is what will her role be in the WNBA? She has 3-point range but shot better than 41 percent from the field in just one college season. And despite good height and leaping ability, she was not a dominant force on the boards as a senior.
Katie Feenstra, Liberty, 6-8, C, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Burst onto the national scene during Liberty's run to the Sweet 16 in this year's NCAA Tournament, but she actually posted better numbers as a junior for the Lady Flames, earning honorable mention AP All-American status in 2004. The positives are obvious she might enter the WNBA with the best hands and shooting touch of any player 6-6 or taller. She was a dominant shot blocker in the Big South, but her NCAA performance suggests her best defensive trait against more athletic competition will be simply using her size to disrupt offensive rhythm. She's not a project in the same sense as past giants such as Lindsay Taylor, or even Margo Dydek, but might not have the conditioning to be an instant starter.
Kristin Haynie, Michigan State, 5-8, G, Mason, Mich.
Haynie might have solidified a place in the first round with her play in leading Michigan State to a second-place finish in the NCAA Tournament. She was just the fourth leading scorer on the Spartans this season but showed an ability to get to the basket and finish, as well as hit from outside, in the crucible of tourney play. All of which suggests she's the ultimate point guard, in the mold of Jason Kidd, willing to defer to teammates unless absolutely necessary. In addition to 5.4 assists per game, Haynie also averaged 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 steals. A lot of WNBA point guards have made their mark without scoring a lot of points (Debbie Black, Teresa Weatherspoon), but Haynie will not be an offensive liability.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN.com's Graham Hays breaks down the 10 best prospects in Saturday's WNBA draft.