- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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Connecticut coach Anne Donovan at least made an attempt to convince media folks that the Sun are still debating who they will take with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft Monday (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Wait, it has to be Stanford post player Chiney Ogwumike, right? Not so fast, Donovan said.
"[Odyssey] Sims is quite the player," Donovan said of the Baylor guard. "Everybody who thinks that it's a foregone conclusion that Chiney Ogwumike is going to be here with us ... we'd love to have Chiney Ogwumike, we'd love to have Odyssey."
OK, but where do the Sun have the greatest need? Inside. So as the holder of the top pick, Connecticut is almost sure to make Chiney the second member of the Ogwumike family to be taken with the first selection in the draft.
If that does happen, how does the rest of the draft -- which will be held at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. -- play out? Where will some of the other big names from this senior class -- such as Maryland's Alyssa Thomas, UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, and Notre Dame's Kayla McBride -- end up as pros?
The draft is an annual exercise in prognostication that is sometimes predictable but also can have an "out-of-left-field" element to it.
The curveballs, if you will, generally come from selections of foreign players that American media and fans are not very (or at all) familiar with. Some teams/GMs have more of a history in that regard than others.
Likewise, some organizations have a more consistent track record overall in regard to how their picks pan out. At least with Chiney Ogwumike, there is a very good indicator of how she might do as a professional.
"We already have the measuring stick of what her sister did in the league early on," Donovan said of Nneka Ogwumike, the No. 1 pick by Los Angeles in 2012 who was named WNBA rookie of the year that season. "More than anything, it's intangibles with both Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. They've both shown they're great leaders, great athletes. Their styles do translate to the WNBA.
"Chiney [is a] great rebounder, can play either post position, face up or back to the basket. I think her sister [is] probably a little bit stronger and more physical. Chiney would be more of a finesse player. But I don't know how that will change as she continues to mature and she gets a little bit more accustomed to the physicality of both the international game and the WNBA."
Last year, there was not much debate that the No. 1 pick would be Baylor center Brittney Griner, and she did have a solid season with Phoenix. But the No. 2 selection, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, was the rookie of the year and helped lead Chicago to its first playoff berth.
Generally speaking, it's hard to find true impact players even late in the first round, let alone in the second and third rounds. Especially in regard to them having an impact as rookies. However, there have been some gems from later selections. It's just not something to count on.
If you have one of the lottery picks (top four), then you are probably in need of someone who can contribute right away. But how many of those players are available in every draft? That's where there are surprises, both good and bad.
The lottery picks this year are Connecticut, Tulsa, San Antonio and New York. The Shock are likely to take Sims if Ogwumike indeed goes to Connecticut. WNBA coaches say Sims has proven herself as both a distributor and a scorer; she was more of one or the other based on the personnel around her at Baylor. And this season, after the team lost five seniors, Sims also proved how strong a leader she was as Baylor reached the NCAA Elite Eight.
"She's shown she can pass the ball really well when she played three years with Griner," Donovan said. "A lot of people are knocking her now [that] she takes too many shots [as a senior]. But that's what her team needs her to do. She's as focused defensively as she is offensively."
San Antonio -- which has dropped the "Silver" from its nickname and is now just the "Stars" -- probably will be choosing between Thomas, Dolson, McBride and Florida State's Natasha Howard.
If it's Thomas, who led Maryland to the Final Four this season as a No. 4 seed, then the question will be where she fits best on court. She has strengths at the power forward and wing positions, but the latter is generally considered the toughest spot to defend against in the WNBA.
As for New York with the No. 4 pick, it seems coach/GM Bill Laimbeer is going to lean more toward a perimeter player. McBride might be his choice if she's still available.
"Traditionally, I like the bigger players at each position," Laimbeer said. "Can you play up a position or not? But we need guard help, there's no question about that. McBride is a big guard.
"I think McBride could be a good, solid combo guard. She's shown her ability this year to handle the ball, more so than last year. Nobody takes it from her. That's a good sign. She's not afraid to go out there and play and shoot the big shots."
There were seven seniors on the WBCA All-America team: Ogwumike, Sims, Thomas, Dolson, Hartley, McBride and Nebraska's Jordan Hooper. The first six are all expected to be chosen in the opening round; Hooper is more likely a second-round pick. Louisville's Shoni Schimmel, a senior who didn't make the WBCA's 10-member team, is an expected first-rounder. She brings not just a flashy style, but also her extensive fan base among the Native American community.
"I think a lot of fans will go and support me in general," Schimmel said. "Doesn't really matter where I go."
That's a smart sentiment to have as a draftee, for sure. But in truth, where players go can make a big difference in terms of how soon and how much they'll have an opportunity to see court time.
What about those players who won't have a chance to play during this WNBA season, but could be good investments when they are healthy? Teams have to gauge the risk/reward in those situations. There is no better example of that paying off than Tamika Catchings, a future Hall of Famer who was taken No. 3 in the 2001 draft even though she was out that season with injury. She has become the Indiana Fever's iconic player.
Two currently injured players are still possible late-first round picks: Notre Dame center Natalie Achonwa and Duke guard Chelsea Gray. Laimbeer said there were some complicating factors to picking someone who won't play in the WNBA this summer.
"The rule is if they don't play overseas and sign a contract overseas, they have to sign with you during the course of this year or they re-enter the draft," Laimbeer said. "I think that is going to be an interesting situation, because they may not like the team they were drafted by and go back in the draft the following year. You have to do your homework on them."
That's true of everyone in the draft in general, of course. This year's draft doesn't have one player who has been feted quite as much as Griner last year or UConn's Maya Moore in 2011. But this year potentially does have some quality first-round depth, or at least the potential for it.
Some of the draftees have been thinking about this since they were young kids; the WNBA has been around since this year's senior class was in kindergarten and preschool. Other draftees didn't believe they might be able to do this until they were much older.
"I definitely didn't come into college knowing if it was a possibility," said Dolson, who along with Hartley just won a second NCAA title at UConn. "I didn't know that I had the potential. Now being able to have this opportunity to go into the draft is just something exciting that I never thought was possible in high school."
Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike and Baylor's Odyssey Sims have emerged as the most likely candidates for the No. 1 overall pick in Monday's WNBA draft.