Commentary

Draft is just first step for rookies

Rosters have grown to 12 players, but landing long-term spot remains tough

Originally Published: April 13, 2014
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

SimsCooper Neill/Getty ImagesBaylor guard Odyssey Sims is expected to be the No. 2 overall pick Monday.

Monday likely will be a truly life-changing day for some of the young women selected in the WNBA draft. They'll find out where they'll start their professional careers, and they could become very attached to a new city far from where they have spent their lives to this point.

However, for the majority of players selected Monday in the three-round draft (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET), there will be the excitement of being picked ... but that is far from a guarantee they'll see time in the WNBA.

It's tough to earn a job in the 12-team league, even if the new collective bargaining agreement allows for a 12th player on rosters now. One advantage rookies do have, though, is their lower salary makes them appealing if they show an ability to contribute.

But this is a league for the best of the best in women's basketball, and even the most prepared college senior will have to get stronger, smarter and more resilient as a player to make it.

"I am just excited about having the opportunity to be at the next level with a lot of my idols," Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims said. "It will be fun; I'll probably be a little nervous."

Most projections have Sims going second in the draft to Tulsa, behind Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike at No. 1 to Connecticut. Both seniors picked up some valuable hardware recently among the national awards; Sims won the Wade Trophy and Ogwumike the Wooden Award. UConn sophomore Breanna Stewart won the Associated Press player of the year award and the Naismith Award.

Stewart -- whose Huskies won the NCAA title -- will spend the summer working on things to add to her already fantastic ability; she'll be the consensus top college player next fall. Meanwhile, Sims and Ogwumike hope they'll be competing for the rookie of the year award this summer.

Both carried a lot of weight for their college teams from the time they were freshmen. Ogwumike's load got heavier after her sister, Nneka, graduated and was selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft in 2012. For Sims, there was a big change this past season after Baylor lost five seniors.

"With my team being so young, I did the best I could just to lead them," Sims said. "I tried to be the coach on the court, and make sure I did all the little things right."

While seemingly everything from how fast they run the 40 to how long they take to brush their teeth is measured for NFL draft prospects, the WNBA evaluation process isn't that exhaustive. But it has gotten quite a bit more refined as the league has aged. The expertise level has risen among the coaches/management in the WNBA as far as what to look for and how to project the way a player might progress as a professional.

So, yes, you'll hear the terms "skill set" and "upside" a lot Monday. But what can the WNBA teams really expect from the players they select?

[+] EnlargeWNBA Draft
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Connecticut Sun won the first pick in December's WNBA draft lottery.

If you look back on just the past decade of draft classes -- 2004 through 2013 -- you'll find No. 1 picks that all have paid off, at least to some degree. And some have been spectacular.

Eight of those picks are still with the teams that drafted them, and they include three players -- Phoenix's Diana Taurasi (2004), Los Angeles' Candace Parker ('08) and Connecticut's Tina Charles ('10) -- who've all been the league's MVP. Parker, in fact, has won that award twice, in her rookie year of 2008 and last season.

Of those No. 1 picks of the past decade, three of them have two WNBA titles: Minnesota's Seimone Augustus ('06) and Maya Moore ('11), and Taurasi.

The top-regarded No. 2 picks of the past decade are Cappie Pondexter ('06) and Sylvia Fowles ('08), who've also both been Olympic gold medalists.

Pondexter won two WNBA titles with Phoenix, the team that drafted her; she's now with New York. Fowles has made only one appearance in the WNBA playoffs with Chicago, but that came last year as the team added another No. 2 pick who appears destined for long-term stardom, Elena Delle Donne. She was last season's rookie of the year.

What are the odds that Monday's first round goes similar to how a lot of observers project? The top five to eight players seem pretty well-identified, but there is always the possibility of draft-day trades to shake up things.

Ultimately, whoever is going to graduate to the WNBA will need to hit the ground running; the season starts in just a little more than a month, on May 16.

"I'm looking forward to it and trying to stay stress-free," Sims said. "I'm happy to be in this position, and when my name is called, I'll be even happier."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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