Although the WNBA announced the postponed start of its training camps and regular season on April 3, the league was still able to hold the 2020 WNBA Draft on April 17 while most of the sports world is on hiatus. The draft was held virtually and broadcasted on ESPN.
Teams’ preparations for the draft were much different than originally anticipated. Instead of holding meetings at team facilities, team officials had to communicate via video calls to evaluate players and discuss draft choices. However, the 12 WNBA teams were not the only ones at a disadvantage for this year’s draft; players were unable to showcase their skills at the NCAA tournament or at the draft combine where scouts are able to get an up-close look at each prospect.
The 2020 draft honored Kobe Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant and her teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, all of whom were all killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. The WNBA named the three girls as honorary picks, and their jerseys were shown on the screen during the tribute. Gigi’s dream was to play college basketball at the University of Connecticut before moving onto the WNBA. Gigi’s mother, Vanessa Bryant, thanked the WNBA for honoring Gigi in a video broadcasted during the draft.
“It would have been a dream come true for her,” Vanessa said. “She worked tirelessly every single day. She wanted to be one of the greatest athletes of all time, just like her daddy.”
Prior to the draft, the league announced they would create the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award to recognize a “tireless advocate for women’s basketball and foster the highest levels of leadership.”
In total, 36 players were selected in the draft, but there are only 144 roster spots in the entire league. While being drafted is an incredible honor, players will have to continue their hard work to secure their spots on the rosters. Below is an analysis of the first five selections of the draft and how the picks will influence the respective teams.
1) New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu, Guard, University of Oregon
Sabrina Ionescu was projected to be the first overall pick after she decided to return to Oregon for her senior season, so this was expected. By the end of her final season at Oregon, she was the first player in NCAA history to surpass 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in her four-year career. Ionescu also holds the NCAA record for most career triple-doubles at 26. The guard was famous for her pick-and-roll at Oregon, and her new head coach Walt Hopkins hopes to make her the centerpiece of the team.
The Liberty went 17-51 over the last two seasons and is in the midst of a complete rebuild. Through various trades including the April 15 trade of All-Star Tina Charles, the Liberty had accumulated six of the first 15 overall picks in the draft. With such a young roster, the Liberty should use their first season in Brooklyn to develop the younger players in hopes of winning the championship down the line.
Ionescu became a sensation while at Oregon and developed close relationships with many NBA players, including Kobe Bryant. Bryant became her mentor and Ionescu spoke at Kobe’s memorial in February. In an Instagram story post on April 17, Ionescu paid tribute to Bryant’s contributions to her life and the world.
View this post on Instagram
I miss you guys more than I could ever put into words 💔 Kobe, thank you for being a source of light in the midst of darkness.You were and always will be my sanctuary. You brought me the peace and guidance that I had been searching, and praying so long for. You were my mentor, idol, inspiration, and close friend. A part of me was lost Sunday, a void that can never be filled, because you are one of one. You took me under your wing and believed in me more than I believed in myself. I only have one choice. To live out your legacy. 🐍 You will forever live through me, and be watching over me every step of the way, because you have the best seat in the house. I can still hear you telling me, “Sab, real sharpness comes without effort,” and that’s a voice I will never forget. Love you boss. Always. Gigi, Alyssa and Pay Pay- Never stop shining your light! I was blessed to have been apart of your lives and to inspire you, but now you inspire me. Keep working on those fade away jumpers up in heaven. RIP little mambas❤️🐍 I pray for everyone who lost a loved one on Sunday, may God heal your broken hearts🙏🏼 Legends never die! #mambamentality🐍
“I know [Bryant’s] looking down on me smiling,” Ionescu said in the post. “We did it. I got drafted No. 1. More work to do. Love and miss you.”
2) Dallas Wings: Satou Sabally, Forward, University of Oregon
Ionescu’s Oregon teammate Satou Sabally was the next player off the board in the draft. Sabally, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, left Oregon before her senior year to enter the draft. She averaged 16.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game and won the 2020 Cheryl Miller Award, which recognizes the best small forward in the country each season.
Sabally will be competing for playing time alongside two other top-seven picks and a roster without a player who has more than four years of WNBA experience. Yet, Sabally should be able to contribute immediately, as her height, ball-handling and three-point shots make her very versatile and capable of playing wherever the Wings place her.
3) Indiana Fever: Lauren Cox, Forward/Center, Baylor University (Texas)
The first non-Oregon player to be selected was Lauren Cox of Baylor. Cox is a post-up big who can score the ball and cause mayhem on defense for opposing teams, evidenced by her 2.6 blocks per game during her senior year. She can also distribute the ball to teammates very efficiently; Cox was the only player in the NCAA to average more than 3.5 assists and two blocks per game.
The Fever found her passing ability very attractive to pair with the 2019 third overall pick, Teaira McCowan, who averaged 10 points per game in Indiana during her rookie season. Baylor center Kalani Brown left the university for the draft in 2019, which forced Baylor to put Cox at center for her senior year and, playing out of position, her numbers fell. Playing aside McCowan should help Cox in making her an important part of the team in the years to come. Cox missed time at Baylor to deal with knee and foot injuries during her junior and senior years, but I’m sure she hopes those injuries will remain a distant memory.
4) Atlanta Dream: Chennedy Carter, Guard, Texas A&M University
Although Chennedy Carter may only stand at 5 feet 7 inches, her ability to score should not be overlooked. Since her freshman year at Texas A&M, Carter has averaged over 20 points per game. In the 2019 NCAA tournament Sweet Sixteen matchup against the University of Notre Dame University (Ind.), the future national runner-up, Carter scored 35 points in a losing effort.
Carter also has incredible ball-handling skills, which includes great explosiveness and shot creation that allow her to do seemingly whatever she wants on the court. The Dream and Carter are a perfect match for each other, as the Dream needed a point guard to pair with recently acquired guard Courtney Williams and forward Shekinna Stricklen.
5) Dallas Wings: Bella Alarie, Forward, Princeton University (N.J.)
After being selected fifth overall by Dallas, forward Bella Alarie became the third-ever Ivy League player to be picked in the WNBA Draft. Alarie averaged 16.1 points and 9.1 rebounds over the course of her career at Princeton, where she won Ivy League Player of the Year thrice. She also led Princeton to a 26-1 record this season before the 2019-20 regular season and March Madness tournament were canceled.
Alarie was Dallas’s second selection in this draft and will partner with Sabally at forward. Alarie’s mobility and length give her the ability to be impactful both offensively and defensively. With the Wings only gaining 10 wins last season, Alarie is likely to become a prominent player for her new team once the season begins.
With the 2020 WNBA Draft now completed, teams are looking forward to the start of the season, whenever that will be.