WNBA Draft Recap – A bright future for women’s basketball

Courtesy of Sabrina Ionescu via Instagram

The 2020 WNBA draft was conducted virtually for the first time in league history on Friday, April 17. Broadcast on ESPN for the first time in 11 years, the draft was the most-watched WNBA Draft in 16 years and the second most-watched in ESPN’s history according to an official release from the WNBA. Up 123% from last year, the draft averaged 387,000 viewers on ESPN. 

The broadcast began with an emotional tribute to the lives of Gianna Bryant, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli. The three young basketball players were among the nine passengers killed in the January helicopter crash that also took the life of basketball icon Kobe Bryant. Sitting in the living room of her home, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert honored each girl individually. She stated “the WNBA selects” each one as an honorary draft pick, while ESPN displayed shots of honorary jerseys.

After the broadcast, the WNBA unveiled the annual Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, which “will recognize an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women’s and girls’ basketball at all levels” as stated in an official release from the league. Kobe Bryant was a dedicated advocate for women’s sports, and brought the game more media attention with his presence at many women’s NCAA games paired with his consistent social media support.

With the No. 1 pick of the draft, the New York Liberty selected University of Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu. Ionescu was the 2020 National Player of the Year by unanimous decision, and holds the NCAA record for career triple doubles. Her selection garnered a social media frenzy and a plethora of social media congratulations from basketball stars like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry. Ionescu was close friends with Kobe Bryant, who frequented Oregon games with his daughter Gigi. 

She was quickly joined in the league by her University of Oregon teammate Satou Sabally, who went to the Dallas Wings as the No. 2 pick. This was the third time in WNBA history that the first two pics hailed from the same university. Ionescu and Sabally are part of a group of three University of Oregon juniors who declared for the draft. The final junior being forward Ruthy Hebard, who went to the Chicago Sky as the eighth pick of the draft. 

Like the Ducks, the South Carolina Gamecocks also went back-to-back with the No. 6 and 7 picks. A surprise to even herself, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan was selected sixth by the Minnesota Lynx. “I wasn’t expecting my name to get called that early, but it did and I’m happy for that,” she said on a press conference call. Shortly after, Tyasha Harris was selected by the Dallas Wings. Harris will be reunited with former Gamecocks Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray in Dallas. 

Other draft standouts included Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter and Princeton forward Bella Alarie. One of three Associated Press All-Americans junior draft declarees, Carter was selected with the fourth pick to the Atlanta Dream. She averaged more than 20 points in all three of her college seasons. Alarie was selected with the fifth pick to the Dallas Wings and became only the third Ivy League player ever to be drafted into the league. She was named Ivy League Player of the year three times in a row, and is the daughter of former NBA Draft first-round pick Mark Alarie.

In the final round of the draft, Rice University guard Erica Ogwumike was selected by the New York Liberty with the 26th pick and then immediately traded to the Minnesota Lynx. Standing 5 feet, 9 inches, Erica is the youngest of four Ogwumike sisters. A royal basketball family, her older sisters Nneka and Chiney both went to the league as No. 1 overall picks in 2012 and 2014 respectively. The second youngest Ogwumike sister, Olivia Ogwumike, also played basketball at Rice University. 

With a maximum roster capacity of 12 players for 12 teams compared to the NBA’s 15 roster spots for 30 teams, the WNBA is highly competitive, especially for rookies. That said, this year’s draft class paired with increased viewership bodes well for the league. With talented rookies and the start of training camp delayed, rosters are uncertain. But one thing is for sure, more people are watching than ever before.