The 2017 WNBA Draft is the party where all young girls who play basketball want to attend. It’s also a time for nervousness as each player hopes to leave with their own personal Cinderella story. At Samsung 837 in New York City the number one selection was no surprise as Kelsey Plum of Washington University won the honors. But it was a player that would not be here who will forever have her dream etched in the history of the New York Liberty.
The 2017 WNBA Draft was dominated at the top by the franchises that are most in need. You know that the expectations of being the number one pick are assured when WNBA legend Dawn Staley announces your name. But she had some useful advice as well to share with this group. “Be who you are no matter the stakes that you’re playing on, stay the course,” said Staley.
The San Antonio Stars selected first and chose Kelsey Plum, and in a single moment she became the it girl for the WNBA newcomers. Plum carried herself well as if she has done this before. After hugging her sister first and others along the way she showed humility but with an ease like a future face of the league possesses. She is well aware of her weaknesses and the challenges ahead as the WNBA season is a short three weeks away. “I’m really excited. Coach Vickie (Johnson) has a great plan from what I hear,” Plum said, “I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I’m going to make the most of it.”
The Stars also secured the services of forward Nia Coffey from Northwestern with the fifth overall pick. One of only five players in Big Ten history to score 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds, the Stars can envision a rebirth with these two college stars.
The current NCAA basketball champions, South Carolina had a successful evening with three players taken in the first round. The first, Alaina Coates, was noticeable for her size and scooter she moved around the draft area which protected her recently operated on ankle that kept her out off the court as her team won the championship. That did not deter the Chicago Sky, who were looking for a scorer of her size since the sting of losing All-Star Elena Della Donne to free agency this off-season. “For me to go at number two, especially with my situation, I’m excited about that,” Coates said, “I’ll have to go to through a couple more weeks of that, and then we’ll go from there”
The Dallas Wings got two championship guards from South Carolina transplanting juniors Allisha Gray at number four and Kaela Davis with the tenth pick to team up with number three pick Kentucky forward/center Evelyn Akhator.
Maryland didn’t do too badly as they saw three-point sharpshooter Shatori Walker-Kimbrough drafted by the Washington Mystics at number six and center Brianna Jones to the Connecticut Sun who are looking to end a playoff drought last watered in 2012. Shatori will be returning to her home state where she was born and played her high school and college ball. “I’m on cloud nine right now,” said Walker-Kimbrough, “All the support from Maryland means the world to me.”
The Atlanta Dream may have entertained visions of another Angel McCoughtry when they selected guard Brittney Sykes of Syracuse at the seventh spot but it was a former NBA champion Michael Cooper who saw something familiar. “She reminds me of me,” Cooper said, “It’s a match made in heaven.”
The Chicago Sky used their second selection in the first round to add another shooter in Tori Jankoska of Michigan State. The aging Cappie Pondexter and the loss of Donne will make it essential to keep their superior shooting game up to par and elevate collapsing on incoming Alaina Coates, who needs time to get healthy.
We know the Los Angeles Sparks had to be high on Oregon State guard Sydney Wiese. The defending WNBA champions seems very sure about the three-point specialist as the Sparks already had the best three-point shooting percentage in the league. But Wiese is aware of what she’s up against “It’s a business, so it’s going to be super competitive,” Wiese said, “They are very talented players across the board.”
The Minnesota Lynx, one win from a repeat and fourth WNBA championship in six years selected last in the opening round and found Alexis Jones, a soft-spoken but well-informed guard from Baylor. “I’m just trying to be that player for the Lynx that’s possible wherever they need me and come out to win another championship,” Jones said, “I’m excited, They have a lot of veteran players who I know many would love to play with.”
The New York Liberty did not participate in the first round this year. They had to wait until the second round where they found a pleasant surprise waiting in Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen at number 14. “Lindsay Allen fits the mold of what we were looking for, a very high basketball IQ,” Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer said, “She is a facilitator, a guard that runs the show, possesses good leadership skills, and knows how to run a team.”
The Liberty added 6-5 Florida State center Kai James at number 34 in the third round adding youth to the bigs. “We wanted to bring someone in that had size, could bang in the post, and give us some strength,” Laimbeer said, “She has shown significant improvement, and now it’s time to see if she can make the next level.”
But the feel-good story came after the draft during the New York Liberty Draft Party when All-Star center Tina Charles announced that Shamoya McKenzie was their 37th pick of the 2017 WNBA Draft. It was purely honorary yet official and quite touching as McKenzie, a high school basketball player with immense talent was hit by a stray bullet from a drive by shooting sitting in her car on New Year’s Eve. “It is important for the New York Liberty to continue to show up for Shamoya, a young woman who was killed in a senseless act of violence,” Liberty President Isiah Thomas said, “I learned from her mother, Nadine, that it was her dream to play for the New York Liberty, and I am honored we were able to make her dream come true by selecting her as a member of our team.”
On that human note, the 2017 selections will now move on to the tough part of the job, getting on the final rosters for the upcoming WNBA season. Collectively they are all excited, know what’s in store and are ready to go to work. The perception of the women’s game may rise or take a deeper plunge depending on what tonight’s group brings to the table.
Luis Vazquez (@Cyberj2000)