WNBA draft marked with some surprises

WNBA graphic.

Every WNBA draft throws some curveballs, but this year’s exercise saw a few more than usual.

Three 19-year-old international players were taken in the first round, and selections of three others pushed several projected first-tier picks into the second round, and obliterated mock drafts everywhere.

The Dallas Wings chose Finland center Awak Kuier with their second pick, and the Chicago Sky took Australian guard Shyla Heal at No. 8. With their 12th pick, the Las Vegas Aces selected French forward Iliana Rupert. All three athletes have been playing professionally.

The selections of Charli Collier, Kuier, Aari McDonald, Chelsea Dungee, Michaela Onyenwere, Jasmine Walker and Rennia Davis in the first round was expected. But the Indiana Fever’s choice of West Virginia guard Kysre Gondrezick with their fourth pick caught many by surprise, as she was projected for the third round.

Fever general manager Tamika Catchings said Gondrezick’s skill set made her stand out.

“She can play the 2 or the 1, and if we had to bump her to 3, I’m sure she could figure that out,” Catchings said. “What she brings (was appealing), in being able to have a versatile player like her – someone who can score. And also, to have someone who wants to be in Indy.”

Gondrezick transferred from Michigan, her home state, and lead the Mountaineers in scoring this past season en route to the NCAA Tournament. She hadn’t been included in the WNBA’s media availability, and learned she’d been drafted while watching the event on television with her mother. Gondrezick said she can’t wait to get to the Fever’s training camp next week.

“To see my name – I haven’t seen my name in a lot of things,” she said. “I don’t think it’s yet to hit me. That’s why I’m so ready to get to Indy.”

Gondrezick said her assets include her ability to finish plays, being able to score at will and her proficiency at pick and roll offense.

“I’m excited to see how my game will translate into the WNBA,” she said.

The Fever, which haven’t been the playoffs since Catchings retired as a player in 2016, also surprised by taking Auburn forward Unique Thompson with their 19th pick. The prolific scorer is the first Tiger to be drafted since DeWanna Bonner and Whitney Boddie in 2009.

WNBA graphic.

“I’m excited, I’m happy,” Thompson said. “The nerves aren’t there anymore. I’m just ready to go. I’m ready to get to work. (Representing Auburn in the WNBA) means so much to me. Auburn is where I started to build my legacy, this is where my hard work began, so it means everything to me.”

Thompson said she was first alerted to what had happened by her friends and family members screaming.

“I kind of expected it (being selected by Indiana), I had a long conversation with them on Zoom the other day and I just got off the phone with Teaira (McCowan), Victoria (Vivians) and a few of my other new teammates. I’m looking forward to getting there and getting started,” Thompson said.

The Los Angeles Sparks’ choice of North Carolina guard Stephanie Watts with their 10th pick and the Seattle Storm taking Texas A&M guard Aaliyah Jones at No. 11 meant that first-round favorites Dana Evans of Louisville, Natasha Mack of Oklahoma State and Arella Guirantes of Rutgers were relegated to the second round. Evans was chosen by Dallas with pick No. 13, and the Sky took Mack at No. 16.

Mack, who was the NCAA defensive player of the year, said she is optimistic her game will translate to the pro level smoothly.

“I learned to read offensive players – that’s been my game,” she said. “I read people very well. That’s why my defense is great. I don’t try to brag on it a lot; I just let my game speak for itself. I hope my game fits in well and I hope I make some type of positive impact on the team.”

Mack said she has already been working on playing both the 4 and 5 positions, in preparation for the WNBA.

“In college you had to play a certain position where the coach wanted you to play, and so ff the scenes I’ve really been working on that and trying to (make that transition) as much as possible,” Mack said.

The Sparks chose Guirantes with their 22nd pick. She said the wait to hear her name called was “terrifying.”

“It was just a bunch of emotions flying around,” she said. “I didn’t know, because you talk to coaches and they’re selling you a dream. So to….just be kind of left out on an island, I can’t say I’m not used to it, but it’s OK. God has a plan for me.”

WNBA graphic.

Guirantes said she looks forward to working with fellow Scarlet Knight alum Erica Wheeler, whom LA acquired this year in free agency.

“I’m excited to hear the knowledge she has for me, going undrafted and being a WNBA All-Star MVP (in 2019),” Guirantes said. “She knows what it takes to last and survive, beat politics. I really have a number of questions for her, and I’ve already spoken to her. That’s my sister.”

Guirantes said she thinks she will find her way within the Sparks’ system.

“I know LA likes to run up and down, they like to open the floor,” she said. “So I feel like I would just fit right in with the spacing and be able to score, and also just play defense, because I love playing defense, too.”

Another projected first-rounder, Stanford point guard Kiana Williams, went to the Seattle Storm with their 18th pick. Coach Dan Hughes said Williams is a player he has watched for years, and whose game he has come to admire. But he acknowledged that she would have to fight to make a roster that already includes veteran Sue Bird and solid backup Jordin Canada.

“Kiana will have to have a strong training camp,” Hughes said.