Following up on her analysis of the guards, Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Ann Meyers breaks down the forwards and centers available in this year’s draft.
Based on the players she has watched over the course of the season and in preparation for the upcoming WNBA Draft, Ann offers her insight and scouting reports for the top frontcourt players in the class of 2004.
There may not be a frontcourt player that goes in the first three picks, but the sheer depth of this year’s Draft indicates that there will be several forwards and centers that will be a force in the WNBA for years to come. Of course, Nicole Powell, who may go third, can play four positions, but when you are talking about pure frontcourt personnel, I think Florida’s Vanessa Hayden and Georgia’s Christi Thomas are the top two frontcourt players available. And Kansas State’s Nicole Ohlde is either third of fourth just because of her size.
The Charlotte Sting has the third pick, and they really need to go big, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did go with Hayden. They have Feaster and Andrea Stinson, but I just think they need another big body. Also, it’s going to be hard for Washington not to take Alana Beard, but it would not surprise me if they went big as well. They could go Beard, and then who knows what might happen after that with trades. Maybe they’ll end up with Thomas or Hayden and another player who can rebound.
Hayden is pure size and strength, but needs to work on her fitness. At 6-4, Thomas has a wide body and is very strong. Not only is she very good at posting up, but she is a good rebounder, a physical force inside and will hit a 10-12 foot shot.
Shameka Christon was the best player that nobody really knew about in the country. She was the SEC Player of the Year and has the ability and skill that reminds me of a young Sheryl Swoopes. She can shoot the outside shot, put the ball on the floor, rebound and is so tough inside. Christon will be a diamond in the rough and may come in under some people’s radar. However, she will really surprise some people because not a lot of people are familiar with her.
Another player who may come in quietly but have a real impact is Rebekkah Brunson. Because she plays at Georgetown, not many people throughout the country have had the opportunity to see her play. At 6-4, she is not too that physical and isn’t really a banger, but has a nice finesse game. She is thin but is very quick and a lot of people are high on her because she is just so athletic. I know we use that word a lot with that graduating class, but so many of these basketball players are very good athletes.
Nicole Ohlde is a two-time All-American and GMs will like her size. She has worked on her outside shot and worked to improve it, but does not have consistent three-point range. She can put the ball on the floor a bit when she is around the basket and is not a face-up player that can take it to the hole. At 6-5, she also has a good inside finesse game.
A lot of people are excited about Iciss Tillis. At her height, she gives you a quickness that not many other players can match. She can put the ball on the floor and can even shoot the three-pointer. WNBA teams are enticed by her size, quickness and ability to play on the outside. She is not very physical and feels more comfortable on the outside, but she can rebound. She will never be your post-up player, but Tillis can play power forward and has great range. With her quickness and long arms, she is also a pretty good defensive player. I think she’s a first round pick.
Shereka Wright also has a chance to go in the late first round. Nobody gets to the free throw line as much as she did, and that’s a great quality. She has worked on her outside shot, doesn’t have great three-point range, but she can step out and knock it down. She is a slasher, drives and gets to the basket, likes to go to the baseline and is very quick on the defensive end. A player more known for her defense and shot-blocking abilities than her scoring ability
I could see Texas’ Stacy Stephens going to a team like Detroit as a back-up. Coach Laimbeer loves those kids that can get in great position to rebound and like to bang. A lot of GMs have talked about her lack of size in the middle and question whether or not she’ll be able to get shots off inside against the WNBA interior players, but she has played against big players her whole life. Nobody works as hard as she does and her work ethic is second to none. She has great, over-sized hands and she’ll give you everything she has.
Ashley Robinson's defensive footwork is very good, but she really has to work on her offense, be a little bit more physical, and challenge herself to score. Tera Bjorklund is a player that some people around the country may not have gotten to see play as much as well, but she is 6-6 and is a banger as well. She spent summers working out at Pete Newell’s Tall Women’s Basketball Camp and I think that helped a lot.
Jenni Benningfield is 6-3 and reminds me a lot of Vanessa Nygaard, but her footwork down low is almost better and she can shoot the three. Before the coaching change at Vanderbilt, Jenni was a three-point shooter, but now her post moves are a lot like Chantelle Anderson’s were. You can tell that Benningfield really benefited working with last year’s number two pick. If she doesn’t go in the first round, she should go high in the second round.
Of course, there are always some surprises. There are sometimes players who are not on anyone’s radar and then get picked. Ukari Figgs was ready to retire and then Phoenix took her. Teresa Edwards wasn’t really being mentioned last year when Minnesota took her. I am curious to see if someone is going to pick up Kara Braxton? At 6-6, is she in the mix? There is no question she has talent, but does anyone want to deal with the potential problems? I don’t know.
You also have to wonder about whether there are any Europeans out there. But don’t be surprised if more rookies may make teams this year than in the past. One thing we know for sure is that this draft is as deep as it has ever been, and three rounds is perfect. It is going to be a fun Draft and I am really excited to be a part of it.
Watch Ann Meyers live at noon on April 17th during 2004 WNBA Draft.