The Opportunity of a Lifetime
In any sport, athletes have aspirations of playing their sport at a professional level. This Thursday at the WNBA Draft, that dream will come true for a select few.
For Louisiana State guard Allison Hightower, she knows what kind of chance this is.
“I’m just excited to have this opportunity to be in the draft,” said Hightower. “There are great players in this league, and I’m looking forward to continuing my career in the pros.”
Growing up in Texas, Hightower has fond memories of watching the WNBA as a child.
“The Comets were a big thing in Houston,” she said. “I remember watching those games when I was younger.”
Hightower now has the unique opportunity of playing in the same league as the players did that she idolized growing up.
The experience will be a little different for former Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince, who left the college game after her junior year to play overseas in Europe.
“It means a lot to come home and play in front of my family and friends and just to show them how much I’ve grown as a player and person,” Prince said.
The question most have about Epiphanny is whether or not playing in Europe for a year will help or hurt her development in the WNBA. If you ask Price herself, she doesn’t think it will hurt.
"I’m excited about my opportunity to go to the next level and be able to apply everything I’ve learned over here and bring it to the WNBA,” she added.
As the draft is just hours away, the anticipation will build for every woman hoping to get selected in this year’s process. The countless hours spent in the gym will finally be rewarded, and players across the country will finally be able to play the game they love at the professional level.
“It’s a great opportunity for women to be able to play here in the WNBA,” said Hightower. “It’s a great opportunity for all of us to continue to play.”
Several WNBA teams have them and every team needs them: guards who can impact the game by scoring, distributing and defending.
Considering the concentration of talent and the pre-existing quality players at the guard position in the WNBA, it might be the most competitive year yet for guards coming out of college.
“The guard spot will be the toughest spot to make a team,” said ESPN WNBA Analyst Carolyn Peck. “There are so many experienced players. At that position it’s extremely competitive.”
With so many ball-handling scoring threats in this year’s draft class, the guard position should only get stronger.
“This draft year is going to be interesting,” said Los Angeles Sparks Head Coach Jennifer Gillom. “It’s definitely a guard heavy draft. There are some talented players out there at the guard position … [Epiphany] Prince, [Monica] Wright, [Andrea] Riley.”
Players like Prince, Wright and Riley who, in another year, might be locks to go at the top of the draft, know they are in a unique group that is deep with talented guards.
“I’m getting more and more excited about this whole thing,” said Monica Wright, a senior guard at the University of Virginia. “I heard it’s a guard heavy draft. It’s going to be exciting to see where everybody goes.”
The depth at the guard position requires the draft picks to be willing to to be more versatile.
“I’m most comfortable on the perimeter as a guard, at Shooting Guard more than at the Point,” said Wright when asked where she thinks she’ll play in the WNBA. “I can see myself around the perimeter at the One, Two or Three, wherever the team needs me.”
The depth allows general managers and head coaches to focus on filling specific needs. Take the Sparks for example.
“We definitely want to get a shooting guard to compliment [Candace Parker],” said Gillom. “It’s hard to say what player we’re looking at, but it’s a guard who can shoot the Three.”
With the depth and quantity of talented players at the guard position entering this year’s draft, fans can expect two things. There are going to be plenty of excellent guards taken tomorrow and the level of guard play in the WNBA in 201 should be exciting.
Danielle McCray and Jayne Appel are excellent women’s college basketball players. They’ve both had injuries affect their senior year and on Thursday, it is expected that they’ll both become 2010 WNBA Draft picks.
The question is: How does an injury during senior year affect the draft stock of a WNBA prospect? Considering they have two different skill sets and they suffered two different injuries at two different times throughout the year, only time will tell. But ask McCray, a senior at Kansas, and it’s evident she’s not sure how things will end for her.
“I feel blessed to be looking forward to the [WNBA],” McCray said. “I have some mixed emotions with my injury. I’m excited and nervous.”
Jayne Appel, a senior at Stanford had off-season knee surgery and recovered in time to play her senior season. She’s played the entire season but her numbers are down from a year ago.
How do WNBA general managers and coaches put together an accurate evaluation of a player who may have played at less than full strength throughout her senior season, or even of a player who was forced to miss her senior season?.
“[Appel is] a player that clearly, if you look at it from a senior year standpoint, hasn’t had the type of year she or Stanford had hoped for,” said Minnesota Lynx Head Coach Cheryl Reeve. “It’s one of those things that, if you do your homework and you know Jayne, it’s a compilation of her career. Her mobility is the one thing in question right now.”
For Appel her resume at Stanford might be enough to keep her at the top of the WNBA Draft board. The nature and timing of McCray’s injury are most likely to blame, but her place in the draft is more uncertain.
“Her injury has huge implications,” said ESPN WNBA Analyst Rebecca Lobo. “She’ll be a steal in the second round for someone who can wait a year. She’s a talented, talented player. The team where she’ll fit is going to be a team in a situation where they don’t need to fill a need right now.”
So it appears there is no set way for coaches and GMs to evaluate players who have had injuries affect their senior season. There’s little left for McCray and Appel to do except wait and stay positive.
“The day I got injured, it was real hard knowing my senior season was over,” said McCray. “I was a bit upset. As far as the impact on the draft, I feel like it won’t impact me as far as being drafted, but it will impact the pick and the order.
“There are a lot of great guards. It’s about what team needs me right away. Obviously I can’t play this year. That’s the main thing. It’s just a setback.”
There are several things that can happen to a women’s college basketball player her senior year that can affect her draft stock.
She can lead her team on a deep run through the NCAA Tournament. She can work on her ball-handling or shooting skills. She can injure herself and be forced to miss parts of the season (we’ll take a closer look into that one tomorrow).
Or, in the case of Epiphany Prince, she can forego her senior season altogether and play professionally in Europe. Prince played for three full seasons at Rutgers University and instead of playing her senior season and graduating, she headed overseas and played in Russia for a short while and then in Turkey.
So the question is: Did her decision to play overseas instead of finishing college help or hurt her heading into Thursday’s WNBA Draft?
ESPN WNBA Analysts Carolyn Peck offered her opinions on Prince’s decision.
“At Rutgers Prince was relied on to produce points,” said Peck. “In the pros if she’s going to play point, she’s going to have to distribute. She’s going to need to know when she’s supposed to score and when she’s supposed to distribute. It sounds like [playing overseas] has been a good opportunity to learn that.”
Because of the minimal availability of game tape of Prince playing in Europe for coaches and analysts in America, Prince has turned into something of a question mark. The experts suggest the decision should have a bigger impact on her mentally, than physically.
“She played on a team where she was expected to score,” said Rebecca Lobo a WNBA Analyst for ESPN. “When you’re playing for money you can’t just have a bad game and it’s OK. There’s a lot more pressure, a team is relying on you. I think that’s going to help her mentally, be ready for the WNBA.”
However, talking to Prince, she knew early in her time overseas that it was the right decision for her.
“I think when I got to Russia and stepped on the court and was playing against [Diana] Taurasi, [Sylvia] Fowles and [Janel} McCarville …” Prince said. “When I got on the court there and was able to play against them and they started teaching me the details of the game, that’s when I knew it was the right thing for me to do.”
As far as her position in the draft goes, we’ll have to wait for Thursday.
On Tuesday, March 30 the Chicago Sky officially announced that it had acquired WNBA All-Star Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld from the New York Liberty in a monster three-team deal.
In exchange for Christon and Kraayeveld, the Liberty got WNBA All-Star Cappie Pondexter and Kelly Mazzante from the Phoenix Mercury. The Liberty also received the Sky’s second round pick in the 2010 WNBA Draft.
Phoenix received WNBA All-Star Candice Dupree from Chicago to complete the deal.
With all the established WNBA talent changing hands just over a week before the 2010 WNBA Draft, the trade is sure to impact the draft.
Here is what ESPN WNBA Analysts Carolyn Peck and Rebecca Lobo had to say about how the trade could influence the draft from the Sky’s perspective:
“This trade was a win for all three teams,” said Peck. “For Chicago to get Kraayeveld and Christon, that will allow them to spread the floor out, allowing [Sylvia] Fowles to be isolated inside and bring more scoring power to the Sky.”
Lobo added, “[The trade] will impact Chicago. Before they made the trade you were assuming they’d take a scoring perimeter player. Now you have to put in a post player as a potential pick at the four spot for Chicago.”
So if the Sky is going to go with a post player with its first round pick, like Lobo suggests, the question becomes: who will be available at the fourth pick?
“Kelsey Griffin (Nebraska) is going to play the Four in the WNBA because of her size. She can step outside and shoot the three. She could go in the draft as high as four to Chicago.”
Jayne Appel - 6’4”, center from Stanford.
Hometown: Berkeley, California. High School: Carondelet.
Sr. Season: 13.6 PPG / 8.7 RBG / .543 FG%
Hobbies: Water Polo and hanging out with friends.
Danielle McCray - 5’11”, guard from Kansas.
Hometown: Boynton Beach, Florida. High School: Olathe East.
Sr. Season: 19.8 PPG / 7.2 RBG
Career aspirations: Computer programmer and WNBA.
Jacinta Monroe - 6’5”, forward from Florida State.
Hometown: Ford Lauderdale, Florida. High School: Stranahan.
Jene Morris - 5’9”, guard from San Diego State.
Hometown: San Francisco, California. High School: Urban.