Notes from 2013 WNBA Draft: The Game is Growing

BRISTOL, Conn. -- The excitement was palpable heading into the 2013 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm, the first time in the league’s 17-year history the event was televised live in primetime on ESPN2. In other words, even the draft itself appeared to get preferable airtime because of the anticipation of 2013 Draft Class, particularly Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins.

WNBA President Laurel Richie said she couldn't be more excited, calling this season a game-changer for the league and a moment that will be talked about for years to come.

"We are going to look back at 2013 and realize it was a year that really changed the landscape for the WNBA," Richie said. "I'm very, very excited about the level of play and I'm excited about the players coming into the league."

How is the game going to be different this year? For starters, talent. Brittney Griner joins the Phoenix Mercury as one of the most dominant players ever to play in the NCAA. She's had everyone from LeBron James to former President George W. Bush raving about her dunking skills.

Griner logged 18 dunks during her NCAA career -- more than any other female player in history. And now that Griner is joining superstar Diana Taurasi on the Mercury, she told reporters shortly after getting selected fans can expect to see some alley-oop jams during games this season.

"Just bringing the dunking element of my game to Phoenix," Griner said. "Just that excitement. I feel like everybody would love to see D [Taurasi] throw up that alley-oop and I just catch it and slam it."

The 2013 Draft Class isn’t all about Griner, however, as Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins also enjoyed stellar NCAA careers. In just about any other WNBA season, these two players would easily be potential No. 1 picks. This year just happened to be a rare year where three players of this caliber all came into the league at the same time.

"A draft class like this one, you can't plan for it," President Richie said. "There's no work I can do sitting in my office where I say 'This is what I'd like to have happen.' But I'm sure as heck going to take advantage of it."

Skylar Diggins enters the league with one of the largest social followings of any female athlete -- sporting more than 300,000 followers as of this writing. Diggins said after getting selected she wants to use her fan-base to get people excited about the game.

"I want to use it not just for myself, but for the greater good of the league and the women in it," Diggins said. "Just to promote. We want to put butts into seats and we want people to come out and support our games. I have the best fans in the nation and they follow me and my team wherever we go. I'm looking forward to that opportunity to help grow the league. That's a responsibility and challenge that I welcome."

Diggins isn’t the only person looking forward to help grow the WNBA in 2013 as NBA Legend Bill Laimbeer has returned to the league as GM/Head Coach of the New York Liberty. With three WNBA Championships with the Shock already under his belt, Laimbeer was happy to speak to WNBA.com from the Draft at ESPN Headquarters on Monday night.

"Every year the league gets bigger, faster, stronger," Laimbeer said. "The players get more talented, more experienced and more poised because television has grown so much in the women's college ranks that many of the players are now used to being on TV, where before they were shellshocked coming into the league with all the cameras and people."

He added the result is the level of talent continues to be raised year after year for the league.

"The depth of the league has grown tremendously that it's getting tougher and tougher to get a roster spot."

Behind the scenes, the league has taken many steps to reflect how much the game has grown in its 17 years, including the WNBA's rebranding and new logo, Richie said. "That was done solely to make sure the way in which we present ourselves is a true reflection of the diversity and athleticism of today's WNBA players," she said.

The league is also continuing on delivering the excitement to fans through its partnership with ESPN, whom the league extended its partnership with through 2022. Richie says the extension "says as much about ESPN as it does about the WNBA" with regards to the commitment to celebrating female athletes.

Laimbeer echoed this commitment.

“The WNBA is the highest level,” he said. “They are tremendously competitive athletes, great competitors, and they are getting better all the time. Enjoy the WNBA for what it is, the physicality of it and the athleticism.

The 2013 WNBA season tips on May 24.