WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations Renee Brown
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images
Breaking Down the Top Prospects
By Brian Martin, WNBA.com
With the NCAA Tournament underway and the draft just two weeks away, WNBA coaches and general managers are making their final assessments on this year's talented crop of draft prospects. We have enlisted Renee Brown, WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations, to help us break down the 2009 draft class and some of its top-tier players.
There was a common theme that ran throughout our conversation; as we went from prospect to prospect, the same word kept popping up as we discussed each player, and that word was versatility. "So many of these players are able to play more than one position," she said. "You have shooting guards that can play the point, and power forwards that can play on the wing and on the block. It's a class of versatility in my mind."
While Brown said she sees the potential for this class to produce a number of WNBA stars, the onus will be on the players to put in the work in order to make it happen. Below Brown gives us her thoughts on 19 of this year's top prospects; she breaks down their games, gives us her opinion on what the players do well and what they will need to improve in order to play at the next level, and even draws a few comparisons to current WNBA stars among the prospects.
Chante Black, Duke, 6-5, Center
Chante Black is a skilled post player that is very versatile. Not only can she post up and play with her back to the basket, she also has the ability to face up and hits shots from the perimeter with a 15-17 foot range. What I really like about her is that she plays on both ends of the floor. In addition to being effective on the offensive end, she's an excellent defender and with her size and presence she has the ability to really disrupt opposing offenses. On the defensive end, she is a great rebounder, she helps her team on traps and she is excellent at defending the pick and roll with the ability to hedge and recover with the best of them.
DeWanna Bonner, Auburn, 6-4, Guard/Forward
DeWanna Bonner is a long, lanky wing player that is also very versatile. She's really a small forward, but has the height at 6-4 and ability to play the power forward as well. She is at her best when she is working off of the dribble, where she can either score or get to the free throw line. She is also excellent in transition; she can get out and run the floor and is able to catch and finish on the move. One thing that she will need to do in order to play at the pro level is develop a stronger body. The WNBA game is very physical so it is important for her to develop a stronger body.
Sha Brooks, Florida, 5-7, Guard
Sha Brooks is a scoring guard that possesses a great jump shot. She can score in transition, either with a pull up jumper or by taking it strong to the basket. She’s really a shooting guard that is playing the point right now. She's more of a shooting guard by nature, which is a positive for her because she has the ability to either set up and run the offense or be the shooter if needed. It's great to have a point guard that can pass or shoot and she is one of those players.
Marissa Coleman, Maryland, 6-1, Forward
Marissa is one of the best athletes in this draft class. She already has a physical, pro body, which should help make her transition to the pro level easier than it would be for most rookies. She is a highly skilled player with the ability to face up and shoot the three, she can take it off of the dribble and she has an instinctively good feel for rebounding. She's also a ferocious competitor; she plays with a fire in her stomach and I love that about her. She works hard on both ends of the court and that is what makes her so special. She's just a natural. The one thing that I think she can improve, and she's worked on it this year, is her mid-range game.
Shayla Fields, NC State, 5-9, Guard
Shayla is a very athletic shooting guard who is at her best when she works off of the dribble and uses her strong moves toward the basket. I think she could improve on her outside shooting, but she is definitely capable of scoring in this league. I also like the fact that she looks to distribute the ball and get her teammates involved. She has the ability to set up a defender, pull them toward her, and then dish the ball off to a teammate for an easy shot. You can tell she really understands the game and is looking to make the people around her better.
Danielle Gant, Texas A&M, 5-11, Guard/Forward
Danielle Gant is a physically strong and versatile player that has has played a number of positions throughout her college career at Texas A&M. She loves to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim and she is able to use her body to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line. She is a strong rebounder, especially for a player under six feet tall, and is a physical and aggressive defender that can guard opposing players on the wing and in the post.
Briann January, Arizona State, 5-8, Guard
Briann January is a gritty and quick guard and another player in this class that is versatile. She really is a shooting guard that is playing the point right now; that ability to play both spots is a great asset for a team because she can help out the point guard, play the point guard herself, or slide over to her natural spot at the shooting guard. Briann has a high basketball IQ and can knock down the three. She really is a great competitor and an outstanding defender that really puts a lot of pressure on the ball. She may be small, but she has the heart of a giant.
Lyndra Littles, Virginia, 6-1, Forward
Lyndra Littles is an athletic forward that really looks to penetrate on offense. She is great on penetration and can really slash and take it to the basket and either score or dish it off to an open teammate. She's physically strong; she's great on the boards and has the ability to score with contact, which I think is really important in this league. The one thing that I think she needs to work on at this level is her 3-point shot; she's going to have to work on that and make it more of a consistent part of her game.
Rashanda McCants, North Carolina, 6-1, Forward
Rashanda McCants is a great athlete; she's fast, long and lean like many of the other 6-1 small forwards in this class. She has the ability to face up and shoot as well as take it off of the dribble, although I think that is something she needs to continue to work on. The same could be said about her 3-point shot because she's streaky from long range. The main thing about McCants is that she has the skill set to play in this league; she has the tools, but she needs to become much more consistent with those tools at this level.
Angel McCoughtry, Louisville, 6-1, Forward
Angel McCoughtry reminds me of a younger Sheryl Swoopes. She’s a great defender, she's a strong on-ball defender, she anticipates well, she gets into the passing lane and she’s got a knack for the ball. I don’t know how many steals she has, but if we tracked deflections, I’d bet you she’d be leading the country in them. She's a natural shooting guard/small forward and her first step is ridiculous; she is quick and fast. She has the ability to shoot the three, has a very good pull up jumper, is an excellent one-on-one player and she can go either way off of the dribble. What makes her special is that she can change the game on both ends of the court. Many of her scoring opportunities come off of steals and, like they say, defense wins championships.
Renee Montgomery, Connecticut, 5-7, Guard
Renee Montgomery is really a special player. I think she's led UConn as a captain for the past three years, which says a lot about her as a player and her leadership ability. She is a vocal and confident leader and she carries a strong presence on the court. I've watched her grow through her four years at UConn and you can tell that she's a hard worker. She is mentally tough, she's an extremely smart player that understands the game, she's poised under pressure and she's plays big in big games. I believe she has the ability to be a star at the next level.
Ashley Paris, Oklahoma, 6-3, Forward
Ashley has improved tremendously this past season; she improved every facet of her game and that shows you that she has a strong work ethic. She took this summer and made a huge commitment to get herself in shape and she did just that, and through the transformation of her body, now she is able to run the floor much better and she's a stronger rebounder. On offense, she faces up really well and is able to knock down her perimeter shots with a range of about 15 feet. She is also a very good passer that makes smart decisions. Another versatile player, she can pass from the high post, she has the ability to face up, she has the ability to run the floor, and she can score with her back to the basket.
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma, 6-4, Center
Courtney is a great scorer on the low block and a dominant offensive and defensive rebounder. What I really like about Courtney is that she is really light on her feet for a player of her size and she has very good footwork on the low block. She also has great hands, which is such a great asset to have in a post player, where you can just throw it in there and she has the ability to snatch anything in her reach. There are a few things she needs to work on to prepare herself for the next level, such as facing the basket and scoring away from the block. She'll also need to improve her mobility and her perimeter defense since most of the post players she will be guarding in the WNBA have perimeter skills and can face up in the high post.
Takia Starks, Texas A&M, 5-8, Guard
When the game is on the line, Takia Starks wants the ball in her hands. She is a confident player that is not afraid to take over a game when she needs to. She is a very good athlete with a nice jump shot and really is an outstanding scorer of the ball. Some people have compared her to Deanna Nolan and I think that's a fair comparison. I'd say a young Deanna Nolan right now, but she has the potential to be a very good player in this league.
Kristi Toliver, Maryland, 5-7, Guard
Toliver reminds me so much of Sue Bird - she has a great understanding of the game, she is one of the few players that can come down in transition and stop and pop - it's just like watching Sue all over again. Toliver is entertaining, she's a fierce competitor and a clutch performer; you can tell she wants the ball in her hands in tough situations and she comes through, which shows mental toughness. She's a great athlete and can play both backcourt positions, which makes her versatile and dangerous. I think her two-man game is going to be one of the best because she has two weapons - she can shoot off of the screen and she has the ability to read the defense and distribute. I think that is part of the professional game that is going to really compliment her skill set.
Kia Vaughn, Rutgers, 6-4, Center
I feel that Kia's best basketball is still in front of her and believe she has a chance to be a very effect pro player. She already has a pro body and an effective variety of low post moves. I think her biggest asset is her ability to take contact; she doesn’t shy away from contact, she takes the contact and posts up big. She has a huge presence on both ends of the court, but I believe she has to have more of a vocal presence on the court. With her size I think she can be an even more effective rebounder at both ends of the floor, which is why I say her best basketball is in front of her. She still needs to work on her outside game and be able to step out to 15-17 feet and knock that shot down or take it the basket consistently.
Ashley Walker, California, 6-1, Forward/Center
Ashley is an undersized post player, but is able to play bigger than she really is, which shows me how hard of a worker she is. While she may lack in height at just 6-1, her arms are so long that she looks and plays taller than she really is and has the ability to shoot over people. She has great offensive rebounding skills; she has a real nose for the ball and knows how to go and get; she also anticipates very well on defense. She has a finesse game and can play both inside and outside, which shows her versatility.
Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Purdue, 6-2, Forward
Lindsay is a great athlete and a very good shot blocker and rebounder. She has excellent timing off of the floor and she anticipates very well; she is able to make a lot of plays because of her anticipation. One of her greatest strengths is her ability to rebound on the offensive boards. She also has a solid jump shot with 17-foot range and has the ability to take the ball to the basket off of one or two dribbles. You'll see her slash to the basket with one or two dribbles and she is able to finish in the paint.
Shavonte Zellous, Pittsburgh, 5-10, Guard
Shavonte Zellous is an entertainer; she'll definitely be fun to watch. She’s an athletic, quick guard that is great off of the dribble and knows how to get her own shot. She can go one-on-one, break you down, and then just elevate over you. I would compare her to a younger Shannon Johnson because Pee Wee could break you down and just pull up and get her shots. So I see a little Shannon in her and a little bit of Cappie as well. Zellous has a ridiculous jump shot; it really is a pure jumper because she elevates so much when she shoots.
Last week, Lauren Hill of Mount St. Joseph University courageously took the floor for her first college game, refusing to let an inoperable brain tumor keep her from achieving her dream – and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne and Tamika Catchings were on hand to lend their support.