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Inside The W with Michelle Smith: Eyes on April’s WNBA Draft

The stage is now completely set for the next generation of college talent to make their way into the WNBA. The league’s new Las Vegas franchise, relocated from San Antonio, earned the first pick in the league’s draft lottery, followed by the Indiana Fever with the No. 2 pick. The Chicago Sky will get the No. 3 and No. 4 picks and a chance to dramatically remake their roster with young talent.

The NCAA season has started in earnest, with the nation’s top talents looking to finish their collegiate careers in style and hopefully lay the groundwork for their potential entry into the world’s most competitive women’s league.

Let’s take a look at 10 of the players who are likely to be considered top WNBA prospects in potential order of their selection.

1. A’ja Wilson, South Carolina. The preseason player of the year favorite, Wilson has a national title under her belt after winning the NCAA Championship with South Carolina last spring and being named the Final Four MVP.

Wilson’s numbers as a junior were not eye-popping with a roster full of future first-round WNBA draft picks around her, but during the NCAA run, Wilson provide plenty capable of totally dominating a game all on her own. So far, in the early part of the 2017-18 season, Wilson has opened with four straight double-doubles for the defending champions. Her length and athleticism makes her a difficult matchup on both ends of the floor. Also, the prospect of a 6-5 post player with her skillset will make her a coveted draft option for WNBA teams.

2. Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State. Mitchell, the high-scoring Ohio State guard, looks to be making a run at the NCAA scoring record broken just last season by 2017 No. 1 overall pick Kelsey Plum. In addition, the Ohio State guard has a chance to lead her Buckeyes team to a Final Four in Columbus next spring.

Over the first five games of the season, Mitchell is averaging 26.2 points a game, which ranks her in the top five nationally in scoring. Mitchell currently has 392 career 3-pointers, needing six to break the NCAA career mark very early in the collegiate season. Mitchell is a proven scorer, and her ability to create her own shot in the backcourt is going to make her a valuable WNBA pick.

3. Gabby Williams, Connecticut. Williams had a breakout junior season for the powerhouse Huskies and has positioned herself as perhaps the best all-around player in women’s college basketball this season. The Nevada native, who is 5-foot-11, played in the post for the Huskies for much of last season, more than holding her own against bigger opponents.

Williams averaged 14.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 2017-18, starting all 37 games. She was second on the team in rebounding and became the first post player in program history to lead the team in assists (190). She also led the Huskies with 100 steals. Williams’ versatility puts her in the upper ranks of those viewed as potential No. 1 picks.

4. Jordin Canada, UCLA. The Bruins senior is the one of the top point guards in the country, a floor leader with great court vision and the ability to score in the big moments. Canada is a four-year starter at UCLA, an experienced player who is not only among the nation’s assist leaders, but one of the quickest guards in the country, most comfortable pushing the ball in transition.

Canada is coming off one of the best games of her career, a 20-point, 13-assist effort against No. 3 Baylor last week (the program’s first win over a top-3 team since 2008), extending the Bruins’ home winning streak to 32 games. Canada leads UCLA in scoring at 17.3 points a game and 8.0 assists.

5. Diamond DeShields, Tennessee. DeShields took a pass on her last year of college eligibility to begin her professional basketball career overseas in Turkey and will return to the U.S. for her first WNBA season as a potentially dynamic swing player. The 6-foot-1 guard/forward, who began her college career at North Carolina before transferring to the Lady Vols, led Tennessee in scoring last season, averaging 17.4 points a game and to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. DeShields has great ball-handling skills, is a deft slasher to the basket and a strong defender, a versatile package that will appeal greatly to WNBA teams.

6. Monique Billings, UCLA. Long and athletic in the mold of the Ogwumike sisters, Billings has become of of the nation’s most versatile post players. She is averaging 17.3 points a game so far this season to go with 7.7 rebounds. Billings runs the break, scores inside and is a consistent scorer, scoring in double figures in 32 of 34 games for UCLA last season.

7. Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State. Vivians is the star player of last season’s Cinderella team, Mississippi State, the team that upset Connecticut in dramatic fashion in the NCAA Final Four. Vivians, a 6-foot-1 guard, is averaging 18.7 points a game in the early part of her senior season. Vivians has already proven to be a clutch player, scoring 24 points in an overtime win over Baylor in the regional final and a team-leading 19 points in the victory over Connecticut.

8. Mercedes Russell, Tennessee. Russell, an Oregon native, is playing in her fifth and final season for the Lady Vols. Russell, a 6-foot-6 center, helped to lead USA Basketball to a gold medal in the Four Nations Tournament in Tokyo during the summer, finishing as the team’s leading rebounder. Russell decided to return to Knoxville to play one more season before entering the WNBA Draft, meaning that WNBA teams will get a mature player ready for the spotlight. Russell averaged 16.1 points and 9.7 rebounds last season, the fourth-highest single-season rebounding average in Tennessee program history.

9. Kia Nurse, Connecticut. Nurse, a 6-foot guard, has the pedigree of a pro. Her father played in the Canadian Football League. Her mother played college basketball in Canada, her brother plays professional hockey in the NHL. The Huskies senior averaged 12.7 points last season on a talent-laden roster, and hit 46.2 percent of her 3-point attempts. Nurse is an effort-player, a hard-worker and team leader who has valuable international experience as a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team.

10. Stephanie Mavunga, Ohio State. Mavunga, a 6-foot-3 forward, is a player whose WNBA stock could rise over the course of the season. Mavunga is a force in the paint, who began her college career at North Carolina before transferring to Ohio State.

Mavunga averaged 11.4 points and 10.8 rebounds last season, becoming the first Ohio State player ever to average a double-double. Mavunga is in the best shape of her career after an offseason nutrition plan. She opened the season in grand fashion, pulling down a school record 26 rebounds against Stanford in the season opener.