Coaches Agler, Johnson, Stocks, and Williams Discuss the WNBA Draft

Four WNBA coaches discussed this year’s WNBA draft from prospects to potential trades and everything in between on a media conference call.

Q. Coach Williams, you’ve got three picks in the first round, and I’m just wondering how big a factor do you feel like the draft can be for your team?

FRED WILLIAMS (Dallas Wings): I think it could be a big factor for us, I think, having the third, fourth and tenth pick, there being a variety of talent that we can select from, from a big to a small guard or — so we have some advantages there that I think we put ourselves in that position that was pretty much set for us before the season started and after last season, how we can position ourselves to get some young talent. Having three picks I think will be beneficial for us here during the upcoming training camp and hopefully for our season.

Q. For any of the coaches, how do you guys evaluate a mid-major prospect differently than you would a prospect from one of the Power Five or Connecticut?

BRIAN AGLER (Los Angeles Sparks): You try to watch them play against the toughest competition on their schedule. You have to evaluate how they produce against, just like anything else, the best talent that you can see. It is a major leap, not just for anybody from the mid-majors, but for anybody coming in from any of the BCS schools to the WNBA, and I think the best way to equate that is just when someone comes from high school to the college ranks, they’re playing and competing against people that are basically between 18 and 22 years old, and they come from college into the WNBA, and now they’re competing against people that range from 20 years old all the way up into their mid 30s, with just a tremendous amount of experience.It’s tough for everybody to make a team. In fact, I think this is a good draft, but I also think this is a draft where some first-round picks could get cut just because it is difficult. But we’ve seen people come in, Becky Hammon being one of them. We’ve seen people come in from midmajors and become All-Stars, so it’s not out of the realm. You see some players now in the college ranks transferring for a variety of reasons, so good players, talented players end up at different situations in college. It’s doable, without question, but it’s difficult to make a roster no matter where you’re coming from.

Q. My question is for Coach Stocks and Coach Johnson. For both of you, I want to know if you’re entertaining trades and also want to get your thoughts about Kelsey Plum as well as Nia Coffey.

AMBER STOCKS (Chicago Sky): You know, I’ll say it’s wise to always keep your options open, and so as the process drawsnearer and nearer to the 13th [of April], keeping — just keeping the board open, keeping options open. We’re continuing to evaluate players on all different levels, and we’re continuing to evaluate all different types of options, and some of those may include potential trades.

Q. And your thoughts about Nia Coffey and Kelsey Plum?

AMBER STOCKS: Well, obviously both Nia Coffey andKelsey Plum are exceptional talents. They do so many
things very well. The obvious one is score the basketball. They move well without the ball. They’re both talented defenders. They move their feet, have great footwork, and then the intangible, as Coach Agler just mentioned, there’s such a big leap from college to the pros, and a lot of what will allow players to be successful at our level is their mentality, their mental approach to the game and their mental toughness. Those two young ladies so far have displayed that they have that intangible mental toughness that just gives them a good shot to not only make a roster but have a
solid career if they can maintain that mental toughness.

Q. This is for whichever of you coaches would like to take this. I’m curious as to your thoughts onChantel Osahor, Sydney Wiese and Sophie Brunner.

VICKIE JOHNSON (San Antonio Stars): I think those are — all three of those players have potential for playing great, being good WNBA players. I think it’s going to take a year ortwo for them to develop into WNBA players, but I think they have the potential of being good picks in this draft.

BRIAN AGLER: Osahor obviously came on the scene last year when they made their run to the Final Four. Really a unique type of player with her ability to shoot the three-point shot. I think that skill right there sort of opened up the eyes to her potential. You know, she’s probably, if we’re all honest now, she’s probably 5’11” to six foot, but she has tremendous, quick hands, and she’s got great strength, and she has tremendous instincts for the game. But her uncanny ability to hit the three-point shot is what’s probably going to give her a legitimate shot of making a team. Sydney has got great size for a point guard. She played in a really good program there, a program she was a big part of in regards to rising to the top of the Pac-12, excellent three-point shooter, really good team player. I think with Sydney, how she can defend in this league is probably going to determine her longevity just because I think this was mentioned before, this league is quick, fast and strong, something those players aren’t used to, so how they can adjust that way is going to be very important, and I think for Chantel, the same thing, her ability to get up and down the floor. I watched her play defense a lot in college, and she was a factor rebounding. I think one game she had 30 rebounds. But I think people have to remember that in our league, the lane is wider, and there’s a defensive three seconds. She’s going to have to — she will be put on the move defensively, and so how she’ll be able to keep people in front of her and keep people off the glass; that will be very important. Same thing with Sydney. Will she be able to keep people in front of her? Both those people have really good offensive instincts and skill, so it will be the other intangible things and the defensive things that will determine their longevity and their abilities.

Q. This can be for any of the coaches. I’m just wondering what you guys see from Brittney Sykes.Obviously she thought about declaring for the draft last year, came back to school and had a good season. How has she improved from last year to this year and how does she project for the WNBA?

FRED WILLIAMS: I think when a player has an opportunity to refine their skills for another year, that helped her a great deal to put her in the position for this year. The ability for her to hit shots from the outside and her versatility as a perimeter player is really going to show itself in training camp. I think she is an athletic talent, and I think she will exploit that athletic talent and challenge on someone’s roster. She’s a player that really intrigues a lot of the scouts and a lot of the coaches within the league.

Q. Between her [Brittany Sykes] and I guess her backcourt mate Alexis Peterson, if you guys can share, who projects better at the WNBA level?

AMBER STOCKS: I mean, obviously they’re both are extremely talented, and they have unique attributes, both of them. So on one hand, yes, they’re both perimeter players and they both play on the ball very well, but they’re a little bit apples and oranges as far as projecting which one will play better in the league. A lot of that’s going to be determined by which roster they’re on. There’s a lot of great players who have success because they’re at the right place at the right time, and it’s a perfect fit roster-wise. And likewise, there’s other players who maybe have just as much if not more talent in certain areas, but the pieces of the puzzle don’t fall their way, so to speak, just because of the timing and where they happen to land as far as training camp is concerned. Alexis Peterson, Brittney Sykes, both extremely talented. I think they can both be players that develop in this league, and a lot will be determined by just kindof where they fall.

Q. What do you feel is the most important thing for your team to accomplish in this draft?

FRED WILLIAMS: I think that what we want to accomplish is to find the players that can fulfill our need on the defensive end, on the structure of our defensiveend, and then the other thing is we’re looking at players who can… who are really pro ready, to come on in and really help us right away. I think that’s very important. I don’t think we want to look at players to kind of wait and sit on them a little bit. But our thing is, and for me, is that I like to have a team that has a lot of speed, a lot of height and a lot of depth, and I think we have some of that process with some of the veteran players we have now, and bringing in some fresh legs into our team will most definitely help us within this draft. I think it’s still a deep draft even though some of the juniors that didn’t come in, but I think it’s still a deep draft, especially in that first and second round, to really get some good-quality players.

Q. Brian, this is for you. You have two players from Duke, Alana Beard, Chelsea Gray, kind of what they added to last year’s championship and what you’re looking for from them going into this season.

BRIAN AGLER: Well, first of all, Alana Beard is a top-notch individual, leader, and just her work ethic, her leadership, how she communicates with her teammates, her persistence. I know she didn’t get Defensive Player of the Year last year, but she could have. I mean, she was right there. How she impacted the game defensively was just very unique. Her ball pressure and her ability to be disruptive off the ball really won some games for us. And of course she was very influential in her championship, hitting a game winner in Game 1, and how she guarded multiple different types of players throughout the Playoffs and in the championship. Really a great asset. And I expect her to be the same way this year. The one thing about Alana is she’s a quality, quality person, and she takes great care of herself physically. When you talk about how some of these veteran players can influence these younger players coming in the draft, that’s one way. They can learn, and Alana is really good at this, talking to the younger players about how to take care of themselves and how to train, how to eat correctly. So she influences our team that way, and she really influences Chelsea. Chelsea is playing extremely well in Turkey right now. Her team is in the Euro Cup Championship. I was hard on Chelsea last year, very hard, and we were fortunate enough to get her in a trade, and that trade occurred on draft day a year ago. We challenged her on a daily basis. She didn’t play a whole lot for us early in the year, but she never complained. She just stayed with it. She worked hard, kept a great attitude. There was one game even late in the year that she didn’t even get in, and I texted her after the game, and I said, Chelsea, hang in there, I didn’t forget about you, I apologize for not getting you in the game, but be ready for the next one, and her response was, Hey, Coach, I’m just glad we won, and I’ll be ready whenever you ask me. That’s the kind of person she is. And when we asked her to be ready in the championship, she delivered. She’s got a great future ahead of herself for us, and I only look for her to keep maturing and developing as a player. Great individual, just like Alana, as well.

Q. Fred or anyone else who wants to speak on it, I wanted to ask about Baylor’s Alexis Jones. I know you wanted players who are ready for the pros. She’s been in college obviously five years. But what do you think of her and do you think those injuries might be a little bit of a concern for pro teams because she’s had the ACL and the microfracture this year.

VICKIE JOHNSON: I think Alexis Jones is ready for the WNBA. I think that she has done all she can possibly do on the college level. Her ability to score the basketball and also transition to the 1 is very important in the WNBA, and also able to create her own shot and create for her teammates. I think she’ll be a great pro. I think that I would still say it will take her a year or two to understand the WNBA and the speed of the game, and I think she’ll do fine.

FRED WILLIAMS: Yeah, I echo what Vickie said about Jones. Some of the things that intrigued me about her is she’s cool under pressure. She’s really a pressure shooter, deep outside while shooting the basketball. She’s a guard that’s always gotten better and better each year. You know, people lay on the fact with her injury and how she has an injury or had an injury. She came back and played during the NCAAs and really played pretty well. She’s pro ready, and I think she will give a tremendous challenge to anybody’s roster on the floor because of her shooting range, her ability to play the 1 and the 2 slot and also her ability to also put on a lot of pressure and to push the basketball.

Q. I’m going to direct this question to Vickie because right now San Antonio, you guys have two Florida State players on your training camp roster, so I’m just curious if you have any other Florida State players on your radar as far as seniors coming out of this year’s class, and in particular with Leticia Romero, what you’ve seen from Florida State’s guard.

VICKIE JOHNSON: To be honest, our options are open. We are evaluating at the 1 position and at the 5position, so it’s very important that we pick the right players because those players are our future. Yes, we are looking at Florida State players, but that’s all I can tell you.

BRIAN AGLER: Can I answer that? Romero obviously and Brown both have had really good careers there. Romero is unique because she’s international. She’s got a different type of experience playing on a team. I know she didn’t play a whole lot in the Olympics, but she was on that roster, and she has international experience playing for the national team. Those kinds of experiences really benefit people coming into the WNBA. They’re a little bit more mature because they’ve played against that type of caliber player before, so they’re not shocked when they come in there and they understand the quickness and the strength a little bit more. I think that for Brown, and I know they sort of flipped positions a little bit over the last couple years, they put Brown more on the ball and Romero off the ball a little bit more, but I think it benefits both because they have experience playing both the 1 and 2. Brown is athletic. Probably her biggest asset is her ability to go off the dribble. It’s going to be — I think both of them will be in a training camp. They’ll both probably get drafted. It’s hard to say where they go. I know people try to pigeonhole and go late first round, early second and all that, but it’s really difficult to see how that’s going to play out with those two. But I think they’ll both be in training camps whether through the draft or free agency, and then it’ll be a dogfight for them to make a roster, like most people. There are going to be very few guarantees coming in in terms of making a team in this draft. There will be people who will make teams. There will be probably a couple, a select few that start for a team, if they even need that. But once you get in training camp it doesn’t matter if you’re drafted in the first round or if you’re taken as a free agent after the draft. Once everybody gets in there, it’s a competition, and then people get their opportunities and let the thing play out.

Q. This is for any coach that wants to speak on this. I know you’re not going to disclose your hands, so I don’t want you to try to, but just talk about is there any little thing about this draft that intrigues any of you that you see that stands out that hasn’t been talked about? They talked about the draft being guard heavy, they talked about maybe not a star coming out, but just little things you want to speak on about this draft that impresses you as coaches this year.

AMBER STOCKS: You know, just kind of seeing the forest through the trees, two things I would say stand out are just the breadth of shooters at multiple positions that this draft offers, not only the perimeter players but the bigs, as well, are shooting very impressive, steady, consistent percentages beyond the three-point line. You know, that’s a tribute to how hard players are working now. On the flipside, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a bunch of finesse players out there, and so the players that are scoring the ball well beyond the threepoint line, whether it be a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 position player, are also attacking the rebounds and getting to the freethrow line. So that’s one thing that stands out as impressive kind of across the board with this draft class. And then secondly, because a lot of these players, even the ones that score a lot of points, for example, Alexis Peterson and Brittney Sykes, they score a lot of points for their team, but they also have to play complementary roles on their teams, and the way that across the board these players seem to move without the ball, set good screens, they’re not just scoring heavy, but they’re playing smart basketball, offensively and defensively I think that’s one thing that stands out throughout all of the players we’re looking at, or a big chunk of the players that have caught our eye.