|Ahead of the 2021 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm, we take a closer look at some of this year’s top prospects.
Awak Kuier | Center | 6-Foot-5 | Finland
1. Youngest Prospect, Highest Upside
At 19 years old, Awak Kuier is the youngest prospect in this year’s draft class, which also includes 50+ collegiate players that have formally filed for inclusion as candidates for the draft. As an international player, she is not held to the WNBA’s rules on collegiate player eligibility.
If Kuier is selected in the top five – which is highly expected – she would become just the sixth international player with no U.S. collegiate experience to be selected in the top five of the WNBA Draft – and the first to do so since Liz Cambage was taken No. 2 in 2011. Taking international players was a more common practice in the early years of the WNBA, including a trio of No. 1 overall picks in 1998 (Margo Dydek of Poland), 2000 (Ann Wauters of Belgium) and 2001 (Lauren Jackson of Australia). All three of those picks came before Kuier was born on Aug. 19, 2001.
- 1997: Eva Nemcova (4), Czech Republic – 2x All-WNBA
- 1998: Margo Dydek (1), Poland – 2x All-Star, 8x blocks leader, all-time leader in blocks
- 2000: Ann Wauters (1), Belgium – 1x WNBA All-Star
- 2001: Lauren Jackson (1), Australia – 7x All-Star, 8x All-WNBA, 3x MVP, 1x DPOY, 1 Finals MVP, 3x scoring leader, 1x rebounding leader, 9th all time in scoring, 5th all-tie in blocks, 15th all-time in rebounds
- 2011: Liz Cambage (2), Australia – 3x All-star, 2x All-WNBA, 1x scoring leader, highest scoring game in league history
2. Studied Candace Parker’s Game
As she was learning the game, Kuier studied two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker – then of the Los Angeles Sparks and now a member of the Chicago Sky. Parker had the size and athleticism that Kuier could relate to as well as a versatility to her game that Kuier wanted to develop and emulate. Kuier’s development as a player took a major step forward when she joined the Helsinki Basketball Academy – the leading basketball development academy in Finland that also featured the NBA’s Lauri Markkanen – where she expanded her shooting range, improved her ball-handling skills and took part in drills for guards as well as bigs to develop that versatile skillset.
While her dunking videos have garnered plenty of attention (she started throwing it down at age 14!), it is the rest of her game that makes her such an intriguing prospect with an incredibly high ceiling. She can move and handle the ball like a guard, has the ability to scoring inside and out to the 3-point line. While she will need to get stronger to stand up to the more physical style of play in the WNBA, a player with her combination of size, skill and athleticism does not come around very often.
3. Already Playing Pro Ball in Italy
Kuier – who has participated in Basketball Without Borders and the NBA Academy – made the decision to forgo playing collegiate ball in the United States and instead took her game to Italy to begin playing professionally in the summer of last year, just as she was turning 19 years old. Playing with Virtus Eirene Ragusa in Italy’s top league, Kuier averaged 8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 24.3 minutes per game this season. While the numbers on their own don’t blow you away, her ability to compete against professional, grown women – including some she’ll face in the WNBA – at such a young age was eye-opening and impressive.
4. Holds Dual Citizenship in Egypt and Finland
Kuier’s journey to the WNBA is quite unique. She was born in Cairo, Egypt in August 2001, just months after her parents fled South Sudan in order to escape the region’s civil war. Two years later, the family immigrated to Finland and settled in the small city of Kotka. After moving to Helsinki to begin training at the Helsinki Basketball Academy at age 16, Kuier then began her professional career in Italy. On Thursday’s she’ll find out the next destination in her incredible basketball journey.
Family roots in Sudan –> born in Egypt –> grew up in Finland –> turned pro in Italy –> joining the WNBA in the United States
While Finland did not qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Kuier does have experience playing for the Finnish National Team and should bring Finland to higher prominence in major international competitions in the years to come.
5. What They’re Saying
Rebecca Lobo (ESPN College Basketball and WNBA Analyst): You know, everybody has on their mock draft Awak [Kuier] as being in the top two. She’s a player who when you watch, when you talk to people, you hear that she’s one of the players, if not the player in this draft who can be a true star in the WNBA.
Greg Bibb (President, Dallas Wings): Awak is 19 years old playing in her first professional season in Italy. Obviously anyone can look at her and watch her play and can imagine what her potential could lead her to in our league or any league in the world. I think the size is a given. I think her ability to handle the basketball for her size is exceptional for her age. I think her ability to shoot the basketball is above average for her size and age. Obviously I think she’s going to have to get stronger to become a contributing member of a WNBA team, but the potential with her is off the charts. It’s just a matter of what that potential turns out to be in terms of reality down the road.