We know their stats and their accolades but for some of the top players in the upcoming WNBA Draft, should they renounce their remaining NCAA eligibility and make themselves available for the draft, there are those things that we all don’t know as well.
NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
NaLyssa Smith is on the phone, talking to her parents in San Antonio, and while they are catching up, Smith has a canvas in front of her and a paintbrush in hand.
Smith, the Baylor All-American who is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2022 WNBA Draft, has become a painter.
Smith picked up painting as a hobby during the quarantine period of the pandemic in 2020. “It’s something I picked up just to keep myself entertained and keep my mind away from everything,” Smith said to NCAA.com.
Sunsets, mountains, profiles…they are all part of Smith’s new collection along with a box full of acrylic paints and a few computer files for inspiration.
She proudly shows her parents her latest creation and laughs. Then she signs her painting with a quick “NS”.
Getting better all the time. Just like her game.
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
The Kentucky star, who came to Lexington by way of Cleveland, Tennessee, found a way to pay tribute this season to those who mean the most to her.
When her teammate and roommate, senior guard Blair Green, sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in October, Howard honored Green by wearing her No. 5 jersey with “Green” on her back during Senior day, as well as an SEC Tournament win over Mississippi State. Blair and Howard have been “best friends since stepping on campus”, Blair said last fall.
The gesture had a double-meaning for the Wildcats guard and two-time All-American as that No. 5 also honored former Kentucky men’s basketball player Terrence Clarke, who died in April 2021 in a tragic car accident and was one of Howard’s close friends.
Shakira Austin, Ole Miss
One day, the 6-foot-5 Mississippi standout says, she wants to own her own restaurant.
“My dad always told me that I was more than a basketball player,” Austin told NCAA.com. “I cook all the time.”
Austin also said that she wants to travel around the world and sample the food, perhaps even on her own TV show. And then she wants to come home and cook it all for friends, family and teammates.
She said she learned cooking – and sewing – from watching YouTube videos during the pandemic.
“One day, I want to have a restaurant,” Austin said. “No offense, but Mississippi doesn’t have the best food options. So I cook all the time.”
Is “Cooking with Kira” in her future?
Nyara Sabally, Oregon
Nyara Sabally, the 6-foot-5 Ducks post player whose sister Satou preceded her path from Oregon to the WNBA for the Dallas Wings, where she has played for the last two seasons.
Younger sister’s path has been much different. Sabally has played just 47 games in her college career because of knee injuries.
Sabally lost the first two seasons of her college career to knee injuries and the opportunity to play alongside her big sister.
“It’s definitely been hard, but it’s just part of my college career. I think it makes me stronger,” Sabally said. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. So I’ve just accepted it and moved forward. It’s part of sports, so you live with it and deal with it.”
In what was likely the final game of her college career, a first-round loss to Belmont in the NCAA Tournament, Sabally finished with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 7 blocks.
Naz Hillmon, Michigan
A long legacy
Hillmon, the Wichita native who has collected 50 career double-doubles and will go down as the greatest player in the history of the Michigan program, is just living out her legacy.
Her mother, NaSheema Anderson, was an All-American basketball player at Vanderbilt (and also recruited by Pat Summitt) in the mid-1990’s and played two seasons in the American Basketball League for the Nashville Noise.
Her grandmother, meanwhile, played at Cleveland State University. And her godmother is Tennessee legend Sameka Randall Lay.
But the basketball bloodline runs even deeper for Hillmon, whose uncle, aunt and grandfather all played basketball, winning Ohio State championships.
Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.
NCAA players mentioned in this article will become eligible for the 2022 draft at such point as they renounce their remaining NCAA eligibility and thereby make themselves available for the draft.