Dream draft Howard at No. 1; Smith goes to Fever

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    Mechelle VoepelESPN.com

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      Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The Atlanta Dream, who traded up last week to acquire the top overall pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, selected Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard at No. 1 in New York on Monday night.

The Washington Mystics won December’s draft lottery and traded the top pick to Atlanta last Wednesday, as the Dream moved up to No. To guarantee Howard, they traded No. 3 to Atlanta.

The 6-foot-2 Howard, the SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore and a junior, averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during her senior season, leading the Wildcats in points, rebounds, 3-pointers, steals and blocks. The only other SEC player to do that over the past 20 seasons was Mississippi State‘s Tan White (2003-04 and 2004-05).

” Howard said that he was shaking right now after being drafted at No. 1. It’s a dream come to life. “

Baylor‘s 6-4 forward NaLyssa Smith, the Big 12 Player of the Year the past two seasons, was the No. The Indiana Fever selected the 2nd pick. They had four first-round selections.

” Smith said that she is hungry and can play either the small forward or power forward position in WNBA. Smith is well-known for scoring in the paint, and she believes her range will continue to grow.

Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds this past season for the Bears, who won the Big 12 regular-season title for the 12th year in a row. She was part of Baylor’s 2019 national championship team as a freshman.

The top three picks went as expected, as the Mystics selected Ole Miss 6-5 center Shakira Austin at No. 3. Austin averaged 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Rebels in 2021-22 and can be a force on interior offense and defense for Washington. The Fever were expected be big on defense and posts with the early-round picks. 4 fit both: Louisville 6-1 forward Emily Engstler, who helped the Cardinals make the women’s Final Four in 2022. The Fever’s No. 10 pick, Smith’s Baylor teammate, 6-3 center Queen Egbo. But the Fever’s selection as No. 6 was a surprise: Stanford guard Lexie Hull, who many projected as a second-round pick. But Hull, who helped the Cardinal win the NCAA title in 2021 and make it back to the Final Four this past season, impressed Indiana general manager Lin Dunn with her nonstop hustle and ability to hit 3-pointers. This was the first time a WNBA sideline team had four picks in a round. With Smith, Engstler, Hull and Egbo, Dunn hopes Indiana has a young foundation to help the Fever return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. After that season, franchise legend Tamika Catchings resigned.

“We’re gonna rebuild with young players,” Dunn said of the Fever, who last had a winning regular-season record in 2015. “I am seeing highly skilled players come out of college, but what is most important to me are the physicality of the game and the speed of it. I need players who can quickly adapt to this environment. “

The No. 5 pick brought another “sister act” to the WNBA, as Oregon center/forward Nyara Sabally is headed to New York. Satou Sabally, her older sister from Oregon, traveled to Dallas with the No. 2 pick in 2020.

Sabally had the opportunity to practice with Liberty’s point guard Sabrina Ionescu while they were at Oregon. She is excited to be able to play in the WNBA with her. Ionescu was the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft. Sabally said that Sab is an incredible point guard. “I saw her in practice every single day and I am excited to share the court avec her. ”

The Wings had the No. 7 pick this year and went with Northwestern guard Veronica Burton, who was the Big Ten and WBCA Defensive Player of the Year. The 5-9 Burton is a top-tier perimeter player for a Dallas team in need of an upgrade. Another surprise was at No. 8, as Las Vegas took Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed, who helped the Buffaloes make the NCAA tournament this past season for the first time since 2013. To get the Nos., the Aces traded with Minnesota on Sunday. 8 and 13 picks; they took LSU guard Khayla Pointer with the latter.

Tennessee wing Rae Burrell, who helped the Lady Vols to the Sweet 16, was the Los Angeles Sparks’ selection at No. 9.

The Aces took Florida Gulf Coast‘s Kierstan Bell with the 11th pick. Bell, who started her college career at Ohio State and averaged 23.6 points and 9.4 rebounds while at FGCU, won the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award the past two years. She will now have the opportunity to play for Hammon, who is the Aces’ new coach.

Connecticut finished off the first round by picking Nia Clouden, who averaged 20 points this past season for Michigan State.

Howard was the second player that the Dream selected. 1, following Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry in 2009. McCoughtry led the Dream’s three appearances at the WNBA Finals.

Howard’s 284 career 3-pointers are part of what makes her a multidimensional threat, as she is also big enough to post up against most defenders. Howard can seize the opportunity to become a signature player for a Dream franchise that went 8-24 last season and has missed the playoffs four of the past five years.

Howard was the first Kentucky player to reach No. 1 in the draft, will be close to home, having grown up in Cleveland, Tennessee, about 118 miles from Atlanta. It is huge to have it so close. Howard stated that Howard can count on the support of many family members and close friends to help him. “To go first, it’s impossible for me to express my feelings right now. Still shaking. It’s exciting. I am proud of myself. I am also thankful for all those who have been there with me. ”

Draftees were able to attend the event in person for the first time since 2019, as the draft had to be done remotely in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Among projected first-round picks who dropped into the second round were UConn guard Christyn Williams (No. 14, Mystics), Michigan forward Naz Hillmon (No. 15, Dream), NC State center Elissa Cunane (No. 17, Seattle Storm) and South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson (No. 20, Fever). The Storm also traded their No. 18 pick to New York for a second-round pick in 2023, and the Liberty took Georgia Tech forward Lorela Cubaj.

Sika Kone, a 19-year-old center from Mali, also was thought to be a potential first-rounder, but went in the third round to New York at No. 29. The WNBA season begins on May 6th with training camps opening later in the week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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