On Monday at Spring Studios in New York, the Atlanta Dream team, looking for a versatile player to help restore their roster, selected guard Raine Howard of the University of Kentucky as No. 1 in the WNBA Draft.
On the eve of the draft, Dream general manager Dan Padover said the team is looking for a player who will bring “fresh energy and something to emphasize in our franchise”.
Indiana Fever has selected Nalis Smith, a senior striker from Baylor University, as overall number 2. At number 3, the Washington Mystics has chosen Shakira Austin, a center from the University of Mississippi.
Howard said she planned to bring to Dream the same “competitive spirit” that was in Kentucky, where she made sure to stay “calm, cool and collected” to make an impact. In Atlanta, Howard said, she would “continue to do better.”
Howard can do very little. She is in the top 10 in almost every statistical category in Kentucky and ranked second in the history of the program for women and men. Last month, Howard led Kentucky to its first Southeast Conference title since 1982, when the team handed South Carolina, the 2022 national champion, their second and final defeat of the season. Howard, who hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee, finished her senior year, averaging 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Kentucky, seeded No. 6 in this year’s NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament, lost to No. 11 Princeton in the 1/8 finals. But Howard’s career in Kentucky helped draw attention to the school’s women’s basketball program, best known for his men’s power team.
To be able to pick it up, last week Dream shocked the draft by acquiring option № 1 in a trade with Washington Mystics. In return the Mystics will receive the common numbers № 3 and № 14 from Dream. Mystics also have the right to change the election in the first round of the 2023 draft, which is expected to attract deep talent from across the country.
Atlanta finished last season 8-24, the second worst figure in the WNBA, and has missed the playoffs over the past three seasons. Adding Howard to the Dream list immediately strengthens their game around the perimeter, which should help after the team exchanged guard Chenedy Carter at the Los Angeles Sparks in the off-season.
“Some drafts are heavy; some of them are deep, ”Podover said. “It’s probably the deepest thing.” He added that this year’s draft offers the best talent from 2018 or 2019.
This year, 108 college players waived the right to participate in the NCAA, remaining on the draft, more than double that of 2021. International players and those no longer eligible to play in the NCAA will also be considered. But the chances of getting a place on the list are slim: there are 36 places to draft for 12 WNBA teams, each with only 12 places on the list. There are only 144 places on the list, and many players and fans are demanding more and more teams, wanting the WNBA to resist.
A pandemic could be one of the reasons for the increased prospects of conscription in college. Typically, college athletes are eligible to play four seasons in five years. After the pandemic disrupted the schedule, the NCAA added a special bonus year eligibility for any athlete who lost playing time in the 2019-20 season.
If they don’t get into the WNBA this year and are still eligible to participate, athletes can return to their college (provided they still have a place on the list).
Julie Roh Lach, Horizon League Commissioner, said this year’s draft class mimics the parity of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, in which six teams with double-digit numbers reached the 1/8 finals.
“You have some names you’ve been waiting to see, but we’re seeing more schools with players that look like strong draft prospects,” she said. “It speaks to the increasing talents we see across the country of these great basketball players.”
The WNBA season will begin May 6 with the participation of eight teams, including reigning champion Chicago Sky.