By Jennifer Roback
A new generation of WNBA players were welcomed to the league on April 11, following an unforgettable draft, which also marked the league's first in-person draft in three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I get to see and shake hands and hug these players who, as I call them to have them attend the draft tonight, you hear things like, ‘You’re making my dreams come true,’ and you hear things like, ‘It’s an honor. It’s a real honor,’” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, according to Just Women's Sports.
“I can see a lot of really powerhouse marketing storytelling opportunities amongst this group. They really have personality.”
While Englebert made dreams come true that night, there were a few moments where fans questioned the decisions of the teams, with many upsets happening in the first round alone.
Among the shocks that happened was when the Indiana Fever selected guard Lexie Hull from Stanford as the 6th overall pick. Hull was a standout player for Stanford and even helped them win a national championship her junior year, however, many wonder if she will be able to keep up with the demand of WNBA players.
Indiana's general manager Lin Dunn later defended the decision during a press conference, stating that she believes that Hull was the best shooter in the 2022 class, and the team was worried she wouldn't be available for the No. 10 pick.
Another shocking pick in the first round came just shortly after Hull's selection when the Aces selected Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed at No. 8. Hollingshed was a standout player for the Buffs but many projected her to be a second or third-round pick.
While the draft might have been full of surprises, among the picks that were of no shock to fans was the Atlanta Dream's selection of Kentucky's Rhyne Howard as the No. 1 overall pick.
Howard was a standout player in the SEC and was named Player of the Year in both her sophomore and junior years. She averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during her senior year, and led the Wildcats in points, rebounds, 3-pointers, steals, and blocks.
Indiana's selection of NaLyssa Smith at No. 2 and the Mystics' selection of Ole Miss center Shakira Austin at No. 3 were also of no shock to fans.
The full list of draft results is:
1. G Rhyne Howard (Atlanta Dream)
2. F NaLyssa Smith (Indiana Fever)
3. F/C Shakira Austin (Washington Mystics)
4. F Emily Engstler (Indiana Fever)
5. F Nyara Sabally (New York Liberty)
6. G Lexie Hull (Indiana Fever)
7. G Veronica Burton (Dallas Wings)
8. F Mya Hollingshed (Las Vegas Aces)
9. G Rae Burrell (Los Angeles Sparks)
10. C Queen Egbo (Indiana Fever)
11. G Kierstan Bell (Las Vegas Aces)
12. G Nia Clouden (Connecticut Sun)
13. G Khayla Pointer (Las Vegas Aces)
14. G Christyn Williams (Washington Mystics)
15. F Naz Hillmon (Atlanta Dream)
16. G Kianna Smith (Los Angeles Sparks)
17. C Elissa Cunane (Seattle Storm)
18. F Lorela Cubaj (New York Liberty)
19. F Olivia Nelson-Ododa (Los Angeles Sparks)
20. G Destanni Henderson (Indiana Fever)
21. G Evina Westbrook (Seattle Storm)
22. F Kayla Jones (Minnesota Lynx)
23. G Aisha Sheppard (Las Vegas Aces)
24. G Jordan Lewis (Connecticut Sun)
25. C Ameshya Williams-Holliday (Indiana Fever)
26. F Maya Dodson (Phoenix Mercury)
27. F Amy Atwell (Los Angeles Sparks)
28. C Hannah Sjerven (Minnesota Lynx)
29. C Sika Kone (New York Liberty)
30. G Jasmine Dickey (Dallas Wings)
31. F Jazz Bond (Dallas Wings)
32. F/C Macee Williams (Phoenix Mercury)
33. G Jade Melbourne (Seattle Storm)
34. G Ali Patberg (Indiana Fever)
35. C Faustine Aifuwa (Las Vegas Aces)
36. G Kiara Smith (Connecticut Sun)
The league also gave an update on Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February, after officials allegedly discovered vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at an airport.
“We continue to be working diligently on bringing Brittney Griner home,” Engelbert said, via Sports Illustrated. “This is an unimaginable situation for (Griner) to be in … Certainly we’re trying everything that we can, every angle, working through with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration, just everybody in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can.”
While she did not go into specifics about what role the WNBA has had in working towards Griner's return, she said that the league has been in contact with diplomatic and legal entities to ensure the WNBA star is returned “safely but as soon as we possibly can.”
“Obviously, we’re in a very complex geopolitical situation with Russia, Ukraine, so this continues to be complex,” Engelbert continued. “We’re getting a ton of support from the government, from specialists. Her representation is able to visit with Brittney, we know she’s safe, but we want to get her home. It’s just a very complex situation right now and we’re following all the advice.”
Griner's case made headlines in March 2022, however, many have voiced their concerns about the lack of coverage, arguing that if it was someone as big as Tom Brady or LeBron James, the media would be covering it around the clock.