with Eric Nemchock and Robocoko
It’s draft time!!
Wait, what? For the new fans, draft day is when the teams get to select their new players! It’s three rounds of 12 picks, originally 1 pick each round per team. But the actual order and number of picks on draft night changes are based on factors like chance, the team's recent record (so the worst teams can get the better players), and trades made between teams. For example, through a series of luck, losing a lot, and many trades, the Dallas Wings have 4 picks in the first round.
Why you’ll love it: Do you enjoy watching young athletes succeed? Seeing them cry happy tears surrounded by their adorable families as their dreams come true? Learning what the youths think is stylish these days? Watching them attempt to put on their new team’s hat without ruining their hairstyle? Then this night is for you. Grab a pizza and enjoy.
How to watch: It airs on April 15 from 7 pm - 9 pm ET on ESPN. The draft is once again virtual, and you can get more details on pre-draft activities and fan participation opportunities here.
Who to watch for: I called in the expert on this one. Eric Nemchock has kindly agreed to walk me through his predictions on who he thinks will be the top picks. Then, I’ll fill you in on why you should immediately become a fan.
Let’s get to it.
Charli Collier (Big, Texas)
Eric's Prediction: #1 - Dallas Wings
What Eric Says: I’m going with the crowd on this one…. Collier is 6-foot-5, she can shoot threes, she’s long, and she’s mobile. That sounds like a WNBA player to me.
The Down Low: Charli is a competitor. Perhaps because she’s expected to go number 1, some obnoxious fans have taken to chanting “overrated” at her. They should have realized that only fuels her: Here’s a video of her making a free throw and then getting a block on the other end after hearing that chant. In this hype-up video, Charli describes that she has a “can’t stop me, won’t stop me” mentality. And it's clear her opponents don’t stop her: she’s averaged over 20 points per game this season, with a career-high 44 points in one game (her opponents only got 69 total). Anyway, I am comfortable with saying she’s appropriately rated at the top of this list.
Awak Kuir (Big, Finland)
Eric's Prediction: #2 - Dallas Wings
What Eric Says: Kuier’s performance in the recent 2021 EuroBasket qualifiers had my jaw on the floor; her movements are just so fluid for a player of her size, and her skills are so far ahead for someone who is *checks notes* 19 years old.
The Down Low: Someone should alert Shaq to Awak Kuier, because then he would know there is no need to lower the rim. Here’s her dunking in 2017 (at 15!), 2019 (doing tricks!), and this year. When she's not dunking, she's making TikToks with Izzy Harrison. You can see why so many fans are clamoring for their team to draft her.
Dana Evans (Guard, Louisville)
Eric's Prediction: #3 - Atlanta Dream
What Eric Says: Evans has, in my opinion, played her way to the top of 2021’s class of point guards; she’s a bit small, but she does everything that small guards need to do in order to stick in the WNBA
The Down Low: My friend sends me regular texts demanding that the Chicago Sky draft Dana. When asked why, he responded that "Every UL fan loves her because she worked her ass off. She sat forever and waited for her chance and when she did she got back to back ACC POY." (Dana attributes her perseverance to her parents in this very sweet video.) Other reasons to be a fan include: "She loves arguing with refs and she calls them 'bro,'" "She does this like inside out dribble that looks so effortless but it’s like everyone else is moving in slow motion," and "It’s incredibly impressive she’s can play that well through those lashes." (I once saw her take over a game in the final minutes, scoring 6 points, plus a rebound and a steal for the win, all after one of her false eyelashes had fallen out.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the Sky will get the chance to draft her.
Rennia Davis (Wing, Tennessee)
Eric's Prediction: #4 - Indiana Fever
What Eric Says: Davis moves so easily on the perimeter it’s easy to forget she’s 6-foot-2. That kind of size bodes well for her development as a defensive player, and she can elevate and shoot over just about anyone, too.
The Down Low: First things first, we get names right at the Down Low (it's reh-NYE-uh). And that name has become synonymous with Tennessee basketball over the last four years. Rennia has stuck it out through multiple changes with coaching staff and teammates transferring out of the program. But she knew she wanted to be a Lady Vol. And she's now part of their history: She is only the fifth Lady Vol in the past 35 years to average 18.0 ppg. or higher in a season. The others were Bridgette Gordon, Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, and Candace Parker. That's pretty good company.
Arella Guirantes (Wing, Rutgers)
Eric's Prediction: #5 - Dallas Wings
What Eric Says: I just love her game; she’s a legitimate three-level scorer with above-average athleticism and good size on the wing, she’s a sneaky-good passer for someone who isn’t expected to do a lot of it, and you know she defends because C. Vivian Stringer will not recruit or play anyone who doesn’t.
The Down Low: I think you will find that this video of her performing a "Vivian's Child" Beyoncé tribute with coach Vivian Stringer gives you everything need to know to be a fan of Arella. (She’s #24 and the choreographer). If you need more evidence, her intro videos are impeccable (every year) and she recently saved a dog. Literally what more do you want?!
Natasha Mack (Big, Oklahoma State)
Eric's Prediction: #6 - New York Liberty
What Eric Says: A rangy forward/center who makes a ton of plays on defense, Mack has the wingspan (6-foot-11) to continue her high level of shot-blocking and overall defensive disruption at the next level.
The Down Low: I'm excited for Natasha to invite the WNBA to the block party she's been throwing at OSU for the last two seasons. With her 6'11 wingspan, she became the nation's leading shot-blocker, averaging 4 assists per game. That stat was buoyed by her incredible triple-double performance this year with 10 blocks, 28 points, and 17 rebounds. Natasha put in the work to prepare for this season. Here's a Rocky-esque montage of her back home in East Texas due to the pandemic, training with her brother with stuff they had around: logs, chairs, and cement blocks. Natasha is that contender who refused to give up.
Michaela Onyenwere (Wing, UCLA)
Eric's Prediction: #7 - Dallas Wings
What Eric Says: An explosive athlete and a hard worker who has improved her game noticeably every season. She makes difficult turnaround jumpers look routine and is only scratching the surface of her potential. She’s probably my favorite player in this draft class.
The Down Low: Again, we pronounce names correctly here at the Down Low. Like Eric, Onyenwere is one of my favorites. Her senior year, she has become a leader in organizing UCLA athletes to promote justice. She helped form the More than a D.R.E.A.M. committee, which among other activities hosts table talks about racism education. (Here is one with Gabrielle Union!) She’s also active with the Black Student Alliance at UCLA. I can’t wait to see what she does with her national platform once drafted to the WNBA.
Aari McDonald (Guard, Arizona)
Eric's Prediction: #8 - Chicago Sky
What Eric Says: McDonald brings with her a very specific set of skills — dribble penetration on on-ball defense, in particular — that makes her one of the country’s most exciting players. She’s a blur in transition and her finishes at the hoop are both aggressive and acrobatic.
The Down Low: I think the whole nation fell in love with Aari during the NCAA tournament? And to her credit, she notified us ahead of time. As she wrote her article in the Players’ Tribune, for those rooting for the other team “Man ... y’all got a PROBLEM to worry about.” I also particularly enjoyed this menacing Instagram post, where she's staring at the ball in her opponent's hands with the caption “I’m the type that’s gone get it 😤”. (She is.) Aari also comes with a ready-made meme. A perfect addition to any team.
Iliana Rupert (Big, France)
Eric's Prediction: #9 - Minnesota Lynx
What Eric Says: She’s just 19 years old, but Rupert has already begun her collection of basketball hardware, earning the inaugural EuroLeague Women Young Player of the Year award in 2020. It’s always good for the game when successful international players can make noise in the WNBA, too.
The Down Low: Researching Iliana was a little difficult because all I saw were articles in french accompanied by a photo of Iliana holding various medals. Her father was a professional basketball player, so she learned to dribble before she learned to walk. Illiana has plans to succeed at every level from EuroLeague to the Olympics to the WNBA, which has always been a dream of hers. Eric thinks it will be good for the game for Iliana to come over, but I think the rest of the WNBA should be deeply concerned that Iliana’s goals are to be “tougher” and “more explosive."
Chelsea Dungee (Guard, Arkansas)
Eric's Prediction: #10 - Los Angeles Sparks
What Eric Says: Dungee is a dynamic scorer who is fun to watch simply because she’s in attack mode all the time. She’s almost impossible to keep off the free-throw line and is a threat to shoot from anywhere on the court. ‘Offense’ may as well be her middle name.
The Down Low: Hard agree with Eric that Chelsea is super fun to watch. This article describes her as "dynamic, impetuous, [and] rambunctious," which I like a lot because she's a player that just goes for it on the court. That aggressiveness has paid off, as she averaged over 20 points this season. Arkansas fans clearly adore her: She actively sought out the role of a leader on the Arkansas team and then proceeded to excel at it. Fun fact: Eric predicts her teammate Destiny Slocum will be drafted to the New York Liberty.
Kiana Williams (Guard, Stanford)
Eric's Prediction: #11 - Seattle Storm
What Eric Says: Williams is a player whose individual statistics don’t necessarily reflect the type of player she is; I think she could be a 20-point per game player on most other teams (which, don’t get me wrong, speaks more to Stanford’s egalitarian approach than anything negative), but as it stands, she’s a consistently steady player who demands attention both with and without the basketball and would make a welcome addition to any roster.
The Down Low: The newly minted national champion! I really enjoyed this article about how Kiana plays best when she plays with joy. Yes, Kiana plays within her team system, but she's also the player on the team who can come in clutch during the big moment, like this buzzer-beater from last season. (In her words, she's always in Game mode.) She's also a team celebrator, like when she adorably accidentally dropped the f-bomb on the mic while celebrating with her teammates after making the Final Four.
Jasmine Walker (Big, Alabama)
Eric's Prediction: #12 - Las Vegas Aces
What Eric Says: If you’re talking about players who have raised their draft stock the most this season, Walker has to be near the top of your list. She’s become a really solid play finisher, has an absolutely gorgeous outside shot, and seems to move well without the basketball.
The Down Low: I love reading articles that players write about their own journeys. Here Jasmine wrote about finding her love for basketball and her home at Alabama. Basketball wasn't Jasmine's first passion: "I wasn’t always into sports growing up, you know?! I was more into embarrassing friends in Mario Kart than anything else." But when she started playing basketball, it was clear she was a natural. She got better every year and set her sights on college ball and then the WNBA. Now, she's embarrassing other players on the court rather than in a kart, like when she scored 41 points against Auburn this past season.
Shyla Heal (Guard, Australia)
Eric's Prediction: #13 - Dallas Wings
What Eric Says: Heal is, by most accounts, one of Australia’s brightest young stars, and was quite impressive in the recent WNBL playoffs, which featured some WNBA-level competition.
The Down Low: As Eric notes, Shyla has been described as an Australian star with an "enormously bright future." She's already been proving herself against WNBA players in Australia (and looking comically short next to 6'9 Liz Cambage.) You can follow along with Shyla on her new YouTube channel. Also: Here's her with her family and a bunch of dogs.
Unique Thompson (Big, Auburn)
Eric's Prediction: #14 - Las Vegas Aces
What Eric Says: She’s averaging 5.7 offensive rebounds per game — OFFENSIVE REBOUNDS! That’s an absurd number, and she’s doing it for a team that is…well, it exists, at least… That Thompson is able to function at all — let alone at an All-SEC level — on Auburn is a miracle, and I’d love to see her come off someone’s WNBA bench with the simple mission of being an annoyance on the glass.
The Down Low: I love that Unique is carrying on the Thompson WBB tradition of balling out while wearing fantastic lipstick. Declaring for the WNBA draft, she said "Instead of celebrating my last shade, I’ve chosen to apply a new coat." You can find Unique's makeup tips here.
N'dea Jones (Big, Texas A&M)
Eric's Prediction: #15 - Atlanta Dream
What Eric Says: Jones, like Thompson, has one very clear strength (rebounding) but has turned into a player whose offense isn’t just reliant on post-ups or putbacks. 18.9% of her possessions this season have come in transition, which is pretty good for a 6-foot-2 forward, and she’s also getting a decent amount of work off basket cuts — she’s shooting 63.2% on those. I’d love to have a big with that kind of versatility on my training camp roster.
The Down Low: Apparently, no one taught N'dea to share as a kid because she is snatching every single rebound. She's had multiple games with 20+ rebounds and averaged over 10 rebounds a year since she was a sophomore? Was anyone else even allowed to touch the ball?! N'dea wasn't taught to share, but she was taught to be extraordinary. Her grandmother Clara told her to be "extraordinary no matter what," a mantra that N'dea took to heart: "I actually got it tattooed on me as a reminder and I write it out if I need a confidence boost or need to step it up."
DiJonai Carrington (Big, Baylor)
Eric's Prediction: #18 - Seattle Storm
What Eric Says: This is another case of a player’s per-game numbers selling her overall impact short. Baylor has elected to bring Carrington off the bench for some reason, but she’s been awesome in that role, ranking in the 91st percentile in spot-up points per possession and posting a ridiculous steal rate of 4.8%.
The Down Low: I became a mega fan of DiJonai watching her during the NCAA tournament. I don't like to do player comps, mostly because I have no idea what I'm doing, but she reminds me of Dearica Hamby because she's that big who comes off the bench and gives you everything with that hustle. She also reminds me of Unique Thompson (above), because her makeup is somehow flawless throughout.
Tiana Mangakahia (Guard, Syracuse)
Eric's Prediction: #19 - Indiana Fever
What Eric Says: I don’t think anyone with a heart is rooting against Mangakahia. Her journey back from breast cancer has been nothing short of remarkable and it would be pretty lousy of me to hold any subpar performances against her, especially during a pandemic. How does one come back from cancer and get into game shape during a pandemic, anyway? The mental fortitude required must be immense. There’s no doubt Mangakahia has special court vision... Mangakahia’s size is a bit of a concern, but there aren’t many better operators of the pick and roll, so in that respect her height isn’t that limiting.
The Down Low: This photo is my only thing to add. I want this Australian warrior to get everything she deserves.
Selena Lott (Wing, Marquette)
Eric’s Prediction: #20 - Connecticut Sun
What Eric Says: Her height and shot profile (which is to die for — Synergy reports her taking only two mid-range jumpers all season) make her a worthy gamble. I’d trust two seasons of uber-efficient scoring over one medium-efficient one, especially considering how much attention she’s drawn from defenses as a senior.
The Down Low: Whoever drafts her will be beyond excited to add a prospect with her shooting ability to their roster. I am beyond excited to add her adorable puppy to WNBA Pet Watch. A win-win.
DiDi Richards (Wing, Baylor)
Eric's Prediction: #22 - Los Angeles Sparks
What Eric Says: At 6-foot-1, she can make passes that shorter lead guards simply can’t, and she remains more than willing to take a charge or two on defense despite a terrifying spinal cord injury suffered prior to the season. That alone should tell you everything about Richards’ approach to the game; she will fight tooth and nail on every possession no matter the score or the odds.
The Down Low: Watching DiDi on the court you'll immediately notice her signature hairstyle and seemingly relentless energy. As her mom described charmingly, "If you're not a morning person, you probably don't want to wake up around DiDi." You may also know about her miraculous comeback from the spinal cord injury she suffered before the season. Again, her mom talked about her positivity during this process: "When we were sitting in the hospital, she said, 'Mom, after I overcome this injury, I'm signing up for a tap-dance class.'" Something you may not know: When she graduated, she got a matching graduation cap for her dog (photo #5). Perfection.
For more from Eric, you can read his insights at SB Nation, Sports are From Venus, and Hashtag Basketball, sign up for his newsletter, listen to his podcast, or catch his hot takes on Twitter.
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