Caitlin Clark followed by intrigue at star-driven WNBA Draft

By Thomson Reuters Apr 14, 2024 | 1:57 PM

Two decades have passed since a pro basketball draft attracted so much in the way of hoopla, headlines and hope.

It was 2003, and there was no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers would use the No. 1 pick on LeBron James, a generational talent from nearby Akron, Ohio, who would arrive to help rebuild the franchise. The city reached a frenzy with James on board — especially when he took a team that was 17-65 the season before his arrival to the NBA Finals in his fourth season.

The scene is being repeated in Indianapolis, where excitement has reached, well, a fever pitch, as the Indiana Fever will — barring an unfathomable change of direction — select Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft Monday night.

Clark, who in the recently completed season became the all-time leading scorer in college basketball Division I history, is another Midwesterner primed to help turn around a team. The Fever won the WNBA title in 2012 but haven’t reached .500 — or the playoffs — since 2016. She’s expected to step right into the lineup at point guard, complementing last year’s No. 1 pick, Rookie of the Year center Aliyah Boston, and forward NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 overall selection in 2022.

Ticket prices already are soaring for Fever games, and 36 of the team’s 40 games will be nationally televised.

“One of the things that’s kind of special about it is that she’s staying in the Midwest, going to Indiana,” ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo, who played six seasons in the WNBA, said in a virtual news conference. “It’s such a perfect fit in terms of that. Would she have done great no matter where she goes? Of course, but the fit in Indiana … it just seems kind of perfect. The hero of the heartland is going to be staying there and leading this team. In terms of attention, we’ve never ever, ever seen anything like this.”

Once Clark’s name is called from the draft stage in Brooklyn on Monday, attention will turn to the rest of a talented draft class, with the Los Angeles Sparks on the clock. The Sparks (17-23 last season) have missed the playoffs the past three seasons and have the second and fourth picks, giving them a chance to build a young foundation.

General manager Raegan Pebley told the Los Angeles Times the picks are “an incredible opportunity for our organization.

“We definitely want to see two players that not only have the skill set to make an impact early but also a long runway ahead of them. Opportunities to develop, opportunities to not only be excellent in what they do but how they impact the other pieces around them as we continue to build this team.”

Many mock drafts agree that the Sparks will take 6-foot-4 Cameron Brink, who won the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Brink averaged 17.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game at Stanford.

The next two players off the board could be 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso, who won the national championship last week with South Carolina, and Tennessee forward Rickea Jackson.

Cardoso averaged 14.4 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Gamecocks, while the 6-2 Jackson led the Volunteers in scoring (20.2 points) and rebounds (8.2).

Other players who could be taken in the first round of the three-round draft (12 per round) include forwards Aaliyah Edwards of UConn, Alissa Pili of Utah and Angel Reese of LSU, as well as guards Jacy Sheldon from Ohio State, Charisma Osborne of UCLA, Nika Muhl from UConn and Dyaisha Fair of Syracuse.

Jessika Carter, a post player from Mississippi State, also could be taken in the first round.

Like the Sparks, the Chicago Sky (Nos. 3 and 7) and Dallas Wings Nos. 5 and 9, each have a pair of picks.

The Seattle Storm and Vegas Aces won’t have their first pick until the second round, while the Phoenix Mercury’s only draft selection is in the third.

Coverage of the draft begins at 7:30 p.m. ET Monday on ESPN.

–Field Level Media