PHOENIX – The WNBA Draft might be a virtual event this year, but the player the Phoenix Mercury come away with Friday night will be the real deal.
At least, that’s the plan.
The Mercury are mulling its options to find a player who will best complement the team’s newly-formed “big three,” said coach Sandy Brondello, who spoke with reporters on a conference call Monday.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft will be conducted remotely and televised on ESPN.
The Mercury acquired Skylar Diggins-Smith in February, adding a four-time All-Star to a team that already had All-Stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Those three give the Mercury a star-studded core, but one the organization is hoping can benefit from a top-10 pick in the draft.
The New York Liberty have the No. 1 pick and are expected to select Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu.
The Mercury have three selections in the draft, the 10th, 18th and 29th picks. It surrendered the fifth and seventh overall picks in exchange for Diggins-Smith.
“We’re just trying to put players around who will complement that big-three, but also bring us something different as well,” Brondello said, citing an awareness within the organization that the roster needs to get younger and more athletic.
ESPN has projected the Mercury will take Beatrice Mompremier, a power forward from the University of Miami with the No. 10 pick. Mompremier was hampered by a foot injury this season, but still averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in 17 games for the Hurricanes.
Some have predicted the Mercury may be in the market for a wing-player. The team has a backcourt made up of Taurasi and Diggins-Smith and a dominant post-player in Griner. Brondello said she’d like to find a player who can help her team improve in “play-making and shooting.”
ESPN projects Phoenix will select Virginia forward Jocelyn Willoughby and South Dakota guard Ciara Duffy with its second and third picks, respectively.
Brondello spoke about the upside of projected top prospects Megan Walker, Bella Alarie and Tyasha Harris, and how their games could translate well to the WNBA. Alarie is the daughter of former Duke and NBA forward Mark Alarie, a product of Brophy Prep in Phoenix.
But it’s not likely either of the three will be available to the Mercury at No. 10.
As the league has adopted a new draft format, with all picks to be announced virtually through an ESPN broadcast, Brondello said she’s still “not sure” how the Mercury brain trust will spend draft night, given the restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re still working on that,” she said. “It’s a project. But it’s still exciting. You do so much preparation here, trying to put your team together. It’s an exciting time.”
While the layout of the draft has been altered, coaches around the league have said the draft preparation has remained the same. Teams still meet with players, still prepare with and alongside members of their organizations – except it’s all done virtually now.
“The conversations haven’t changed as much from any of the previous year,” Greg Bibb, Dallas Wings president and CEO, told reporters Monday. “It’s just now, instead of doing them in-person, we’re doing them over video conference.
“In terms of losing the NCAA tournament and the Final Four, that was unfortunate. But, I’m sure like everyone else, our preparation for the draft started long ago. Many of these players we’ve been watching for multiple years.”
Teams and coaches around the league are excited about the exposure having the draft televised on ESPN will give the league. The network plans a two-hour broadcast during which WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the picks remotely.
As Bibb said, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the league and its players.
“We have an opportunity to kind of own the sports landscape on Friday night,” he said. “I’m excited to see the chatter about and around on draft night, and thereafter, all the conversation made around the picks.”
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