Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins are expected to be the top three selections, and the WNBA hopes their popularity comes with them into the professional league.
The WNBA billed its draft Monday as “Three to See” based on the star power Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins established in their college careers.
The players are expected to be the top three selections, Griner already revealed to be the No. 1 overall selection to Phoenix. Chicago and Tulsa follow in the draft order, while Seattle has the sixth pick.
“The exposure that our game on the collegiate level has gotten has done really good things to our game as a whole,” said Kelsey Bone, a Texas A&M center who’s expected to be a top-five pick. “The notoriety that’s coming into this league, when you talk about the day and age of modern technology, will give the WNBA a chance to put the game on another level nationally.”
Based on league history, however, perhaps “Wait and See” would be a better tag.
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The reality is, only three top-three picks in the history of the WNBA have won championships as rookies. Storm forward Tina Thompson, the inaugural No. 1 WNBA draft pick, was the first in 1997 with the defunct Houston Comets. Cheryl Ford of the relocated Detroit Shock was next in 2003, followed by Maya Moore in 2011 with Minnesota.
Otherwise, glitzy names like Diana Taurasi and Tamika Catchings took years to win titles after stellar college careers, while stars Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw and Angel McCoughtry have never won a WNBA title.
“Brittney, Elena, and Skylar are awesome players, but none of them completely dominated college basketball,” said Thompson, who’s won four WNBA titles. “To say the impact that they’ll have on the WNBA is so huge that it’ll change the game is a little odd and it’s a bit much.”
Griner, a 6-foot-8 center, is the only one of the trio to win an NCAA championship, leading Baylor to a 40-0 season as a junior. But in the age of social media, it’s the celebrity the trio cultivated as college players that could elevate the WNBA.
With about 350,000 followers on Twitter, Diggins could rival the WNBA’s account (433,000). The versatile point guard has drawn celebrities like musician Lil Wayne to her Notre Dame games and made the headband fashionable again.
Griner finished college with an NCAA-record 18 dunks and currently has the world debating whether she could play in the NBA after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban invited her to a tryout. Delle Donne, a 6-5 wing, could prove to be the most talented after dragging sixth-seeded Delaware to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 as a senior.
ESPN is already betting on the attention the trio could bring, too, signing a six-year extension of its television deal with the league that will begin after the current contract expires in 2016. The contract is worth a reported $12 million annually.
The network plans to air 30 games on ESPN, ABC and ESPN2. Monday’s 5 p.m. (PT) draft on ESPN2 will be broadcast in prime time on the East Coast for the first time.
“Prior to this, the league has been hidden a little bit,” Delle Donne said. “You don’t see it as much. To get a bigger following we need to be seen. We need to show games on television.”
The WNBA, under third-year president Laurel Richie, even timed the unveiling of a new look with the incoming rookies. It has a new “logowoman” and shed the traditional red, white and blue colors for orange and oatmeal, like its two-tone ball.
Still, Thompson is among those skeptical it’ll instantly make the WNBA mainstream. The league isn’t in jeopardy of folding and has increased television viewership the past five years. But regular-season attendance has only made nominal strides.
“It would be a great thing if we play on the celebrity of Brittney, Elena and Skylar as well as using other players,” Thompson said. “But I was told that there was some type of survey and the reason why we changed the WNBA logo to oatmeal and orange is because people said the most recognizable thing about the WNBA was the ball. I have a problem with that … The ball doesn’t talk.”
|By the numbers|
|Baylor’s Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 center, is second in NCAA women’s basketball history in career points and first in career blocks.|
|1. Jackie Stiles||3,393|
|2. Brittney Griner||3,283|
|3. Jeannie Demers||3,171|
|4. Patricia Hoskins||3,122|
|5. Lorri Bauman||3,115|
|1. Brittney Griner||748|
|2. Louella Tomlinson||663|
|3. LaKisha Phifer||533|