Whether the Storm needed to find a center in the WNBA draft is a matter of debate, but there’s no question Seattle got great value when it selected Elissa Cunane with the No. 17 overall choice in the second round Monday night.
“The plan was to bolster our frontcourt,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “When you go through the (evaluation) process and as the draft happens certain things occur that kind of makes you pivot.
“We didn’t think Cunane would be available and we always discussed as a group that a skilled big is something that we were intrigued by.”
Cunane, a 6-foot-5 center, is one of the most decorated players in North Carolina State basketball history. During her four-year career, she’s been named to nine different All-America teams, has been an Atlantic Coast Conference champion four times and is a two-time ACC tournament MVP.
She has averaged 14.8 points and 7.9 rebounds a game while shooting 54.0% and starting 101 of 125 games. She ranks first in program history in free throws made (513), fifth in rebounds (986), sixth in career points (1,855) and seventh in double-doubles (34).
“My ability to shoot the three has improved over my time at N.C. State,” Cunane said during an ESPN interview while noting her 41.9% shooting from deep last season. “I’m looking forward to expanding that.”
Cunane was one of 12 players invited to New York City to attend the WNBA draft, which was in person for the first time since 2019.
Several mock drafts predicted Cunane would be selected between the No. 5 and No. 12 choices.
“It was a little bit unexpected,” Seattle general manager Talisa Rhea said. “We went in thinking she would go above us. As we got closer to our pick and she was available, we were excited to have that opportunity to get her. We felt like she was the best fit for our roster at that position.”
Two months ago, the Storm traded the No. 9 overall choice in the WNBA draft and Katie Lou Samuelson to the Los Angeles Sparks for forward Gabby Williams.
It’s the second consecutive year Seattle dealt its first-round draft pick after selecting Texas A&M guard Aaliyah Wilson last year and immediately shipping her to the Indiana Fever in exchange for guard Kennedy Burke.
Monday, the Storm had three choices in the second round and a third-round pick. Seattle acquired Connecticut guard Evina Westbrook with the No. 21 overall selection and Australian guard Jade Melbourne at No. 33.
The Storm also selected Georgia Tech forward Lorela Cubaj with the No. 18 overall pick before trading her to the New York Liberty for a future second-round choice.
It’s not immediately clear if the 19-year-old Melbourne will join the WNBA this season or remain overseas.
It’s also uncertain if Cunane and Westbrook will have a long future with the Storm considering the team’s projected lineup and salary cap constraints.
Currently, Seattle has 13 players on the roster, not including the three rookies. The WNBA roster limit is 12 and Quinn said the Storm plan to begin the season with 11 players.
Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Mercedes Russell as well as newcomers Williams and Briann January have guaranteed contracts, which makes them a lock to make the team.
Quinn indicated Ezi Magbegor, Stephanie Talbot and Burke figure prominently in the Storm’s plans while newly signed Jantel Lavender is expected to provide low post depth.
Presumably, that leaves veteran backup guard Epiphanny Prince and Mikiah ‘Kiki’ Herbert Harrigan, who missed last season due to a pregnancy leave, battling with training camp invitee Lauren Manis as well as the rookies for a roster spot.
“Just being transparent, it’s tough,” Quinn said when asked about Cunane’s chances of making the roster. “If you look at who we have and our contracts and all that, we have one spot honestly. It’s about coming into camp and being the best version of yourself and wowing us in a way. Maybe the things that we prepared as a staff and an ownership group, maybe we see some things in camp that makes us readjust our roster.
“It’s the mindset you have to have getting drafted in the second round. It’s not that you’re coming into a situation that wouldn’t allow you necessarily to make a team, but you’re going into a situation auditioning and wanting to be on point every single day in everything that you do whether it’s on the floor or off the court. … Go into camp and do the best that you can and just understand that there’s only 144 (players in the league). To get drafted is amazing, but the work doesn’t stop there.”
The Storm begin training camp Sunday.
— The Atlanta Dream selected Kentucky forward Rhyne Howard with the No. 1 overall pick.
— With four selections in the first round, the Indiana Fever selected Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith second overall, Louisville forward Emily Engstler at No. 4, Stanford guard Lexie Hull, a Spokane product, at No. 6 and Baylor center Queen Egbo at No. 10.
— The Las Vegas Aces had two first-round choices and nabbed Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed at No. 8 and Florida Gulf Coast guard Kierstan Bell at No. 11.
— The Washington Mystics took Mississippi center Shakira Austin with the third overall choice. At No. 5, New York got Oregon center Nyara Sabally and Northwestern guard Veronica Burton went to the Dallas Wings at No. 7.
— With the pick acquired from the Storm, the Los Angeles Sparks picked forward Rae Burrell from Tennessee at No. 9 and the Connecticut Sun ended the first round by selecting Michigan State guard Nia Clouden with the 12th overall choice.