WNBA general managers and coaches scout most prospective draft picks for years. But how players compete in the women’s NCAA tournament might still have an impact on their draft status and could give them an extra boost regarding where they’re selected.
The 2021 women’s basketball tournament’s Sweet 16 is set, with all the No. 1s and 2s advancing, but also three No. 5 seeds and and three No. 6 seeds. Some players we thought might have a spotlight this weekend are out, while others get that chance instead. With three weeks to go before the April 15 draft, we’ve updated our third version of ESPN.com’s WNBA mock draft, and how the NCAA tournament results so far might have impacted potential draftees. (Note: The NCAA has given athletes a blanket eligibility waiver that allows seniors to return for one more year. We’ve included all seniors and those draft-eligible juniors — denoted by (*) — we think might be selected.)
Collier, a draft-eligible junior who remains our projected No. 1 pick, announced March 7 that she was declaring for the WNBA draft. She fits a Dallas need, and there is no obvious choice to push her out. Collier and her Longhorns teammates have outperformed their No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 71-62 victory over No. 3 UCLA on Wednesday. Next up in the Hemisfair Regional is No. 2 Maryland, so Collier has at least one more marquee game in the college spotlight. Her individual results so far have been mixed, with 23 points and 15 rebounds in Texas’ opening win against Bradley, followed by five points and five rebounds against UCLA, taking just three shots. Maryland, which has scored 98 and 100 points in its NCAA tournament games, will be an interesting test for Collier.
2. Dallas Wings: Awak Kuier, PF, Finland
We’re sticking with the Wings taking a pair of 6-foot-5 players with their first two picks. Just 19 years old, Kuier isn’t involved in March Madness. She’s currently playing for Ragusa in Italy, where she is averaging 9.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots, and has made 13 3-pointers this season in EuroLeague play. Kuier at this stage in her development is still building strength, but she appears to have a high ceiling.
Yes, the Dream have good guard play, including Chennedy Carter, whom they took last year with the No. 4 overall pick. So this might not seem like a real need. But Guirantes might be the best player available and able to help Atlanta, because you can never have too many scoring threats. Rutgers had a rough ending to the season, getting upset in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament and the first round of the NCAA tournament. Guirantes had 20 and 30 points in those games, and her offense has been consistent all season; she scored in double digits all but once.
Davis fits a need for a young team that’s still trying to put the right pieces together. It might come down to whether the Fever think she can improve as a 3-point shooter and stay consistent with the other skills she has. At 6-2, she is a good rebounder and versatile defender. She had a mixed NCAA tournament for the No. 3 seed Lady Vols, who were eliminated in the second round. Davis had 24 points and 14 rebounds in a first-round victory over No. 14 Middle Tennessee, but was held to 12 points on 4 of 17 shooting in a loss to No. 6 Michigan.
We don’t know yet if Westbrook will declare for the WNBA draft, but she’s eligible as a redshirt junior. After two seasons at Tennessee, she sat out a year, and is in her first season playing for UConn. She is a 6-foot point guard with good size, something that might be an asset for the Wings, and has shown a lot of leadership and maturity. In UConn’s first two NCAA tournament victories — in which they cruised over High Point and Syracuse — she had a combined 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Westbrook can make a big impact on a game without big stats.
The Liberty selected point guard Sabrina Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, but she went out for the season after an ankle injury in the third game. Evans can run the point, score and defend. She is small at 5-6, but plays to her strengths and is known as a clutch shooter. Might the Liberty reunite her with former Louisville teammates Asia Durr, Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook? Durr was the No. 2 pick in 2019, although she didn’t play last season because of COVID-19, which for her has had serious lingering effects. Jones and Shook were drafted last season. In the 2021 NCAA tournament, the second-seeded Cardinals have had slow starts, but rallied to beat Marist and Northwestern. Evans had 15 points in the opener, then really had to work to score against the Wildcats, going 5 of 17 from the floor on the way to 14 points. Next up is No. 6 seed Oregon.
It’s difficult to know how the Wings are going to handle all these picks. But if Dungee is still available, Dallas might not be able to bypass her. Sure, they already have Arike Ogunbowale, but Dungee has shown a high-level scoring ability. No. 4 seed Arkansas finished the season poorly, getting upset in the SEC tournament by Ole Miss and in the NCAA tournament by No. 13 seed Wright State. But Dungee scored 22 and 27 points in the losses, and finished the season averaging 22.3 PPG.
It seems likely the Sky want a point guard, and Pac-12 player of the year McDonald might fit as an understudy of sorts to the great Courtney Vandersloot, who has led the WNBA in assists the last three seasons. Arizona hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2005, but the third-seeded Wildcats are into the Sweet 16 with victories against Stony Brook and BYU, both double-digit seeds. McDonald had a combined 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in those games. Next will be the biggest game she has ever played: vs. No. 2 seed Texas A&M, which has narrowly avoided losses in the first and second rounds. The Aggies have a ton of guard depth, including Jordan Nixon, who had 35 points in the second round. McDonald is one of the best perimeter defenders, so we’ll see how she handles this challenge with so much on the line.
At 6-3, Walker brings a strong 3-point shooting touch to the forward position. She helped lead the Crimson Tide to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999, and Alabama won its first-round game against North Carolina. The Tide came up against the Maryland buzz saw in the second round and were eliminated 100-64. In the two games, Walker totaled 36 points and 16 rebounds, and she averaged 19.1 PPG and 9.4 RPG this season. She made 78 of 196 attempts from behind the arc (39.8%), and could be a good fit for Minnesota.
There’s no question that Mack does what she does very well. How will she do at the pro level when pushed out of her more comfortable spots on court? That uncertainty is why she dropped in the draft from No. 5 in our last mock. The Division I leader this season in blocked shots (112, 4.0 BPG), can Mack become as effective defensively in the WNBA? In the NCAA tournament, she led the No. 8 seed Cowgirls past Wake Forest, but top-seeded Stanford was too much. In the two games, she totaled 40 points, 25 rebounds six assists and five blocked shots.
Her strong senior season might have moved her up into the first round. The Storm already have Sue Bird and Jordin Canada at point guard, but Bird is 40, and Seattle might see Williams as an investment into the future. In No. 1 seed Stanford’s early-round victories over Utah Valley and Oklahoma State, Williams had 33 points and was 10-of-22 from behind the arc. She became the Cardinal’s career leader in 3-pointers (304) in the process, passing Candice Wiggins.
We’ll roll the dice a bit here, since the Aces could opt to go a lot of ways. More depth at power forward might help Las Vegas, and Cubaj’s profile has risen with the Yellow Jackets’ success this season. They finished third in the ACC regular season and pushed NC State in the league tournament semifinals before losing by five. Now Georgia Tech is in the Sweet 16 for just the second time. The 6-4 Cubaj, who is from Italy, had 35 points and 22 rebounds in two NCAA tournament victories against Stephen F. Austin and West Virginia, and she’s averaging 12.4 and 11.7 this season.
13. Dallas Wings: Michaela Onyenwere, SF, UCLA
14. Las Vegas Aces: DiJonai Carrington, SG, Baylor
15. Atlanta Dream: Unique Thompson, PF, Auburn
16. Chicago Sky: Aisha Sheppard, SG, Virginia Tech
17. New York Liberty: Iliana Rupert, C, France
18. Seattle Storm: Chelsey Perry, PF, UT Martin
19. Indiana Fever: Mya Hollingshed, PF, Colorado
20. Connecticut Sun: Shyla Heal, PG, Australia
21. Connecticut Sun: Lindsey Pulliam, SG, Northwestern
22. Los Angeles Sparks: Anastasia Hayes*, PG, Middle Tennessee
23. Seattle Storm: DiDi Richards, PG, Baylor
24. Indiana Fever: Destiny Slocum, PG, Arkansas
25. New York Liberty: Kysre Gondrezick, PG, West Virginia
26. Indiana Fever: Ivana Raca, SF, Wake Forest
27. Atlanta Dream: Tiana Mangakahia, PG, Syracuse
28. Los Angeles Sparks: Vivian Gray, SF, Texas Tech
29. New York Liberty: Kayla Wells, SF, Texas AM
30. Connecticut Sun: Janelle Bailey, C, North Carolina
31. Indiana Fever: Ciera Johnson, C, Texas A&M
32. Phoenix Mercury: N’dea Jones, PF, Texas A&M
33. Indiana Fever: Selena Lott, PG, Marquette
34. Los Angeles Sparks: Aaliyah Wilson, SG, Texas A&M
35. Seattle Storm: Raquel Carrera, F, Spain
36. Las Vegas Aces: Stephanie Watts, SG, North Carolina