Stanford's Ogwumike expected No. 1 in WNBA Draft
There isn't a likely franchise player in tonight's WNBA draft, such as Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry, Tina Charles and Maya Moore — the No. 1 picks the last four years.
Those wanting to select 6-foot-8 sensation Brittney Griner will have to wait until next year.
But the teams with the top picks don't really need a marquee player to build around. They're just looking for someone who can help the team and develop into a star down the road.
The Los Angeles Sparks are expected to select Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike at No. 1 overall. She led the Cardinal to consecutive Final Fours, losing to eventual champion Baylor this season.
Ogwumike would join a crowded Los Angeles frontcourt that includes Parker, veterans DeLisha Milton-Jones and Ebony Hoffman, second-year center Jantel Lavender and fifth-year center Nicky Anosike.
"Assuming that that happens and I end up in L.A., I think I'm looking forward to playing with a lot of experienced posts," said the 6-foot-2 Ogwumike, who averaged 22.5 points and 10.2 rebounds this season. "I can still elevate my game at this point, but I think it will be good to see what I can learn from people."
The Sparks, who have a new coach in former Atlanta assistant Carol Ross and added former All-Star Alana Beard, also have three of the first four picks in the second round.
After Ogwumike, this year's draft will be wide open. Miami's Shenise Johnson, Tennessee's Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters and Natalie Novosel, and Miami's Riquana Williams are among the top players available. Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis and Connecticut's Tiffany Hayes could also be picked in the first round.
Seattle, which won its second league championship in 2010, gets the No. 2 selection.
"This pick for us will be somebody that we feel doesn't have to be a starter right away," Seattle coach and general manager Brian Agler said on a conference call, "but at some point in their career, can be a significant piece of the puzzle for the Seattle Storm."
The Storm acquired the pick from Chicago in an offseason trade that sent Swin Cash to the Sky. Seattle is led by perennial All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, and added former All-Star Tina Thompson to a lineup that also includes Katie Smith and Tanisha Wright.
Defending champion Minnesota selects third, thanks to a trade with Washington before last season. The Lynx return nearly all of its roster from last season, when they steamrolled their way to their first title.
"The 2011 season is kind of in the books and now we have got to gear up to figure out how we can put ourselves in position again to contend in 2012," said Lynx coach of the year Cheryl Reeve.
Anyone picked by Minnesota will have a backup role.
"We are in a unique situation in that we feel like we have talent and depth at each position," Reeve said. "We certainly expect that player to be somebody to be helpful to us. It may not be in the immediate future, but we would certainly have a plan for that player that would require patience."
Tulsa — which was a league-worst 3-31 last season and has just nine wins in two seasons since moving from Detroit — picks fourth, followed by San Antonio, Phoenix, New York and Indiana. Then Lynx then pick again to close the first round, and — thanks to several other trades — also have the sixth, seventh and eighth selections of the second round, giving them five picks in the first 20.
Gary Kloppenburg, a former Fever assistant hired in the offseason to become the Shock's third coach in three seasons in Tulsa, believes his team has a "good young core" that is ready to turn things around.
"I think that's going to be our biggest challenge," he said. "Increase the talent level through the draft and free agency, and put together a good training camp and really try to get out of the gate on a winning note."
Kloppenburg said while some teams could try to deal some of this year's picks for some next year, that's unlikely because of the expected deeper talent pool that will include Griner and Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.
"Nobody really wants to give up any picks for next year's draft just because of those reasons, the high quality of players that are coming out," Kloppenburg said. "There definitely will be a lot of talk and coaches and GMs trying to maneuver to do that."
Notre Dame's Peters struggled with two ACL injuries early in her career, but played the last two seasons without any problems. She averaged 11.8 points and 9.3 rebounds as a senior, helping the Irish reach the national championship game for the second straight year. Notre Dame lost to undefeated Baylor in the NCAA final two weeks ago.
The 6-2 forward doesn't believe her knee injuries are an issue anymore and shouldn't impact evaluations of her in the draft.
"I haven't had any problems with them in the past couple years, I haven't had to sit out of practice or games because of my knees," Peters said. "I think people bring it up because of all that I have been through. ... I think it's something that's in the past for now."
She'll be one of several players angling for minutes in the WNBA, which starts its 16th season on May 18. Training camps open April 29.
"We have got a league that's very strong," Reeve said. "Each team has quality players. These players that are about to be drafted are going to have to come in and find a role, find a way that they can to fit best on the team and be impactful."