UConn nearly has more players (10) in the WNBA than the Pac-12 conference as a whole (15). It appears just one more will break through this year and stick on a WNBA roster in Stanford F Chiney Ogwumike. Add that Connecticut Sun coach Anne Donovan was the only visible WNBA rep (outside of the Storm) at the Pac-12 tournament and perception isn’t good for the talent in Pac-12 women’s hoops.
Donovan, a New Jersey native who starred at Old Dominion, shared the perception the new crop of Pac-12 coaches have been fighting the past five years. But Donovan saw something different at the tournament at KeyArena in March.
Stanford was upset in the semifinals by USC. Oregon State, led by freshman PG Sydney Wiese, made an unexpected trip to the championship game. USC won 71-62 behind junior G Ayria Crook (16 points) and freshman G Kiki Alofaituli (15 points).
“I was never a huge believer in the Pac-12,” Donovan said on a pre-draft conference call Thursday. “But this year watching the Big 12 conference tournament and the Pac-12 conference tournament, I was really impressed. The Pac-12 is not the conference that it used to be. It has gotten much stronger from top to bottom and their teams prepared (Chiney) for the next level.”
But it doesn’t mean Ogwumike will automatically be the No. 1 overall draft pick like her sister Nneka was in 2012. In fact, Chiney, a two-time Pac-12 player of year who averaged 26.1 points and 12.1 rebounds this season, was passed over for every major award this season. Most surprising was for WBCA defensive player of the year. UConn senior C Stefanie Dolson won that honor.
Baylor senior PG Odyssey Sims won the WBCA Wade Trophy, which is regarded as the Heisman of women’s basketball, while UConn sophomore F Breanna Stewart won the Associated Press player of the year and the Naismith Trophy honors.
The WNBA is about fit, not honors, and the top three picks are expected to make an immediate impact to get the accompanying teams (Connecticut, Tulsa and San Antonio) over the hump in pursuit of a championship. The Sun needs size but a good PG is always hard to pass up unless that size is a Brittney Griner (6-foot-8). Ogwumike (6-4) made her name inside, only attempting 15 three-pointers and making four this season. Because of her slim build compared to the veterans she’ll face in the WNBA, Ogwumike will have to shift to more of a face-up style and hone ball-handling skills.
“Chiney doesn’t have the body to be that back-to-the-basket five (center),” Donovan said. “She’s got good quickness, good feet. But certainly consistent range is something she will work on and get better at. She’s shown to be spotty. She’s shown the confidence shooting it but definitely as a stretch-four, she’ll have to keep working on that.”
Connecticut will play without Olympian Asjha Jones (Achilles) this season. It traded the rights to French star Sandrine Gruda, who didn’t want to play for the Sun, and C Mistie Bass signed a free-agent contract with Phoenix. So, size is needed to help MVP C Tina Charles inside. But Connecticut could also use a solid facilitator like Sims who’s an equally strong defender and can score like Diana Taurasi. Add that Sims is left-handed and how you don’t select her in a point-guard’s league is almost unfathomable.
The Sun is guard heavy. But none are the talent of Sims — few in the league are the talent of Sims.
Ogwumike is definitely superior, too, and a rare find. But more so because she’ll work hard on her weakness to fully transition to playing in the WNBA. She’s just not there, yet, because outside scoring wasn’t needed from her at Stanford because she overpowered nearly everyone in the country inside the paint.
“Odyssey Sims is quite the player. Everybody that thinks it’s a forgone conclusion that Chiney is going to be here with us — we’d love to have Chiney, we’d love to have Odyssey,” said Donovan, who’ll work with GM Chris Sienko in making the selection. “It just depends on guard or post, truthfully. I don’t know that Odyssey is not the most prepared player skill-wise to be in the WNBA. She’s shown she can pass the ball really well when she played three years with Griner and a lot are knocking her now that she takes too many shots, well that’s what her team needed her to do this year. She’s as focused defensively as she is offensively. Sims is a great get for Connecticut or Tulsa.”
Both were part of the 12 prospects selected for the rookie player orientation this week and to attend the draft. Which will have the ultimate honor, being the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick, will be revealed Monday at 5pm on ESPN2. The Storm, which glaringly needs depth inside and guards for the future, will pick seventh in the opening round.
Brian Agler, the Storm’s coach and GM, rarely plays his rookies, however. Since being hired by the Storm in 2008, only two draft picks remain on Seattle’s roster and neither is a full-time starter. F Shekinna Stricklen, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2012, has started 24 of her 68 WNBA games. F Tianna Hawkins was selected with the sixth overall pick last year and didn’t start a game, averaging 9.7 minutes.
Here are the current Pac-12 players in the WNBA:
Player School/Graduated WNBA Team
Jayne Appel Stanford ‘10 San Antonio Silver Stars
Layshia Clarendon California ‘13 Indiana Fever
Briana Gilbreath USC ‘12 Phoenix Mercury
Ebony Hoffman USC ’04 Los Angeles Sparks
Briann January Arizona State ‘09 Indiana Fever
Leilani Mitchell Utah ‘09 New York Liberty
Eshaya Murphy USC ‘07 Chicago Sky
Nnemkadi Ogwumike Stanford ‘12 Los Angeles Sparks
Kayla Pedersen Stanford ‘11 Tulsa Shock
Jeanette Pohlen Stanford ‘11 Indiana Fever
Nicole Powell Stanford ’04 Tulsa Shock
Noelle Quinn UCLA ‘07 Seattle Storm
Joslyn Tinkle Stanford ‘13 Seattle Storm
Davellyn Whyte Arizona ‘13 San Antonio Silver Stars
Candice Wiggins Stanford ‘08 Tulsa Shock