WNBA Draft 2020 recap: Liberty select Sabrina Ionescu No. 1, league honors Kobe and GiGi Bryant

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While this year’s WNBA draft may not have had the traditional pomp and circumstance of more traditional in-person drafts, Cathy Engelbert, the league and ESPN still attempted to put together the best experience they could and make the most they could of a difficult situation.

Prior to the announcement of the official picks, the WNBA made good on its promise to honor Kobe and Gianna Bryant, who tragically lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Southern California earlier this year.

There was a moving tribute to the victims of that crash at the outset of ESPN’s draft coverage that included the announcement that the WNBA had drafted Gianna Bryant and her two teammates – Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester – as honorary selections.

The WNBA would honor Kobe and Gigi Bryant in another manner as the draft reached its conclusion – and could have been the explanation for why the third round selections were chosen as fast as they were.

As far as the first overall selection was concerned (and held by the New York Liberty), the worst kept secret and women’s basketball was finally revealed (and New York no longer had to pretend that the first overall selection was a mystery) as Engelbert announced Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu as the Liberty’s pick at No. 1.

With her playing days at Oregon, Ionescu is used to wearing green. But putting on the seafoam in the WNBA’s flagship city is an entirely different experience.

And if one needed any clue on how popular she is, her WNBA draft jersey was immediately put on sale after Engelbert announced New York’s pick (and was sold out in no time).

I just think being a part of a younger team and just trying to learn from them and seeing where I fit in, what role I’m gonna play is exciting and just bringing a competitive spirit that I have and just excited to get there and start working with the team and hopefully just continue to use my platform and what I did at Oregon and bring that in the Liberty.

–Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty

They have great guards there. Their ability to shoot and spread the floor out, but also run in transition. Walt (Hopkins) runs a great offense, and the pick-and-roll is something that I’m familiar with. Being able to enter an offense where it’s really similar to what I’ve been playing with the last four years is exciting. I’m excited to continue to grow my game in that aspect.

–Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty

The second overall selection was held by the Dallas Wings, who like New York, had three picks just in the first round alone because of trades the last few years with teams such as the Liberty and Las Vegas Aces. Greg Bibb’s first pick was also familiar to those who are the most familiar with Ionescu as they chose her teammate Satou Sabally second overall.

Third was the Indiana Fever – a team that has become no stranger to top overall draft picks and could be seeing its rebuild begin to start bearing fruit. Lauren Cox in one of DraftSite’s earlier mocks was thought to be going second to Dallas and stay in her home state. Instead, she was selected third overall and will be on her way from the Lone Star State to the Hoosier State.

Name us an organization that has had a busier offseason than the Atlanta Dream. One would be hard pressed to find one.

From getting Glory Johnson, Kalani Brown, Shekinna Stricklen and Courtney Williams, losing Angel McCoughtry, debuting a new logo, moving to a new arena, one of its owners becoming a senator and even retiring its mascot, the Dream have been a one-team offseason news feed (fittingly enough in the town that is home to CNN).

They also held the final lottery pick of the first round – and Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter will soon don the Dream’s updated uniforms.

Did we mention earlier that the Wings had a lot of picks this first round. One of those selections was the fifth pick. And while who they eventually selected was mostly overshadowed throughout much of the college season because she played at Princeton, Bella Alarie will call north Texas her hoops home as the Wings chose her at No. 5.

The Minnesota Lynx picking at No. 6 represented the first selection from a team that made last season’s playoffs. And they threw the entire draft a curveball by selecting one of Dawn Staley’s players from South Carolina – but not Tyasha Harris.

The Gamecock in question was Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.

The Gamecock that was projected to be drafted six to Minnesota was actually drafted seventh to Dallas – a team that has had a history of drafting Gamecocks in recent years (Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis).

Dallas’ final selection of the first round at No. 7 was indeed Ty Harris.

The eighth pick of the draft – the Chicago Sky’s – represented an intriguing point in the draft regarding one Ruthy Hebard of Oregon. Both the Sky and Liberty (who had the ninth pick) had their eye on Hebard and New York was likely hoping that when Chicago picked that a name other than Hebard would be called by the commissioner.

Instead, James Wade and the Sky gave Jonathan Kolb the Dikembe Mutumbo treatment by bringing Hebard to the Windy City.

With the Liberty’s reported plan to reunite Ionescu and Hebard in Brooklyn crushed, it was Plan B time for New York at No. 9.

After the Sky’s pick, three of the ensuing five selections were held by the Lib. And Kolb went across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut for that No. 9 selection as Megan Walker was the first player selected from the Geno Auriemma factory known as UConn.

I’m excited. I’ve played with Kia Nurse and I’m excited to play with other Huskies, and as well as Sabrina (Ionescu), working out with her this summer, you know I’m just excited for this whole experience in New York.

–Megan Walker, New York Liberty

So, I talked to New York quite a bit throughout the whole process. As soon as I announced, they were one of the first, well, they were the second team, to contact me. We really had a great conversation and we bonded over the phone. It’s kind of like a family type of thing, type of conversation.”

–Megan Walker, New York Liberty

The tenth pick in the draft would eventually be the source of our first trade – even though Rebecca Lobo hinted on ESPN that it could have been the Walker drafting that may have been New York trade bait. Instead, the Phoenix Mercury chose Jocelyn Willoughby out of Virginia with the tenth pick.

Except – she was later dealt to the Liberty in a deal for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough – the same Shatori Walker-Kimbrough that the Washington Mystics sent this same week to Brooklyn in the Tina Charles trade.

Obviously, the coaching staff is new and the culture they’re trying to build in Brooklyn is one that I’m excited about. Having players who are very passionate and committed players, and I think that’s something that resonates with being a hard worker and a passionate player myself.

–Jocelyn Willoughby, New York Liberty

It was an emotional night. Just super, super exciting and being able to share it with so many people that groomed me along the way was so special. It’s kind of like a dream come true. I was with my immediate family here at home, but I organized a Zoom call and invited coaches who taught me how to do my first layup to my college coaches and teammates.

–Jocelyn Willoughby, New York Liberty

After the No. 10 selection, then came that of the No. 11 selection which put the Seattle Storm on the clock for the first time. The Storm acquired the No. 11 selection from the Connecticut Sun in the deal that sent Morgan Tuck from the Constitution State to the Emerald City.

That pick was an international selection as Dan Hughes chose Kitija Laksa of Latvia and the University of South Florida 11th.

Fittingly enough, the Liberty bookended the draft’s first round with the 12th pick after drafting Ionescu No. 1. And just as the Wings have developed an affinity for drafting Gamecocks, New York has developed a knack (instead of Knick) for choosing Louisville Cardinals.

After all, this is the same Liberty team that drafted Asia Durr second overall last year’s draft. Brooklyn started the L1C4 reunion by closing the draft with the selection of the Cards’ Jazmine Jones.

And as the second round of picks began, the Liberty kept the “Lou York” vibes going with selecting Kylee Shook from Jeff Walz’s hoops factory in Derby City.

Kathleen Doyle of Iowa was the Fever’s selection with the 14th overall pick followed by the Liberty who at 15th went with Leaonna Odom out of Duke. Speaking of reunions, with the 15th pick, the Lynx selected Crystal Dangerfield of UConn – Napheesa Collier’s alma mater.

After Brittany Brewer was chosen out of Texas Tech by the Atlanta Dream, the Mercury went with Te’a Cooper out of Baylor with the 18th overall selection.

Another from Texas was selected 19th when the Storm chose Longhorn Joyner Holmes. The Los Angeles Sparks made a splash with its first pick by going with Beatrice Mompremier from Miami.

The next two picks were both from Germany with the Wings going with Luisa Geiselsoder and the Sparks pick of Leoni Fiebich. Kaila Charles then went 11th to the Sun and the Mystics selected Jaylyn Agnew out of Creighton to round out the second round.

The third round pick of picks included the Dream starting things off by seledcting Mikayla Pivec from Oregon State and the Liberty drafting the third Ogwumike sister – Erica – from Rice (before she was traded to the Lynx for Stephanie Talbot).

Also among that third round was Kiah Gillespie, who some mocks had as a first round pick, falling all the way to the third round to Chicago and Baylor’s Juicy Landrum going next to last overall en route to Connecticut.

But before the night came to a close, Engelbert had one final announcement in tribute to the Bryants.

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