Starting Five: Recapping 2023 WNBA Draft

It is once again that time of year on the WNBA’s calendar where the lives of 36 young women completely change forever as they see their names announced as draftees of WNBA teams. 

This year’s WNBA Draft once again took place at Spring Studios in New York City. ESPN once again broadcasted this year’s draft as both it and the league were riding a wave of momentum following a national championship game where nearly 10 million people watched. 

With this year’s draft in the books – and the countdown on to next year’s, arguably, even more star-studded rendition – here are a few takeaways after another night it was in Gotham under the orange bright lights. 

Forever To Thee

Of course, one of the storylines heading into the draft was the number of South Carolina Gamecocks available to be selected. 

Dawn Staley and her Freshies were ready to go in the Big Apple on Monday night. Five from the garnet and black were eligible for selection. Those five were Aliyah Boston, Laeticia Amihere, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal and Victaria Saxton. 

All five ended up being drafted. Boston, of course, was the No. 1 overall selection by the Indiana Fever to reunite her with another South Carolina alum in Destanni Henderson. With the eight overall selection, the Atlanta Dream made sure that Gamecocks fans hoping to see LA ball out in the pros would have a short 3 ½ hour drive from Columbia as Amihere was chosen by the Dream. 

Cooke will be sporting one of the most iconic color combinations in basketball history (purple, gold and teal) as the Los Angeles Sparks selected Cooke with the 10th overall selection. 

For some reason, Beal fell all the way to 24th in pure Arella Guirantes fashion. That 24th selection was held by the Minnesota Lynx. Lin Dunn made sure that there would be, at least, somewhat of a South Carolina to Indiana pipeline as the Fever chose Saxton 25th overall. 

Holly Rowe

Holly Rowe has certainly earned her flowers as a staunch women’s rights advocate and respected women’s sports journalist. But ask many who watched the draft’s coverage and ESPN and they will contend that Monday evening was not exactly her finest hour. 

A trade…

One of the reasons why sports fans typically tune into drafts is to see if there will be any eleventh hour deals that will be announced throughout the draft itself. 

Trade-wise, it was a relatively light night but that did not stop Greg Bibb at the Dallas Wings from doing a bit of wheeling and dealing with Mike Thibault at the Washington Mystics. 

The trade involved Stephanie Soares, who was selected by the Mystics with the fourth overall (and last lottery selection) of this year’s draft. The result was her being dealt to the Wings for a future first overall and second overall selection. 

Washington’s initial selection of Soares out of Iowa State scratched many a head – and believed it may have been a trade meant to bolster another team. After all, between their future Hall of Fame veteran in Elena Delle Donne and rising star Shakira Austin, the Mystics are anything but a team in need of frontcourt help. 

By the way – did anyone see the Mystics’ draft night war room? It legitimately looked like it was in a room in either Congress or the White House. Oh so DC of them. 

Training camps

The life of a women’s hooper knows little rest – especially when going immediately from the rigors and emotions of March Madness to the draft to training camps. 

We have seen first round draft picks struggle to make rosters. There are only 144 roster spots within the WNBA meaning the cuts from this year’s training camp will cut deep especially for stacked teams such as the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty. 

Yet, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in her pre-draft media availability session that she “thinks” WNBA team rosters are the right size for now. 

Two words – Athletes Unlimited. The laundry list of top-tier talent that had the balling shoes on in Dallas at Athletes Unlimited basketball says otherwise. And given the talent pool in the women’s game is only getting deeper and deeper? 

Expansion of some kind – either team or roster – has to be on the horizon for the W because there are too many talented players that do not deserve to begin their professional careers overseas. 

Fits. Fits. Fits. 

The old saying is true – a picture is indeed worth a thousand words – and the fits of the 15 draftees that were in New York for draft night certainly prove that.