LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 27: WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks on the court after the WNBA All-Star Game 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 27, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Team Wilson defeated Team Delle Donne 129-126. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The WNBA’s draft date remains in its April 17 slot, but will be conducted without media or players. The New York Liberty hold the first pick.

The WNBA announced on Thursday that it will hold its 2020 draft proceedings in its previously scheduled slot of April 17. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the draft will be conducted remotely without players or media. New York City had hosted the event in each of the past three years.

The draft will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the picks live on the network, with prospects partaking remotely.

“The WNBA draft is a time to celebrate the exceptional athletes whose hard work and dreams are realized with their selections in the draft,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement.  “Safeguarding the health and well-being of our prospects, players, employees, and everyone connected to our game as well as the general public is paramount.  With that in mind, we will work diligently with our broadcast partner, ESPN, to create a memorable but virtual event that appropriately honors these accomplished athletes.”

This draft will mark Engelbert’s first at the WNBA helm after becoming the first person to hold the title of commissioner last season. The local New York Liberty hold the top pick, having won the WNBA Draft Lottery last fall. Record-breaking point guard Sabrina Ionescu is the consensus top pick out of Oregon.

Ionescu’s teammates from Eugene, forwards Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, are also expected to go early. Other notable prospects include Baylor forward Lauren Cox and Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter. Connecticut junior forward Megan Walker also declared for the draft earlier this month and will also likely be chosen early.

Each of these prospects and more were set to partake in the 2020 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, with the Final Four and National Championship Game scheduled to take place in New Orleans. The NCAA officially canceled all postseason basketball tournaments on March 12 due to the pandemic.

The WNBA’s statement also states the draft is set to pay tribute to Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant, and Payton Chester, a trio of young players who tragically perished in the Calabasas helicopter crash in January. Gianna’s father, Kobe Bryant, was also among the victims. Bryant, a former NBA superstar and women’s basketball advocate, will also be honored during the draft.

WNBA training camps are currently scheduled to open on April 26 and the first regular-season games are slated for May 15. The league acknowledged that they are “conducting ongoing scenario planning around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the upcoming season”.

Barring any changes, the Liberty open their season on May 16 against the Connecticut Sun.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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