Sabrina Ionescu to the New York Liberty seems like a foregone conclusion, but the team has done its due diligence on many prospects.
There are few certainties in New York sports, but recent years have been determined to buck that trend. The Giants play the Dallas Cowboys on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The Yankees will come to battle in either pinstripes or gray.
That certainly has seemed to be the case ever since the Liberty earned the top pick in last fall’s WNBA Draft Lottery. Reduced to virtual settings, the selections will proceed on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Ionescu, a former Oregon Duck and the queen of college basketball’s triple-doubles (26 in her storied career) is the name many expect WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to call first.
However, the Liberty have several other picks to occupy themselves with when it comes to Friday’s proceedings. After trading all-time leading team scorer Tina Charles to Washington on Thursday, the Liberty now own four of the first fifteen selections. Thursday’s blockbuster netted them the Mystics’ 12th overall pick and the ninth choice from the Dallas Wings.
Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins made it perfectly clear that the team’s draft research didn’t begin and end with Ionescu. Due diligence has been paid to several of the draft’s top names. That scouting might come in extremely handy after the Charles sacrifice yielded a draft windfall.
“I think all of the potential top picks have different strengths. They all have different things that they can bring to your team,” Hopkins told ESNY in an exclusive interview. “There are certain people where you have to consider what those strengths and weaknesses are, but I think you can go into each of them ad nauseam.”
“Primarily, what you’re looking is that you’re going to get a top-tier prospect no matter who you pick. Who’s going to help you? It all comes down to what attributes you covet. That kind of determines which way you would go with that pick.”
PF Lauren Cox, Baylor
Hey, this is New York…we should be used to springtime draft surprises by now.
The Liberty have stocked up on young, talented guards over the past few seasons. Kia Nurse is coming off an All-Star appearance and 2019’s second overall pick Asia Durr will return. Brittany Boyd is now the longest-tenured member of the team with Charles gone (in a trade that netted more guards, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Tayler Hill), while Layshia Clarendon was signed for veteran leadership. Sophomore Marine Johannes was also re-signed.
Thus, if the Liberty did make the shocking decision to pass on Ionescu, the sizable Cox would probably be the best option. New York could use some interior help, and Cox would more than fill that gap with 8.7 rebounds per game over the past three seasons. She capped off her college career with Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
It’s highly unlikely the Liberty pass on the once-in-a-lifetime talent (and marketability) of Ionescu. But if there were any surprise at No. 1, Cox would probably be the suspect.
PF Ruthy Hebard, Oregon
Oregon will likely send three players to the draft’s first round. This put the Liberty in a unique position if they go the expected route of Ionescu. Pressure will immediately mount on Ionescu in the early going, but the Liberty can soothe the ache by adding one of her sisters in quackery.
Early entry and fellow Duck Satou Sabally will likely be gone by the time the Liberty pick again at No. 9 (barring a trade), but dominant post prescience Hebard could potentially stick around. Hebard took home a pair of Katrina McClain Awards as the nation’s top power forward. She also scored NCAA history of her own by sinking 33 consecutive field goals during her sophomore season.
Some say Hebard’s success was a product of Ionescu’s quarterbacking. But there’s no denying she’s in an incredible athlete on her own, averaging 1.6 points for every shot she put up. The Liberty could use some of that shooting consistency after finishing 10th in the league in field goal percentage last season.
SF Bella Alarie, Princeton
Don’t let the small school connections fool you. Basketball salvation could come from across the river.
Alarie was one of the most-talked-about prospects during a pre-draft conference call with ESPN basketball experts Rebecca Lobo and Holly Rowe. Lobo lamented that the NCAA Tournament’s cancellation denied her a showcase to a wider audience while Rowe raved about the 6-foot-4 Tiger’s movement.
“I think the thing that stands out to me is her mobility and length,” Rowe said. “She’s got a huge upside to her game.”
Alarie is listed as a guard on Princeton’s official roster, but it’s highly suspect to believe she’ll partake in backcourt antics. Her propensity for blocks (setting the Tigers’ all-time record) would be most welcome after the Liberty finished dead-last in the category last season.
PF Beatrice Mompremier, Miami
All eyes at the draft are on a certain play known for double-digits in her nightly box score. Under different circumstances, it might’ve been Mompremier.
After struggling to fit in at Baylor, Mompremier transferred to her hometown school of Miami. Like countless football players before her, Mompremier managed to make a lasting impression and countless memories. She tallied 34 double-doubles at The U and tallied an NCAA Tournament-record 22 rebounds in a second-round matchup last season.
Injuries may be the big concern for Mompremier, as she missed nearly half of the Hurricanes’ season with a foot ailment. The results over her final four college games were rather promising. She put in 18.5 points (including a showing of 23 in an ACC Tournament win over Clemson) and 8.0 rebounds over that quartet before the sports world came to a halt.
SF Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, South Carolina
The Liberty are in desperate need of some defense after allowing a WNBA-high 84.7 points per game last season. It thus may be worth looking into the services of another potential national finalist.
For all the talk of Oregon, South Carolina’s 2019-20 greatness should not be denied. Herbert Harrigan certainly played her part on the defensive side, ending her career with 152 blocked shots. Some of the Dawn Staley-induced swagger would be perfect a rebuilding team like the Liberty, who can use all the defensive help they can get.
C Brittany Brewer, Texas Tech
Brewer is definitely one of the names to keep an eye on during the latter rounds. Her height (6-foot-5) would certainly make for an interesting camp presence as does, once again, her blocking ability. She was already averaging an eye-popping 1.8 blocks per game in her first three seasons, but upped the ante all the way to 4.4 this season (good for second in the nation). Shooting issues might relegate her to the second round, but this All-American could well become a diamond in the rough.
SF Shadeen Samuels, Seton Hall
Another Jersey product, Samuels struggled at the onset of her senior year, but soon came back to wow East Orange with familiar antics. Her relative small size (6-foot-0) could be an issue, but a strong will and tenacity has been on display every night. Samuels earned All-Big East team honors in each of her last two seasons in Pirate blue and led the Big East in field goal percentage during the 2019-20 campaign (.588).
— FIBA (@FIBA) October 18, 2018
PG Li Yuan, China
If they’re going to add another guard, they would probably wait until the later rounds in search of training camp competition. The 19-year-old Li could earn herself an interesting opportunity. She previously worked with sophomore Han Xu with the Chinese national team and led the squad with six rebounds during an exhibition visit to Barclays Center last spring. Collaboration with a former teammate, even if it comes only during training camp, could work wonders for the development of Han.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags