By VIN A. CHERWOO
AP Sports Writer
Last year had the `Big Three’ with Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins leading the way at the WNBA draft. This time it’s Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike and Baylor’s Odyssey Sims who are the consensus top two picks.
The Connecticut Sun are expected to select Ogwumike with the first pick in this year’s draft Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., with Sims going to the Tulsa Shock at No. 2.
“Everybody who thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that Chiney is going to be here with us, we’d love to have Chiney, we’d love to have Odyssey,” Sun coach Anne Donovan said on a national conference call with media. “It just depends on guard or post, truthfully.”
Tulsa coach Fred Williams confirmed he intended to take the player that was left.
“We’re going to do the opposite of what you do,” Williams said to Donovan. “You’ve got the first call on that one there. Either player on that end is a good find and a good pick.”
San Antonio selects third, followed by New York, Indiana, Washington, Seattle, Atlanta and the Fever again at No. 9. Chicago, Connecticut again and defending champion Minnesota complete the first round.
If Ogwumike does go No. 1, it would be the first time in WNBA history that sisters were selected with top picks. Nneka Ogwumike, who also starred at Stanford, was taken No. 1 overall by Los Angeles on 2012 and went on to win rookie of the year honors.
Chiney Ogwumike, a 6-foot-4 forward, was a two-time AP All-American and averaged 26.1 points and 12.1 rebounds as a senior while leading the Cardinal to the Final Four. She also finished as the Pac-12 conference’s career scoring leader (2,737 points) and leading rebounder (1,567).
“With Chiney we already have the measuring stick with what her sister did in the league early on,” Donovan said. “They’ve both shown they’re great leaders, they’re great athletes. Their styles do translate to the WNBA. Chiney (is a) great rebounder, can play either post position, face up or back to the basket. Her sister Nneka probably a little bit stronger, more physical.”
Sims, a 5-8 guard and also a two-time AP All-American, averaged 28 points in leading the Lady Bears to the NCAA regional finals and became only the second player to top 1,000 points in a single season. She fell just eight points short of Jackie Stiles’ record of 1,062 points.
“I don’t know that Odyssey is not the most prepared player, skill-wise, to be the WNBA,” Donovan said. “She’s shown that she can pass the ball really well when she played three years with Griner. A lot of people are knocking her now because she takes too many shots. Well that’s what her team needs her to do this year.”
After Ogwumike and Sims, the top players available include: guards Chelsea Gray (Duke), Bria Hartley (UConn), Kayla McBride (Notre Dame), Shoni Schimmel (Louisville), and Meighan Simmons (Tennessee); forwards Natalie Achonwa (Notre Dame), Natasha Howard (Florida State) and Alyssa Thomas (Maryland); and centers Stefanie Dolson (UConn) and Markeisha Gatling (N.C. State).
Dolson, who helped UConn win its second straight NCAA title on Tuesday night, was looking forward to continuing her whirlwind stretch at the draft.
“It’s been a great four years here at Connecticut but all great things have to come to an end and I’m just excited and really anxious to get the next chapter of my life started,” said the 6-foot-5 native of Orange County in New York, who averaged 12.4 points and 9.3 rebounds this season.
Schimmel, who grew up on a reservation in Oregon and _ along with her younger sister Jude _ attracted a large Native American following for Louisville’s games, hedged when asked if she was hoping to be drafted by Seattle.
“It’s definitely in my mind because it’s close to home … I know there’s a lot of Native Americans up in the West Coast area especially the Northwest,” said Schimmel, who finished five 3-pointers shy of matching Laurie Koehn’s NCAA career record of 392. “At the same time regardless of where I go, I think a lot of fans will go and support me in general. So it doesn’t really matter where I go.”
Gray and Achonwa are both recovering from knee injuries and unlikely to play this season, possibly dropping their draft slot.
“It’d be a little difficult for us to use our high first-round pick on someone like that who’s injured and can’t contribute,” New York coach and general manager Bill Laimbeer said. “But there’ll be some quality teams will take a whack at them, I’m sure.”
Fever coach Lin Dunn believes both players could still go in the first round.
“They’ve both proven to be quality players and I think they have the potential to be future impact players,” she said. “I don’t see them going in the top five or six, but after that I think it’s possible.”
Laimbeer also cautioned that teams have to be wary that if they select injured players and don’t sign them, and the players don’t sign to play overseas during the WNBA offseason next winter, they would re-enter the draft next year.
Training camps open April 27, and the WNBA’s 18th season tips off on May 16.
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