The Arizona Republic

Atlanta picks UA’s McDonald at No. 3 overall in WNBA draft

Arizona star goes higher than expected in WNBA draft

- Jeff Metcalfe

In an unpredicta­ble WNBA draft Thursday, Arizona’s guard Aari McDonald was one of the most predictabl­e selections.

The Pac-12 Player of the Year from Arizona went to the Atlanta Dream at No. 3 overall, even higher than she was projected prior to the NCAA Tournament.

The 5-6 guard erased any lingering doubt about her ability at the next level by averaging 24.8 points in leading UA to the championsh­ip game, where the Wildcats lost by one point to Stanford.

After the Dallas Wings chose 6-5 posts Charli Collier of Texas and Awak Kuier of Finland No. 1 and 2 — the first time those picks have gone to the same team — Atlanta opted to add McDonald to a back court that already includes Chennedy Carter, Tiffany Hayes, Courtney Williams and recently signed Odyssey Sims.

“Did you just say my name and Chennedy?” McDonald said. “That sounds scary already, and we haven’t even touched the court together. I’m really excited to play with her, also Courtney Williams.

“They’ve dogs. I’m a dog myself myself so I can’t wait to get to the court together. We’re going to be dangerous in the backcourt. I’m just ready to work.”

Atlanta went just 7-15 in the abbreviate­d 2020 season and has undergone an ownership change since. The new owners include a former WNBA player, Renee Montgomery, a league first going into its 25th season.

“It’s very inspiring to see her do that,” McDonald said. “She’s been a role model not just for myself but for others. I can’t wait to pick her brain.”

McDonald is the first first-round draft pick from Arizona. UCLA forward Michaela Onyenwere was selected No. 6 by New York, giving the Pac-12 at least two first-rounders for a fifth consecutiv­e year.

“It means a lot,” she said. “I’m excited to be the first. I’m paving the way for future Wildcats. I can’t

“I’m paving the way for future Wildcats. I can’t even explain it. There’s been so much history since I’ve been here. I couldn’t be here without my coaches and teammates putting me in those positions.” Aari McDonald

On being the first-ever first-round WNBA draft pick from Arizona

even explain it. There’s been so much history since I’ve been here. I couldn’t be here without my coaches and teammates putting me in those positions. I appreciate them for that.”

Her Arizona teammate forward Trinity Baptiste was selected at the end of the second round (No. 24 overall) by Indiana.

The Phoenix Mercury, with their only draft pick, chose Texas A&M center Ciera Johnson in the third round (No. 32). The 6-4 Johnson had 21 career doubledoub­les, averaging 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds as a senior. She provides post depth going into training camp on a team that will carry only 11 players due to roster cap restrictio­ns and be hard to make. The Mercury traded their firstround picks this year and next in February to acquire wings Kia Nurse and Megan Walker from New York. They gave up their second-round pick last year as part of trading Briann January to Connecticu­t.

“It certainly was unpredicta­ble this year,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said of only having a third-round pick for just the second time in team history (2017 was the other). “It didn’t quite go the way we expected it to go, but that’s usually the case with drafts. Rarely are anybody’s mock drafts (are) spot on, and this one certainly was not for anyone. A two-hour wait (to pick) is a long time. You watch all the players you would like to potentiall­y get come off the board then there’s always a couple that end up still being available. We were fortunate Ciera was still available when we got to choose at 32.”

Pitman said he has “no qualms” about giving up the No. 6 pick in the trade for Nurse, who is projected as a starter, and Walker, who left Connecticu­t early for the 2020 draft but had she remained would have been near the top of this year’s draft.

“We think they come in right away and make us a better team,” he said. “That’s not always the case with a draft pick. We believe with those two we’re ready to contend for a championsh­ip. We got the ones we wanted back in February.”

Mercury coach Sandy Brondello agreed. “At the end of the season last year, we worked out what do we need to do to get us over the line, and it was improved shooting. Kia Nurse is an all-star and she looks great. We haven’t seen the best of Megan Walker, but that’s someone we coveted in last year’s draft. We’re very excited about adding those two players.

In 2020, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu (New York) and Satou Sabally (Dallas) were the first two picks and the Ducks’ Ruthy Hebard went No. 8 to Chicago. Washington’s Kelsey Plum was No. 1 overall in 2017 as were Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike (2014) and Nneka Ogwumike (2012) and USC’s Tina Thompson (1997).

McDonald in three seasons at Arizona, after transferri­ng from Washington, averaged 21.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists. She made All Pac-12 three times and twice was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

McDonald, 22, was a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award as a senior and for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation’s top point guard. In 2019-20, she won the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for the nation’s top shooting guard.

“My journey wasn’t easy, but I overcame so much adversity,” McDonald said. “I just always stayed the course and I kept God first and I always worked hard. I grew as a person and I came out a better individual and a better basketball player.”

UA’s highest draft selection before McDonald was Davellyn Whyte, taken in the second round (No. 16) in 2013. Ify Ibekwe (2011) and Dee-Dee Wheeler (2005) also were second-round Wildcat picks.

 ??  ??
 ?? ELSA/GETTY IMAGES ?? Aari McDonald of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after defeating the UConn Huskies in the Final Four semifinal game of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Alamodome on April 2.
ELSA/GETTY IMAGES Aari McDonald of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after defeating the UConn Huskies in the Final Four semifinal game of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Alamodome on April 2.
 ?? CARMEN MANDATO/GETTY IMAGES ?? Aari McDonald of Arizona brings the ball upcourt against Stanford in the National Championsh­ip game of the 2021 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at the Alamodome on April 4 in San Antonio, Texas.
CARMEN MANDATO/GETTY IMAGES Aari McDonald of Arizona brings the ball upcourt against Stanford in the National Championsh­ip game of the 2021 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at the Alamodome on April 4 in San Antonio, Texas.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA