The Dallas Morning News

Wings draft Texas star with top pick

Texas center Collier, Finnish teen Kuier expected to improve interior depth

- By AARON KASINITZ

The Dallas Wings selected Charli Collier of Texas with the first pick of the WNBA draft.

The Wings selected 6-5 Charli Collier (above) of Texas with the first pick of the WNBA draft and took Awak Kuier of Finland with the second pick.

Holding a historic opportunit­y to stockpile talent Thursday night, Wings general manager Greg Bibb turned to a frontcourt prospect in his team’s home state and then to another 5,000 miles away.

The Wings took Texas center Charli Collier with the first pick of the WNBA draft before selecting Finland’s Awak Kuier No. 2 overall, adding a pair of versatile 6-5 post players to a roster that previously lacked interior strength. Dallas was the first team to make the top two selections of the same draft in the league’s 25-year history.

And Bibb used the chance to acquire two of the tallest players in the class.

“We had a distinct offseason priority in terms of getting bigger,” Bibb said. “We wanted to do that to protect the rim better, to protect the paint better — but just getting bigger in general. There’s an old adage that height and size is good for the game of basketball, and I believe in that.”

Bibb stayed busy by taking Arkansas guard Chelsea Dungee with the fifth pick and then using the 13th overall selection on Louisville guard Dana Evans to open the second round.

He gushed about his four-player haul, calling Evans, the two-time ACC Player of the Year, “the steal of draft.”

But Bibb viewed Collier as the clearcut No. 1 pick. Collier’s mother and late father played basketball in college, and the 21-year-old smiled Thursday while explaining she took up the sport as a 2year-old in the Houston suburbs.

“It’s still surreal,” said Collier, the second Big 12 player to become the top selection in the WNBA draft and the first since the Phoenix Mercury drafted Baylor’s Brittney Griner in 2013. “It’s just amazing as a basketball player to see what you’ve been working for for so long come true.”

For the Wings, Collier and Kuier address a need. Dallas rookie guard Arike Ogunbowale led the WNBA in scoring last year, but the team finished 8-14 and missed the playoffs for the second consecutiv­e season in part because of deficienci­es in the frontcourt.

The Wings allowed 40.5 points in the paint per game last season, the second-most in the WNBA. And they ranked 11th out of 12 teams in rebounding.

Collier and Kuier will team with Satou Sabally, the second pick from last year’s draft, to give first-year coach Vickie Johnson a group of tall, young and skilled frontcourt players to build around.

Kuier, 19, also displayed shooting touch and ball-handling prowess while playing profession­ally in Italy this season and for several years before that in Finland. Bibb said her combinatio­n of size and perimeter talent as a teenager amounts to scintillat­ing potential.

Dungee led the SEC in scoring this season, and Evans did the same in the ACC. They’ll join Ogunbowale and 2017 Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray as backcourt threats for Dallas.

Several other prospects from local colleges were also drafted. The Seattle Storm selected Texas A&M guard Aaliyah Wilson 11th overall and took her teammate, forward N’dea Jones, 23rd. Fellow Aggie Ciera Johnson, a center from Duncanvill­e, went 32nd overall to the Mercury.

Oklahoma State’s Natasha Mack (16th to Chicago) and Baylor’s Didi Richards (17th to New York) and Dijonai Carrington (20th to Connecticu­t) also heard their names called.

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Getty Images
 ??  ?? Texas’ Charli Collier (left) and Awak Kuier, a Finnish teenager who is playing profession­ally in Italy, talk to media members on Zoom after being the first two players taken in the WNBA draft.
Texas’ Charli Collier (left) and Awak Kuier, a Finnish teenager who is playing profession­ally in Italy, talk to media members on Zoom after being the first two players taken in the WNBA draft.
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