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Atlanta selects Rhyne Howard as the top overall pick in 2022 WNBA Draft; Indiana provides surprises in first round


April 12, 2022 (New York) – 2022 No. 1 WNBA Draft pick Rhyne Howard and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. Photo: WNBA Enterprises, LLC.

The Top Three Go as Predicted

Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard heard her name called as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft Monday night in New York City. The Atlanta Dream selected the two-time SEC Player of the Year and Kentucky’s all-time top three-point shooter.

“Rhyne is a versatile wing who can score the ball in a variety of ways,” Dream general manager Dan Padover said. “Her athleticism and basketball IQ will be the backbone of her future success in this league. She’s a great kid from nearby, and we think she will be a key piece for the future of this basketball team.”

In her first interview as a pro, the 6-2 phenom said she wanted to bring her “competitive spirit and the will to never give up and always fight” to the Dream, as well as her ability to “maintain my composure and stay calm, cool, and collected.”

“I think that’s what really helped me to become successful, and I just really want to have an impact on the team, like when I get there, and just continue to make everyone better.”

Over her college career, Howard averaged 20.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 33 minutes per game.

“Rhyne is a special talent with a multi-faceted skillset. She’s going to be a great addition to our team,” Dream head coach Tanisha Wright said. “She has a quiet competitiveness that I love, and I think the level of play in our league will bring something special out of her, which I’m really excited to see.”

Smith and Austin Round Out the Top Three

The Indiana Fever chose Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith with their second overall pick. Smith, a two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, averaged 15.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest during her college campaign and 22.1 points plus 11.5 rebounds per game her senior year.

“NaLyssa will have an immediate impact on the Indiana Fever franchise,” Fever Interim General Manager Lin Dunn said. “The All-American and two-time Big 12 Player of the Year will provide immediate scoring and rebounding for our team. Her versatility will be a key to our rebuilding process.”

Smith was the first of seven picks by the Fever, tying the franchise record for the most players acquired in a draft. The team had three other first-round picks: Emily Engstler (Louisville) at No. 4, Lexie Hull (Stanford) at No. 6, and Queen Egbo (Baylor) at No. 10.

Ole Miss center Shakira Austin, a player that many consider to be among the most pro-ready in the draft class, went third in the draft to the Washington Mystics. At 6-5, Austin was a dominating presence at Ole Miss and led her team with 15.2 points per game plus 9.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per outing. The Fredericksburg, Virginia native will get to play close to home.

“It’s just amazing, just knowing that the work I’ve put in,” Austin said about her high draft selection. “To finally get to this moment and to play back home. I’ll just be continuing to work and believe in the work that I’ve put in.”

Mystics general manager and head coach Mike Thibault is counting on Austin to hit the ground running in helping the team.

“Shakira is a terrific talent that can play both post positions, and she can be a big part of our future,” Thibault said. “She is one of the rare young players who can make an immediate impact on the defensive end of the court – she works at it, can block shots and rebound, and she is a great communicator. On offense, she can face up or play on the block.”

Indiana Provides the Surprises

The league invited 12 top prospects to participate in the draft in person in New York’s trendy Tribeca neighborhood at Spring Studios. However, not all those prospects went in the first round. Consequently, two players who watched the draft from home made it into the elite first-round group, while two in attendance had to wait until the middle of the second round to hear the name called from the podium by WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

The Indiana Fever selected Stanford’s Lexie Hull as the sixth overall pick. The sharpshooting and defensive-minded 6-1 guard impressed Fever GM Dunn and head coach Marianne Stanley.

“We felt like she was the best pure shooter with size in the draft, and she’d played at a high level, won a championship at Stanford, extremely gifted on both ends of the floor,” Dunn said. “She defends. She rebounds. She can handle the ball—just a lot of things about her that were multidimensional. And so, we just didn’t see anybody better if we wanted a great shooter. And to be honest with you, I think there were some other teams, had we not taken her at six, then we would have not gotten her at ten. So, maybe she was the surprise of the draft. But she wasn’t a surprise to us.”

Hull, a member of last season’s national championship squad, is a three-time All Pac-12 selection and a two-time Pac-12 All-Defensive Team member. In college, she played alongside her twin sister Lacie and averaged 12.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game her senior year.

Stanley expanded on Dunn’s comments about Hull.

“I love her competitiveness,” Stanley said. “And we’re talking about a young lady who’s very smart, who wants to win at everything, okay. And the fact that she’s 6-1 at the guard position and can shoot, can run the floor, can defend – that combination was just too good to pass up. So, we’re really excited that Lexie is joining us, and we know that she’s going to bring her winning mentality to our team.”

The Fever selected Queen Egbo out of Baylor at number ten. Egbo, who was also not in New York City, joins her college teammate Smith at Indiana. Egbo averaged 11.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and a 49.8 field goal percentage in 23.6 minutes per contest during her senior season.

Stanley said that Egbo is a “player who has size, length, athleticism.” She “can compete at the five and give us a great rebounder… She’s one of those bigs that can really move her feet. So, she has the ability at the pro level, we think, to have an impact immediately on the defensive side.”

Second-round Destinies

The two players who attended the draft and who mock draft experts expected teams to pick in the first round: North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane and South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson.

Cunane, a 6-5 center, helped NC state win three ACC Tournament titles and was the tourney MVP over the last two seasons. The Seattle Storm picked her as the 17th overall pick.

“I know the WNBA is a very tough league to get into with the roster spots, so I was just looking forward to hearing my name called, which I did, and I’m excited to go to Seattle,” Cunane said. “I didn’t have a specific team in mind that I wanted to go to. So being picked up by Seattle is amazing.

Henderson is fresh off a breakout, career-high scoring performance in the national championship game in which she helped lead her team to the title. With Henderson still available midway through the second round, the Indiana Fever got a steal in acquiring the dynamic guard as the 20th overall pick.

“I wasn’t really expecting anything,” Henderson said about waiting to be selected. “I was just staying positive about the outcome, and whichever order that it went, it really didn’t matter. I’m just very blessed and honored to be here and to be in New York and living the dream, living the moment that I’ve always dreamed of. Just hearing my name was my outcome, and I got that tonight.”

The 26th season of the WNBA kicks off on Friday, May 6, with a slate of four games with the Washington Mystics hosting the Indiana Fever.

The Full Draft Board

First Round

Pick

Team

Player

School/Country

Position

1

Atlanta Dream

Rhyne Howard

Kentucky

G

2

Indiana Fever

NaLyssa Smith

Baylor

F

3

Washington Mystics

Shakira Austin

Ole Miss

C

4

Indiana Fever

Emily Engstler

Louisville

F

5

New York Liberty

Nyara Sabally

Oregon

F

6

Indiana Fever

Lexie Hull

Stanford

G

7

Dallas Wings

Veronica Burton

Northwestern

G

8

Las Vegas Aces

Mya Hollingshed

Colorado

F

9

Los Angeles Sparks

Rae Burrell

Tennessee

G/F

10

Indiana Fever

Queen Egbo

Baylor

C

11

Las Vegas Aces

Kierstan Bell

Florida Gulf Coast

G

12

Connecticut Sun

Nia Clouden

Michigan State

G

Second Round

Pick

Team

Player

School/Country

Position

13

Las Vegas Aces

Khayla Pointer

LSU

G

14

Washington Mystics

Christyn Williams

Connecticut

G

15

Atlanta Dream

Naz Hillmon

Michigan

F

16

Los Angeles Sparks

Kianna Smith

Louisville

G

17

Seattle Storm

Elissa Cunane
Traded draft rights of Cubaj to New York for
New York’s 2023 second-round pick.

NC State

C

18*

Seattle Storm

Lorela Cubaj

Georgia Tech

F

19

Los Angeles Sparks

Olivia Nelson-Ododa

Connecticut

F

20

Indiana Fever

Destanni Henderson

South Carolina

G

21

Seattle Storm

Evina Westbrook

Connecticut

G

22

Minnesota Lynx

Kayla Jones

NC State

F

23

Las Vegas Aces

Aisha Sheppard

Virginia Tech

G

24

Connecticut Sun

Jordan Lewis

Baylor

G

Third Round

Pick

Team

Player

School/Country

Position

25

Indiana Fever

Ameshya Williams- Holliday

Jackson State

F

26

Phoenix Mercury

Maya Dodson

Notre Dame

F

27

Los Angeles Sparks

Amy Atwell

Hawaii

F

28

Minnesota Lynx

Hannah Sjerven

South Dakota

C

29

New York Liberty

Sika Koné

Mali

F

30

Dallas Wings

Jasmine Dickey

Delaware

G/F

31

Dallas Wings

Jazz Bond

North Florida

F

32

Phoenix Mercury

Macee Williams

IUPUI

F

33

Seattle Storm

Jade Melbourne

Australia

G

34

Indiana Fever

Ali Patberg

Indiana

G

35

Las Vegas Aces

Faustine Aifuwa

LSU

C

36

Connecticut Sun

Kiara Smith

Florida

G

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