SGV Tribune

WNBA, Sparks prepare for virtual draft Friday

Along with anticipated top pick Sabrina Ionescu, UCLA guard Japreece Dean is among the Pac-12 players expected to be selected in the 36-player draft.

There’s little certainty anywhere, including with the WNBA.

Even though the league can’t know when its pandemic-delayed 24th season will begin, there’s at least one thing that’s confirmed and another that’s all but settled: Its 2020 Draft will go on as scheduled (though virtually) Friday, and Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu will, in all likelihood, be the No. 1 overall pick, bound for the New York Liberty.

Social distancing guidelines will prohibit players, guests or media from attending the annual selection event; instead top prospects will participate remotely as WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announces the draft picks live on ESPN, with coverage beginning at 4 p.m.

The Sparks don’t have a pick until the second round, entering the 36-player draft with the 20th, 22nd and 34th picks.

Although the Sparks have a full 12-woman veteran-laden roster, Michael Fischer, the team’s assistant general manager, said the organization will take the draft seriously.

“Everybody is allowed to have 15 players in camp,” Fischer said. “Every year I’ve been in this league, there’s always been a few camp surprises, and I’m sure Coach (Derek Fisher) would probably say the same thing in the NBA. There’s always going to be players who step up or situational things that happen.

“We’re going to have a very competitive camp, and whoever we draft will have a chance to be a part of the team as well, so don’t get too focused on the 12 that we have. There’s a lot of good players in the draft, and I’m excited to get those 15 players in camp and we’ll go ahead with the best 12.”

While Ionescu is one of three Oregon players anticipated to be chosen in the first round, along with forwards Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, UCLA’s Japreece Dean’s name could be called in the later rounds.

Dean, a 5-foot-7 guard, averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 assists per game this past season for the Bruins, who were 26-5 and ranked 10th in the nation when the COVID-19 outbreak halted NCAA action.

Another late-round draft prospect: Rice shooting guard Erica Ogwumike, the younger sister of Sparks forwards Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike.

Keep an eye on the Dallas Wings, led by former Sparks Coach Brian Agler. Dallas got involved in a three-team trade that sent New York’s former league MVP Tina Charles to the Washington Mystics on Wednesday. Dallas traded guard Tayler Hill, their ninth overall pick and a 2020 second-round pick to the Liberty, in exchange for a 2021 second-round pick from New York and a 2021 first round pick from Washington. The Wings now go into the draft with three picks in the first round (Nos. 2, 5, 7) and one in the second (21).

Fischer, the Sparks’ assistant GM, insisted that even staging the draft is a positive step for the league, which has no way of knowing if it’ll be able to play this summer, or even when college basketball will pick up again.

“That’s why the league is moving forward with the draft,” he said on a conference call with reporters last week. “Because you have to have a draft class. I’m very hopeful that we all stay home and be safe so we can all bring sports back to the community.”