WNBA Draft preview

SOECharlesHallmansquareThe 2016 WNBA Draft is Thursday this week. Former Gopher teammate Amanda Zahui B. was the second overall pick last year by Tulsa, now Dallas, and for the second consecutive year a Gopher could be among the first players picked.

“I think she worked her way into a top pick,” says Lindsay Whalen on Rachel Banham.

“She is moving on to bigger and better things,” predicts U of M Associate Head Coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins on the redshirt senior guard. “A player like Rachel doesn’t come around very often, once every blue moon. It is a pleasure to coach her.”

Rachel Banham
Rachel Banham

The Lakeville native is the first Minnesota woman player to post three career 40-point games; all came this season after missing most of last year with an ACL injury. Banham tied an NCAA record with 60 points, and also had a 52-point game. She scored double figures in 64 of 66 career league games, including 41 20-point games, 14 30-point games, a 50-point game and a 60-point game, set a Big Ten record with a 30-point average, and finished second in the nation with a 28-point average, a school record.

The 5’-9” Banham this season passed up such current W stars as Maya Moore and Elena Della Donne and finished sixth all-time among NCAA scorers as well as among Big Ten all-time scorers. “She has been unbelievable with the kind of numbers she put up and put the team on her back,” adds Whalen on Banham, who surpassed the Lynx point guard as Minnesota’s career scoring leader.

One mock draft has Rachel going fourth to Connecticut. If that holds true, on Thursday she will follow the same path to the W as Whalen, who also was drafted fourth in 2004 by the Sun.

During last week’s pre-draft teleconference call, the MSR asked ESPN Analyst Carolyn Peck about Banham’s draft chances. “Anybody that puts up three games going 45-plus points is definitely going to get the attention, because offense is a premium in the WNBA, and a player that can score the ball the way that she does, I think teams could find a role [for her].

“[But] can she score more points than she gives up?” asked Peck.

Banham’s offense “is not in question at all, but what can she give you on the defensive end?” pondered fellow ESPN Analyst Rebecca Lobo on the fact that Minnesota, for the last two seasons under Marlene Stollings, mainly plays zone.

“She is not a one-dimensional player,” argues Dawkins on Banham. “Her role on our team was to score baskets.”

Thursday’s first round is in the following order: Seattle has the first pick, followed by San Antonio, then Connecticut with the third and fourth picks, and Dallas at No. 5, then Los Angeles (6), Washington (7), Phoenix (8), Indiana (9), Chicago (10), Atlanta (11) and New York (12).

The consensus top pick is UConn 6’-4” forward Breanna Stewart “because she can play multiple positions,” notes Dawkins. “She can do it all.”

Peck, a former WNBA coach and general manager, predicted, “I think [Connecticut’s Moriah] Jefferson has got to go to San Antonio. I think Connecticut has got some options. They could go with Morgan Tuck [of Connecticut], and then [Michigan State’s] Aerial Powers.  Jonquel Jones [from George Washington] is real interesting to me at 6’-3”, averages a double-double, and has a three-point-range shot in her game.

“And you’ve got Dallas, and [Coach] Fred Williams has got some options there depending on what Connecticut does. You could go anywhere from the previous players mentioned to also looking at a player like a Tiffany Mitchell [of South Carolina], who is athletic, and he likes defensive guards who can score, and she could definitely bring it,” surmised Peck.


Read more as our 2016 WNBA Draft discussion continues on the MSR website.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.