Sun select three guards at WNBA Draft
Mohegan — The “best player available” approach wasn’t the most viable option for the Connecticut Sun at the WNBA Draft.
Connecticut is blessed up front with the reigning WNBA MVP (Jonquel Jones), last season’s Most Improved Player (Brionna Jones) and three-time All-Defensive team pick Alyssa Thomas, who has been the team's engine the past few seasons.
The Sun, then, loaded up on guards on Monday night as they drafted Nia Clouden (Michigan State), Jordan Lewis (Baylor) and Kiara “Kiki” Smith (Florida) in the first, second and third rounds, respectively.
“We wanted to continue to look for creating a competitive camp to fight for spots and (get) that spark off the bench with the guards,” Connecticut Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller said. “AT, JJ and Bri Jones, they’re going to absorb a lot of minutes and (we have) a really talented and young developing post in Beatrice Mompremier.
“The focus going into this draft was guards. ... it played out that way for us to add three more talented guards.”
Clouden, 5-foot-8, was taken with the final pick of the first round (12th). She was a four-year starter for the Spartans and finished as the program’s second-leading scorer (1,882 points) along with 465 rebounds, 449 assists and 164 steals.
Clouden earned All-Big Ten first team honors the past two seasons. She shot 43.6 percent as a senior and averaged 35.9 minutes, 20 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 30 games.
“We targeted Nia Clouden as our top choice,” Miller said. “It’s really exciting for our franchise, exciting for what she can bring to the table. (She’s) a true combo (guard) that we were looking for after the departure of Briann January in offseason free agency. Someone who could really score the basketball at all three levels but could also play the point guard position if we need that depth.
“Just a home run for us to have our targeted person still on the board.”
Connecticut selected Lewis with the 24th overall pick. The 5-7 guard was a grad transfer this past season for the Bears and was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. She averaged 11.8 points and 5.3 assists this past season playing for first-year coach Nicki Collen, formerly an assistant under Miller.
“She had an outstanding early career at Alabama before heading to Baylor,” Miller said. “Just a strong, compact two-way point guard (who is) a really talented defender who is physical, and, what I love, takes charges.
“Offensively she's got that pro-style game. She can get herself to the rim. She’s a fast pusher (of the ball) in transition (which) would increase our tempo, (and) she’s a really talented 3-point shooter.”
Smith, 5-10, was the draft's final selection (36th overall). She’s the equivalent of a future’s pick for Connecticut because she suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second round of the SEC Tournament and won’t play this season.
Connecticut would maintain Smith’s rights should she play internationally during the next WNBA offseason. She could opt to go back into the draft if she doesn’t.
Smith earned All-SEC first team and All-Defensive team honors as a senior and led the Gators in minutes (33.9), points (14.6), rebounds (5.5) and assists (4.6) this past season before suffering a season-ending knee injury during the second round of the SEC Tournament (March 3).
“(She) was really incredibly high on our draft board (before she) had that devastating knee injury,” Miller said. “(She) was creeping into the first-round conversation for us (before her injury).
“The depth of our team allowed us to pick Kiki and be patent through her rehab and recovery from this ACL surgery and will be a great player to have in our 2023 training camp.”
• All three UConn seniors were selected in the second round.
The Washington Mystics drafted Christyn Williams in the second round with the 14th overall pick. The 5-11 guard started in all 33 of the Huskies’ games this past season. She led the team in minutes (33.8 mpg) and was their second-leading scorer (14.2 peg).
Forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa was drafted 19th overall (second round) by the Los Angeles Sparks. She averaged 27.2 minutes, 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds as a senior.
Huskies guard Evina Westbrook was drafted two picks later by the Seattle Storm. She averaged nine points and 3.1 assists her senior year.