Texas' Collier goes No. 1 in WNBA draft; Connecticut Sun add trio of players

Photo of Maggie Vanoni

For the 25th time in league history, the WNBA made dreams come true for top collegiate and international women’s basketball players Thursday night when 36 heard their names called in the 2021 draft.

The league successfully conducted its second-straight virtual draft due to the pandemic. It was highlighted by Dallas selecting former Texas forward Charli Collier No. 1 overall and 19-year-old Awak Kuier, the first player from Finland to be drafted, at No. 2. Arizona’s Aari McDonald rounded out the top-three picks after being selected by the Atlanta Dream.

With star forward Alyssa Thomas out for the season (Achilles tear), Connecticut focused its three draft picks on players who can potentially provide an offensive spark off the bench this season. The Sun, which did not have a first-round pick for the second-consecutive year, selected DiJonai Carrington (Baylor) with the No. 20 overall pick, Micaela Kelly (Central Michigan) with the No. 21 pick and Aleah Goodman (Oregon State) with the No. 30 overall pick in the third round.

“We accomplished that [the goal of getting offensive sparks] with certainly three talented guards that can really score at different levels,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “Really excited about that competition that we brought in for camp. That’s what we talked about, really trying to create a tremendous training camp of competition between these guards, fighting it out for spots, it played out as well as we could have hoped.”

Breakdown of Sun Draftees

DiJonai Carrington, guard, Baylor — Pick No. 20 overall, Second round

Carrington, who many remember from Baylor’s controversial final offensive play against UConn in the NCAA Elite Eight, was the 2021 Big 12 Newcomer and Sixth Person of the Year during her lone season with the Lady Bears after transferring from Stanford. In her four years at Stanford, the 5-foot-11 San Diego native averaged 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and helped the Cardinal win two Pac-12 Tournament Championships. In 2019, she earned All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 All-Tournament Team honors and was given an extra year of eligibility after suffering a knee injury her senior year. In the fifth year of her collegiate career, at Baylor, Carrington averaged 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and a team-leading 56 total steals. Miller said he was surprised Carrington fell so low in the draft, but was excited to grab her and said she’s “the best two-way wing guard.”

Micaela Kelly, guard, Central Michigan — Pick No. 21 overall, Second round

The 5-foot-6 guard from Detroit played five years for Central Michigan, most recently helping the Chippewas to the 2021 MAC Tournament Championship. Kelly finished her collegiate career ranked second in CMU’s all-time leading scorers list with 1,529 points and was named the 2019-2020 MAC Player of the Year. As a fifth-year senior this season she averaged a team-leading 23.9 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Aleah Goodman, guard, Oregon State — Pick No. 30 overall, Third round

Goodman led the Beavers in 2021 with an average of 16.2 points, 4.9 assists and a 49.0 three-point percentage — which led the Pac-12 and ranked the Oregonian second in the nation. The 5-foot-9 guard finished her OSU career ranked third in program history with 241 career made three-pointers and 16th in the Beavers’ all-time scorers list with 1,162 career points. As a sophomore in 2018-19, Goodman was named the Pac-12 Sixth Player of the Year and was named a regional finalist this season for the WBCA Coaches’ All-America Team. Goodman said she was so nervous watching the draft Thursday night that she went outside to shot hoops during the second round to calm her nerves. She found out her name had been called from the screams of her dad and sister inside watching the TV.

What’s next

The three draftees along with the five players the Sun offered training camp contracts to during the offseason will compete for Connecticut’s two open roster spots when training camp begins on April 25. Teams will evaluate players through practices and preseason games and scrimmages before making final roster cuts on May 13.

“I’m excited about that competition, that feeling that we’re going to feel from day one in our camp of everybody getting after it and everybody scratching and clawing to try to be on this opening day roster,” Miller said. “[We’ve been] very honest and transparent with all three of these guys that two open spots doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the WNBA it’s a tremendous amount. ... That’s part of the tough aspect of the WNBA. It’s the toughest professional league to make a roster. Bar none. NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball. The WNBA is the toughest roster to make.”

Out of the eight players, only Kamiah Smalls — who signed a training camp contract with the Sun in February — has previous WNBA experience. Smalls was selected in the third round of the 2020 draft by the Indiana Fever before being released by the team in May 2020. She later rejoined the league in August in the “Wubble” in Florida and played seven games for the Fever who were short players due to injuries.

Connecticut already has nine contracted players on its roster and intends to only carry 11 total players throughout the season including Thomas, who remains on contract despite rehabbing, and four-year veteran forward Jonquel Jones, who returned to the team this year after sitting out the 2020 season.

“You’re playing against the best in the world and what more could you ask for,” Carrington said. “It’s an unique opportunity where as Coach Miller said there are spots available on the roster and that’s what I’m coming in to take. I’m not someone who’s ever been afraid of people because of who they are on paper. I’m excited to learn from our vets, but I’m also excited to challenge them as they’re gonna challenge me.”

The 2021 WNBA season, the league’s 25th, opens on May 14 for all teams. Connecticut begins the season at Atlanta on May 14 at 7:30 p.m. before its home opener on May 16 against Phoenix at 7 p.m.

maggie.vanoni@hearstmediact.com