Atlanta Dream picks Rhyne Howard of Kentucky with the top pick in the WNBA draft; Indiana Pfeiffer takes Baylor Nalissa Smith in second place

The Atlanta Dream team, which traded last week for the best overall pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, picked Kentucky guard Ryan Howard for pole position Monday night in New York.

The Washington Mystics won the draft lottery in December, but traded the top pick for Atlanta last week, with Dream climbing from third to ensure they got Howard.

At 6-foot-2, Howard, the SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore and junior, averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during her first season, leading the Wildcats in points, linkages, and three-pointers, Theft and blocks. The only other SEC player to do so over the past 20 seasons was Mississippi State’s Tan White (2003-04 and 2004-05).

“I’m shivering right now, it’s a dream come true,” Howard told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after he was named number one.

The 6-foot-4 Baylor forward Nalissa Smith, the 12th Player of the Year in the past two seasons, was named No. 2 by the Indiana Fever, who had four first-round picks.

“I’m hungry,” Smith said, who could play either as a powerhouse forward or a junior striker in the WNBA. She is known for her painting recording and believes that her collection will continue to grow.

Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds this past season for the Bears, who won the Big 12 regular season title for the 12th consecutive year. She was a part of the 2019 Baylor National Championship team as a freshman.

The top three picks went as expected, with Mystics Ole Miss 6-foot-5 center Shakira Austin picking 3rd place. Austin averaged 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Rebels in 2021-22 and could be a force on the home attack and defense of Washington .

Fever was expected to be big on defense and positions with their picks in the early round, and last in the lottery for a fourth fit for both: Louisville 6-foot-1 striker Emily Engstler, who helped the Cardinals reach the women’s fourth final. in 2022. The same description applies to Fever’s No. 10 pick, fellow Smith Baylor, Queen Igbo who is 6 feet 3 feet tall.

But Fever’s sixth-place pick came as a surprise: Stanford guard Lexi Hull, who many expected was a second-round pick. But Hull, who helped the Cardinal win the NCAA title in 2021 and return to the Final Four last season, impressed Indiana State General Manager Lynn Dunn with her constant vocals and ability to hit three-pointers.

This was the first time a WNBA team had made four picks in the first round. With Smith, Engstler, Hull and Egbo, Dunn hopes to have a young Indiana foundation to help Fever return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Franchise legend Tamika Catchings retired after that season.

“We’re going to rebuild with the young players,” Dunn said of the Fever team, which last scored a regular season record in 2015. “I see highly skilled players coming out of college, but the real key adjustments are fitness and game pace. I need players who can adapt to that quickly.”

The #5 pick brought another “sister action” to the WNBA, as Oregon center/strike forward Niara Sabali heads to New York. Her older sister Sato Sabali of Oregon went to Dallas and took second place in 2020.

Sabali trained with Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu when the two were in Oregon and is excited to get a chance to play with her in the WNBA.

“Sap is an amazing goalkeeper,” Sabali said. “I have seen her in practice every day and am excited to share the court with her.”

Meanwhile, the Wings was No. 7 this year and went with Northwest guard Veronica Burton, who was the Big Ten and WBCA’s top defensive player of the year. The 5-foot-9 Burton is a first-class defensive player for Dallas who could use a promotion there.

Another upset came in eighth, led by Las Vegas of Colorado forward Mia Hollingshead, who helped the Buffaloes win the NCAA championship last season for the first time since 2013. Then the Aces beat Florida Gulf Coast Kirstan Bell at age 11.

Bell, who started her college career at Ohio State and averaged 23.6 points and 9.4 rebounds while in the FGCU, has won Becky Hammon Player of the Year for the past two years and will now get a chance to play with her.

Tennessee winger Ray Burrell, who assisted Lady Falls in the Sweet 16, was the Los Angeles Sparks’ ninth pick.

Connecticut State finished the first round by picking Nia Clawden, who averaged 20 points this past season for Michigan State.

Howard is the second player selected by the first-placed Dream Dream, after Louisville’s Angel McCrotry in 2009. McCutry led Dream to three games in the WNBA Finals.

Howard’s career 284 3D goals are part of what makes her a multidimensional threat, as she’s also big enough to deploy against most defenders. Howard could seize the opportunity to become a featured player in the Dream Series, which ran 8-24 last season and missed the playoffs four of the past five years.

Howard, who was the first Kentucky player to finish first in the draft, will be close to home, having grown up 90 minutes from Atlanta.

Howard said, “For you to be so close, that’s huge. So many family members and close friends can come and support me.” Still shaking. Very exciting and proud of myself and thanks to everyone who took part in this journey with me and helped me get here. ”

Editors were able to attend the event in person for the first time since 2019, as the remote draft had to take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The WNBA season begins May 6, with training camps opening later this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.