Atlanta Dream picks Kentucky guard Ryan Howard with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft 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 Row after his #1 pick.
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.
The top three picks went as expected, with The Washington Mystics Ole Miss picking 6-foot-5 center Shakira Austin at No. 3. Austin averaged 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Rebels in 2021-22 and could be a force on home attack and defense about Washington.
Fever was expected to be big on defense and positions with their picks in the early round, and the last in the lottery suited both: Louisville attacking Emily Engstler, who helped the Cardinals reach the women’s fourth final.
Engstler finished fourth, but Fever’s sixth pick came as a surprise: Stanford guard Lexie Hull, which many expected was a second-round pick. But Hull, who helped Stanford win the NCAA title in 2021 and return to the Final Four this past season, impressed Indiana State’s General Manager Lyn Dunn with her constant vocals and ability to hit three-pointers.
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.
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 top notch defensive player for the Wings who could use an upgrade there.
Another upset came in eighth, led by Las Vegas of Colorado forward Mia Hollingshead, who helped the Buffaloes win their first NCAA championship since 2013. Tennessee winger Ray Burrell, who helped Lady Falls to the NCAA Sweet 16, was Los Angeles’ pick in the Ninth place.
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. ”
Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds this past season for the Bears, who won their 12th regular season title for the 12th consecutive season. She was a part of the 2019 Baylor National Championship team as a freshman.
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.