The WNBA held a virtual draft Friday night.
A few months ago that sentence would have been unimaginable, incomprehensible.
But now no one even bats an eye.
The WNBA draft is the first of a series of pro-league drafts, with the NFL, MLB NBA and NHL to follow. Eventually we’ll return to the glitz and glamour, to commissioners shaking hands with draftees, crowds and green rooms.
But for now the WNBA is conducting its business the same way much of America’s business is being conducted while Covid-19 rules supreme.
Duke had two players selected. Forward Leonna Odom was the 15th pick of the draft, the third pick of the second round, going to the New York Liberty. Wing Haley Gorecki was the 31st pick, going to Seattle in the third and final round.
Casual followers of Duke women’s basketball might wonder why Odom went so much higher than Gorecki. There’s no question Gorecki was the more productive college player. She was only healthy two seasons at Duke but she was first-team All-ACC in 2019 and 2020. In 2019 she became the first player to lead the Duke women in scoring, rebounding and assists the same season and she repeated that accomplishment in 2020. Gorecki was named third-team USBWA All-America. She averaged 18.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.1 steals this past season.
Odom averaged 14.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game as a senior. She made second-team All-ACC and showed signs of finally harnessing her enormous potential.
Gorecki is a good run-jump athlete, with a high-basketball IQ, a versatile skill set and off-the chart intangibles.
But Odom is an exceptional athlete, albeit one with energy and focus issues. Gorecki has the higher floor but Odom has the higher ceiling and we all know pro teams draft on potential more than production.
The Liberty traded their way into six picks—one already traded—including top pick Sabrina Ionescu from Oregon. But they added draft pick Virginia’s Jocelyn Willoughby in a trade with Phoenix.
So, still six new players. Unless they make more moves. But the one sure thing is that the Liberty went 10-24 last season and have responded with new coach Walt Hopkins and a big roster turn over.
Which provides Odom a real opportunity.
“I’m excited for the opportunity ahead of me,” Odom said in a statement released by Duke shortly after the draft.
“She has so many talents to bring and it will be fun to see her progress,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
Gorecki is going to a Seattle team that won the 2018 WNBA title but went 18-16 last year after losing stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird to injuries. Seattle is a great landing spot for Gorecki if she can make the squad, hardly a sure thing for a third-round selection.
But ACC opponents underestimated Gorecki to their detriment and I certainly wouldn’t bet against her.
“Extremely excited to be drafted in the WNBA” Gorecki said. “I cannot wait to get to work.”
Gorecki’s prodigious work ethic has been an asset so far and Seattle head coach Dan Hughes says his staff noticed that.
“Haley, we projected in the second round. Haley is one of the most productive players in America in the college game. Take a look at the stats, take a look at how she impacted the game. She has good size at 6-0. She gets to the foul line about as good as any player in college basketball a year ago and she has high skill. So, we really like that. With all that skill, there is a toughness about her that was very, very attractive.”
Odom and Gorecki are Duke’s 25th and 26th all-time selections and the 11th and 12th in the last decade. Duke was one of only seven schools with multiple players selected. Oregon and Baylor had three, with South Carolina, Connecticut, Louisville and Texas joining Duke with two.
When will Odom and Gorecki get to show their stuff?
The WNBA has already delayed the start of training camp once and but still plans on starting its season on May 15, details to be determined.
If so the WNBA might be the first American pro league to resume play.
But that’s a big if. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert was interviewed by ESPN during the draft and deftly sidestepped the questions with talk about nothing being off the table. Perhaps wise to take that May 15 tip-off with the proverbial grain of salt.
But Odom and Gorecki will get their chance. That’s all you can ask for.