Lynx, Shock in control of draft
There are 12 WNBA franchises that have done all the work needed to prepare for Monday's draft.
Ten of them, though, are at the mercy of Nolan Richardson and Cheryl Reeve.
Reeve's Minnesota Lynx and Richardson's Tulsa Shock own six of the first 14 picks, including the top two choices, and will control much of what happens Monday.
In 2010, Richardson went into the draft as the coach and general manager of the WNBA team with the newest home. That sounded like an easy job -- after all, the Shock had been to the WNBA finals in three of the previous four seasons while playing in Detroit.
But Richardson lost four All-Stars from the Detroit roster -- Deanna Nolan, Katie Smith, Cheryl Ford and Taj McWilliams -- and needed to revamp it to keep the Shock title contenders.
It didn't happen. The Shock collapsed to a league-worst 6-28 record, and Richardson thinks he knows why. While he had coached the Arkansas men's team to the 1994 national title, he had never been a professional general manager, nor did he have any particular knowledge of the power players in women's basketball.
"I've learned a lot about the women's game in the last year, and I'm more confident about my second go-round at this draft," Richardson said. "I have a better idea of what works in our league, and I've been able to study the NCAA for a full season."
Richardson could have skipped every college game without affecting the second pick of the draft, which is expected to be Australian teenage sensation Elizabeth Cambage. Shock owner David Box and director of player personnel Teresa Edwards visited Australia to see Cambage in person.
"We've been following her for about a year," Box said. "I think she'd be a fan favorite. We're obviously very interested, or we wouldn't have come this far."
Even with an owner willing to fly across the world to try to talk Cambage into playing in the United States, Richardson's draft preparation can't match his NBA counterparts with their scouting directors and million-dollar budgets. For the Shock, it depends on how much basketball he, Edwards and a couple of other staff members can watch.
"My assistants and I have watched a lot of basketball games in the last year, and we'll have all of that information ready when the draft starts," he said. "We know what kind of players we need, and we've done everything we can to know what is available."
Richardson said the NCAA tournament was a huge help for last-minute evaluations for players he might select with Tulsa's second pick, which is seventh overall.
"This year's tournament has been amazing," he said. "We've seen a lot of very talented big players, and that's something we'll be looking for."
Several hours north of Richardson's Oklahoma base, another second-year coach is preparing for draft day. Reeve has the easiest decision of the day -- taking Connecticut superstar Maya Moore with the first pick -- but the Lynx have three other picks in the top 14, including No. 4.
"This might not be a deep draft in terms of franchise players, so we are excited at the idea of getting one of those with the first pick," Reeve said. "We've done our homework, and we do think there are a lot of talented players out there. With only 12 teams and 11-player rosters, it is very tough for a rookie to make a quick impact in this league, but we think we've got a chance to get multiple players who can do that."
While Reeve also has watched the NCAA tournament unfold, she is careful not to put too much emphasis on the last month.
"You have to understand that we've been watching these players for two years or more," she said. "We might see something that adds to our evaluation, but we're not going to throw out everything we've seen before."
ESPN's Pam Ward says Reeve and Richardson picked the right year to have so many early selections.
"I think this is a fairly deep draft, certainly deeper than next season's is expected to be," Ward said. "With small rosters, there are a lot of quality athletes who won't make teams, so you need to be taking players from the very top of the class."
All 12 teams have spent years figuring out which players those are, but they might have to deal with Minnesota and Tulsa in order to get them.