After record-breaking viewership for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament and an active off-season full of surprises, the WNBA is ready to kick off its 27th season. Things got underway on Monday with the 2023 WNBA Draft.
To the surprise of literally no one, the Indiana Fever started the proceedings off by choosing South Carolina star Aliyah Boston at No. 1. I’m not going to claim this makes the Fever instant contenders, but it definitely makes them more of a threat. Indiana won five games during the 2022 season, so there’s only one way for its young team to go. It was a big night for South Carolina, as it had three players go in the first round and five players overall. Center Laeticia Amihere was the No. 8 pick to the Atlanta Dream, Zia Cooke went to the Los Angeles Sparks at No. 10, Brea Beal went to the Minnesota Lynx at No. 24 and Victaria Saxton went to the Fever at No. 25. Dawn Staley is going to have a lot of work to do next season with South Carolina’s basketball team.
Most Interesting Moves
The Dallas Wings once again dominated the night with multiple picks. The team picked Villanova standout Maddy Siegrist at No. 3 and Lou Lopez Senechal at No. 5. Siegrist is an interesting choice since Dallas already has a dynamic scorer in Arike Ogunbowale. However, adding Siegrist could lessen the load on Ogunbowale so she doesn’t have to take every shot all the time. Arike and Maddy could be a very fun duo to watch.
The Wings also acquired the draft rights to talented center Stephanie Soares from the Washington Mystics, who chose Soares at No. 4. Dallas traded a future first-round and second-round pick for the Iowa State alum. Soares injured her ACL in January, so she won’t be available to play this season.
Another team to look out for is the Atlanta Dream. Adding Haley Jones and Laeticia Amihere in the first round and Leigha Brown in the second round is going to give this squad even more depth. Atlanta went from being the joke of the league in 2021 to almost making the playoffs in 2022. Last season’s No. 1 pick, Rhyne Howard, instantly came in and helped turn the team into winners. With Howard, Jones and Amihere, Atlanta could be the league’s hungriest team this season.
The draft wasn’t the only major WNBA news of the day. After a lot of controversy and discussions on how to handle travel and private flights for players, the league announced a new charter flights program on Monday. Per the WNBA, teams will have access to charter flights “for all postseason games beginning with the start of 2023 WNBA Playoffs through the WNBA Finals, the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game, and select regular season games where teams have back-to-back games on the schedule.”
“We continue the hard work of transforming the business of the league, and the ability to expand this program is a direct result of that,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “Since joining the league a few years ago, a goal of mine has been to enhance the overall player experience and, in that regard, make incremental improvements where we are able to do so and when we believe the economic model would support it for the long-term. I’m pleased that we are able to broaden the program this year for the players. As the league continues to grow, we will look to do more in the future.”
Travel issues have been a sticking point for players for years. However, Brittney Griner’s recent release from wrongful detention in Russia means she has heightened security concerns and commercial travel isn’t an option. This led to discussions about how the situation could be handled fairly for all teams. It seems like the league and the players have found a compromise. Honestly, it would be great if these athletes could fly private all the time, but hopefully, this is just the start of a solution that eventually gets them there.
The 2023 WNBA season kicks off Friday, May 19.