On Monday night, Rhyne Howard of the University of Kentucky joined such illustrious names as Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu and A’ja Wilson as the number one pick in the WNBA Draft. The Atlanta Dream specifically wanted the 6-foot-2 guard, a three-time AP All-America First Team, and made a trade in order to secure the top pick.
“To go first, I don’t even have words for it right now. I’m still kind of shaking,” said Howard moments after her name was announced. “It is super exciting, and I’m proud of what I’ve done, proud of myself, and thankful for everyone that’s been on this journey with me and that’s helped me to get here.”
Howard said her competitive nature will help her transition to the pro level. She’s headed to a team that is in rebuilding mode under the direction of new head coach Tanisha Wright. “I personally think I’m very versatile, so whatever position I’m playing, I like to match for those positions, and if they need me to work on something specific, whatever the case may be, I’m willing to do it,” said Howard.
Something frequently mentioned during the Draft was the situation with Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner, who is currently detained in Russia on drug charges after cartridges allegedly containing hashish oil were said to be found in her luggage at an airport security check in Moscow. Griner has played in Russia for several years during the WNBA off-season. Even as the situation continues to unfold, she will receive her full WNBA salary this season and there will be a league-wide philanthropic initiative modeled after Griner’s organization, BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, which brings shoes to the homeless.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke with the media shortly before the start of the Draft. “What a time to be joining the W,” said Engelbert. “There’s so much momentum for women’s sports right now.”
Indeed, the WNBA recently did a historic $75 million capital raise and has added some high profile new sponsors. There are also new economic opportunities for the players. Engelbert noted that during this past off-season approximately 30 players took part in paid league and team marketing deals. As these opportunities continue to grow the hope is players won’t have to play overseas unless that is their wish.
“We are creating an economic model for the league where we’re aiming for players to prioritize the WNBA,” said Engelbert. The season tips off May 6.