WNBA draft a rare sports bright spot; Sky choose Oregon's Ruthy Hebard
It's a makeshift world right now, so the WNBA went with a makeshift studio to host its 2020 virtual draft on Friday night.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, practicing social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, opened her New Jersey home, and the sweater drying rack from her laundry room was supposed to be the star of the show.
She said Friday afternoon in a pre-draft teleconference that she would be using the sweater drying rack to hang up the team jerseys that she would normally hand to the respective draftees after she announces their names.
But those plans changed too, and Engelbert ended up simply holding the jersey by her side as the draftees looked on into their own cameras via their phones or laptops.
Of course, the draftees this year, including top pick Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon who went to the New York Liberty, and fellow Oregon teammate Ruthy Hebard, who was selected No. 8 by the Chicago Sky, were all scattered and doing their own social distancing at their respective homes, watching the draft and remotely participating via online video conferencing platforms.
"I've had a lot of fun and challenges transforming a room in my house into a makeshift studio," Engelbert said before the draft.
"I'm using the sweater drying rack and a lot of other household items that hopefully you won't see in the camera shots. A few other aspects of the room have been totally redecorated tonight.
"We felt it was really important to move forward with this as a virtual draft because prospects who had worked so hard, they didn't get their NCAA Tournament and so to hear their names called tonight, I think we're going to make some dreams come true for sure."
And normal draft or not, technical challenges or not, Engelbert knew she made the right call to hold the draft on schedule as she started calling the top prospects one by one in the days before the draft.
"They said things like, 'Thank you for making my dreams come true,' or 'I've been preparing for this moment my whole life,'" Engelbert said. "It was all worth it to me (to move forward with the draft) when I was talking with them. One of the ones I called, the family was cheering in the background. It was so cute. It really made me feel like we did the right thing here.
"We need to give these bright spots to the American public, and certainly live sports is very much missed. We all know that. If we can do our part to get the conversation going again, we're excited to do that and be the first ones out there with a virtual draft."
So, what's going to happen now?
That of course is the big question, a question that is hovering over every professional sports league these days.
The WNBA has already postponed the start of the season, which was supposed to get underway in mid-May. And Engelbert said that anything and everything is on the table for possibilities for the way the 2020 season could play out.
For instance, the WNBA could play without fans, or could play all of its games in one city, to keep all the players together and protected. If the NBA resumes its season, the WNBA may even play doubleheaders with NBA teams.
"We are following everything," Engelbert said. "That's why it's important to keep going, keep all the scenario plans on the table, especially in this fluid time where things are changing literally daily."
It's all been a whirlwind for Engelbert, who hasn't even been on the job for a full year yet as WNBA commissioner.
"It's been quite a nine months," Engelbert said. "Leadership steps up at your toughest moments, and this is one of those. Sometimes life is not fair, and you really have to stay focused. I think, again, those decisions you make in the middle of a crisis are ones that serve you well when you come out of it. That's how we're driving our leadership at the WNBA.
Sky take 2 more
The Sky had two third-round picks, drafting 5-foot-7 UCLA guard Japreece Dean and Florida State sharpshooter Kiah Gillespie.
Gorecki goes to Seattle
Former Fremd High School standout Haley Gorecki was taken in the third round, with the 31st pick, by the Seattle Storm. Gorecki spent her college days at Duke where she became the first Blue Devil player to average over 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in back-to-back seasons.