Coleman tops slim 2009 ACC draft class
Maryland senior Marissa Coleman: Top ACC draft prospect?
Posted Nov 7, 2008

As the season takes off, Full Court Press correspondent Rob Clough takes his annual look at the ACC's elite, sharing his predictions on the draft potential of the conference's top dozen seniors and its up-and-coming juniors. He also 'fesses up on how he did with last year's prognostications.

Time for my traditional start-of-season check-in on the ACC's elite and their WNBA potential. In a nutshell, the pickings in the next two classes are slim. The 2009 WNBA draft may well be one of the worst ever, especially in terms of depth. Still, despite the ever-stiffening competition for a place on a WNBA roster, the conference has a dozen seniors worthy of a look. I'll also share my thoughts on 10 juniors who bear watching.

Top 12 ACC Seniors (Class of 2009)

1. Marissa Coleman, Maryland. Coleman will most likely be a top-five pick. That speaks both to her talent and to the lack of depth in the draft. Coleman has a WNBA body, is a fine shooter and rebounder and can pass. However, she has not corrected a single one of her flaws in three seasons at Maryland. She's a poor defender and often too passive at both ends, disappearing from games for long stretches. Coleman is also not an elite athlete. That said, she knows how to score and some WNBA club will take her for that reason.

2. Kristi Toliver, Maryland. Toliver has improved a little since she was a freshman, especially in terms of playmaking. She led the ACC in assists last season and remains a deadly shooter. Just yesterday, she was named an Associated Press pre-season All American. Still, Toliver doesn't have a great sense of when to take over games and when to get teammates involved, often taking bad shots when the pressure was on. Toliver is not an elite athlete and often had trouble defending opposing guards off the dribble. Still, her ability to shoot and pass will make her a top-ten pick.

3. Aisha Mohammed, Virginia. Mohammed quickly became the bedrock of Virginia's resurgence last season. She proved to be incredibly strong and a reliable rebounder and defender. She doesn't have much range on her shot, something that will need to improve, and will need to improve her handle. The fact that she's only 6-3 will hurt her in the draft if she doesn't improve in those areas. Still, there's no question that Virginia was much better with her on the floor and struggled mightily without her. Look for her as a late first or early second-round pick.

4. Lyndra Littles, Virginia. Littles plateaued a bit as a junior after a great sophomore season. Mohammed's presence may have had something to do with that, as Littles was no longer needed to do all of the heavy lifting in the post, but there were times where she didn't have quite the desired level of aggressiveness. She must improve the range on her shot to make it in the W, since she projects as a wing in the league and currently operates as a 4. She's a top-notch offensive rebounder, and that alone might land her in the late first round or early second round.

5. Chante Black, Duke. Black had a nice junior season after sitting out for a year with an injury. Not only did she prove she could be the team's go-to player in the post, she also demonstrated that she had extended her range out to 17 feet. That said, Black frequently disappeared for long stretches, had trouble against players of her size and found it difficult to handle stronger players. Her quickness and height (true 6-5) will make her an attractive prospect, but she'll have to continue refining her ballhandling and passing skills if she's going to make the transition to WNBA 4. Look for her to go early in the second round.

6. Rashanda McCants, UNC. McCants was put in a position to succeed last year, moving to her natural wing position and having Larkins and Pringle around to draw attention away from her. She took advantage of this opportunity, leading the Heels in scoring. She did well using her size against opponents and getting to the basket, though her shooting was erratic. McCants often struggled when she missed the first shot of the game, and as a senior she has to have an attacking, confident mindset. If she can lead her team this year, she should be a solid second-round pick with the possibility of going higher.

7. Abby Waner, Duke. Waner slipped badly as a junior, due in part to the change at Duke. Waner is ideally suited to shoot coming off screens, and Duke rarely ran such plays for her last season, exposing Waner's problems creating her own shot. Waner was also used at point guard, not her natural position. That said, if she makes it in the W, it will have to be at point guard. If Waner's ballhandling improves, look for her to be a second-round pick.

8. Shayla Fields, NC State. Fields had to anchor NC State's young backcourt after the team lost a number of seniors, and she did a fine job. She managed to score while still leading the team in assists and guarding the opposing team's best perimeter scorer. As a senior, she'll be expected to take up even more responsibility. She'll need to be a WNBA point guard, and I'm not sure at this time she's quite ready to do that. If she has a big season, I could see her as a third-round pick.

9. Tanae Davis-Cain, Florida State. Davis-Cain is a player to watch. She's athletic, has a fairly strong body and can shoot. Davis-Cain now has to prove herself as a go-to player against elite opponents. She could wind up as a third-round pick.

10. Carrem Gay, Duke. Gay is quite athletic and a fine defender, but at 6-0 and a natural post, I'm not sure where she'd fit in in the WNBA. She has a fine mid-range shot but not a great handle. A WNBA team might take a chance on her in the third round if she demonstrates some more wing skills.

11. Alex Tchangoue, Wake Forest. This jill-of-all-trades doesn't seem to have a WNBA position. She's not quick enough to play guard, not skilled enough to play wing, and not strong or big enough to play at the 4. In college, she can do all of these things. I don't see her being drafted, but I can imagine being invited to someone's camp.

12. Brittany Cook, Virginia Tech. Cook went from solid support player to scoring machine as a junior. She greatly improved the range on her shot and became much aggressive in taking it. She's probably not quick enough to make it in the WNBA, but look for her to make a camp.

Top 10 ACC Juniors (class of 2010)

1. Monica Wright, Virginia. Wright is my favorite to win ACC player of the year as a junior. She greatly improved the range and accuracy of her jump-shot, and that was a significant missing piece from her game. Wright was already one of the league's best athletes and adept at attacking the basket. She has a go-to player mentality and wasn't afraid to take over games. Next on her agenda: get stronger and start to shut down opponents.

2. Jessica Breland, UNC. Breland is probably the best all-around athlete in the league, a run/jump shot-blocking marvel. What she lacks is toughness and intensity. Offensively, she was happier taking jumpers than getting dirty in the post, and that's something that must be corrected. She'll be starting this year, which will give us a clearer indication of what she's capable of.

3. Joy Cheek, Duke. Cheek is a significant step down from the first two players on the list, yet her game has a number of virtues. She is an undersized post who loves contact but also has perimeter skills. She's a good shooter and passer who is still getting used to the speed of the game and can also handle the ball. Cheek will have to slim down a bit if she wants to make it to the league.

4. Jacinta Monroe, Florida State. Monroe is a reed-thin post who is skilled and quick. She was the only post option last year for FSU and did a credible job, though her lack of strength was often a problem. She'll have a couple of years to work with a true post at FSU, so I'd track how she adjusts to being a 4.

5. Lele Hardy, Clemson. Hardy is a great athlete and disruptive defender who has all sorts of skills. She can pass, attack the basket and handle the ball. Her biggest roadblock at the moment is her shooting. If she can become a more effective scorer, she has all sorts of potential. Hardy also needs to start figuring out how to win.

6. Paulisha Kellum, Virginia. Kellum is a tough guard who may not have a WNBA position. She's not a great shooter or passer but does quite well attacking the basket, defending and hitting mid-range shots. She will likely act as a backup point guard this year, and it will be interesting to see if she takes to this spot.

7. DeMauria Liles, Maryland. Liles is a bit of an unknown in the conference because she arrived at Maryland as a JuCo player. She could certainly climb as high as #2 on this list if she's able to harness her considerable bounciness and become a reliable scorer and defender.

8. Nikitta Gartrell, NC State. Gartrell has nice size for a guard, can shoot a bit and get the occasional rebound. She has yet to demonstrate anything exceptional in her game, but she'll certainly have a chance in a program whose players tend to improve with age.

9. Alysha Harvin, Florida State. A career role player, her quickness and defensive ability might be attractive if she can become more of a scorer as well.

10. Mickel Picco, Boston College. Wildly inconsistent, Picco can go off from three on some nights and disappear from games entirely on others. If her long-range shot becomes more consistent, she might get a look from a WNBA team.

Last Year's Report Card

Finally, in the interests of full disclosure, let's see how I did with last year's predictions. Here's my list of the Class of 2008's ACC stars in order of how I ranked them, along with some quick comments about how things actually panned out.

1. Erlana Larkins, UNC. (My guess: top five. Actual pick: #14.) Larkins had a solid senior season, but was never quite able to take off enough weight to look like a quick enough prospect in the W. She landed on a Liberty club that was stacked with forwards, but found herself as a major contributor off the bench during their playoff run and into the playoffs themselves. Her value as an intelligent, lunchbucket player earned her that time.

2. Crystal Langhorne, Maryland. (My guess: top five. Actual pick: #6.) It was inevitable that the Mystics would take the local star, even if she didn't fit their needs at all. Langhorne's weaknesses became obvious against WNBA athletes, especially on defense. She still excelled in certain areas--scoring near the basket, rebounding--but was a poor fit for a team that needed toughness, versatility and court awareness.

3. Laura Harper, Maryland. (My guess: first round. Actual pick: #10.) Harper bounced back with a solid senior campaign after drifting as a junior. Her big body and defensive instincts quickly made her part of the rotation for the retooling Monarchs, though it took them a while to teach her how to play in a more sophisticated offense.

4. Maurita Reid, Miami. (My guess: first or second round. Actual pick: not selected.) Reid had a good senior year but didn't put up the kind of numbers that would draw attention. I'm surprised she didn't get a longer look from some WNBA teams, given her ability to shoot the ball.

5. Sharnee Zoll, Virginia. (My guess: second round. Actual pick: #29.) Zoll was the first pick of the second round after a decent senior year. She didn't demonstrate much improvement in her weaknesses (especially shooting) and may not have had enough quickness to attract some clubs. She bounced between several teams this season, and I expect her to land with a club that needs a pass-first point next year.

6. LaToya Pringle, UNC. (My guess: late second round. Actual pick: #13.) Pringle had a very good junior year and a stellar senior season. Her quickness was always first-rate, but she improved the range on her shot, became a more efficient post scorer and an even better defender. Pringle was a great fit for Phoenix, and she should have an even better season for them next year given a year's adjustment and the fact that she won't be coming off an injury.

7. Khadijah Whittington, NC State. (My guess: late second/early third round. Actual pick: #26.) Whittington had a great senior year, leading a young squad, and so was a late second-round pick. She mostly sat on the bench for an Indiana club that had depth at forward. Whittington will need to continue to work on her ballhandling and range if she wants to play more. She already possesses the toughness to get minutes.

8. Wanisha Smith, Duke. (My guess: third round. Actual pick: #27.) Smith was a late second-round pick thanks to a decent senior year and WNBA body. She bounced around training camps and was one of the last cuts for the Liberty. I expect her to be back in a W camp next year.

9. Janie Mitchell, Georgia Tech. (My guess: late third round. Actual pick: not selected.) I noted that Mitchell's status as a six-foot power forward might make teams overlook her. She could get away with being a tweener in the ACC, but not in the pros.

10. Chioma Nnamaka, Georgia Tech. (My guess: late third round. Actual pick: #21.) I was surprised to see Nnamaka go this high, given her limitations as a player. On the other hand, she's a local (an important matter for an expansion team like Atlanta) and has one pro skill: shooting. That said, she sat on the bench all year.

11. Shante Williams, Florida State. (My guess: not drafted. Actual pick: not drafted.) Williams played through a reconstructed hip as a senior. Her chances of being considered as a pro were slim.

12. D'Lesha Lloyd, Clemson. (My guess: not drafted. Actual pick: not drafted.) Lloyd was the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, master of none. That made her handy for Clemson, but she didn't distinguish herself enough to get pro attention.

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