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
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
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
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