Draft is just first step for rookies


Monday likely will be a truly life-changing day for some of the young women selected in the WNBA draft. They'll find out where they'll start their professional careers, and they could become very attached to a new city far from where they have spent their lives to this point.

However, for the majority of players selected Monday in the three-round draft (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET), there will be the excitement of being picked ... but that is far from a guarantee they'll see time in the WNBA.

It's tough to earn a job in the 12-team league, even if the new collective bargaining agreement allows for a 12th player on rosters now. One advantage rookies do have, though, is their lower salary makes them appealing if they show an ability to contribute.

But this is a league for the best of the best in women's basketball, and even the most prepared college senior will have to get stronger, smarter and more resilient as a player to make it.

"I am just excited about having the opportunity to be at the next level with a lot of my idols," Baylor point guard Odyssey Sims said. "It will be fun; I'll probably be a little nervous."

Most projections have Sims going second in the draft to Tulsa, behind Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike at No. 1 to Connecticut. Both seniors picked up some valuable hardware recently among the national awards; Sims won the Wade Trophy and Ogwumike the Wooden Award. UConn sophomore Breanna Stewart won the Associated Press player of the year award and the Naismith Award.

Stewart -- whose Huskies won the NCAA title -- will spend the summer working on things to add to her already fantastic ability; she'll be the consensus top college player next fall. Meanwhile, Sims and Ogwumike hope they'll be competing for the rookie of the year award this summer.

Both carried a lot of weight for their college teams from the time they were freshmen. Ogwumike's load got heavier after her sister, Nneka, graduated and was selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft in 2012. For Sims, there was a big change this past season after Baylor lost five seniors.

"With my team being so young, I did the best I could just to lead them," Sims said. "I tried to be the coach on the court, and make sure I did all the little things right."

While seemingly everything from how fast they run the 40 to how long they take to brush their teeth is measured for NFL draft prospects, the WNBA evaluation process isn't that exhaustive. But it has gotten quite a bit more refined as the league has aged. The expertise level has risen among the coaches/management in the WNBA as far as what to look for and how to project the way a player might progress as a professional.

So, yes, you'll hear the terms "skill set" and "upside" a lot Monday. But what can the WNBA teams really expect from the players they select?

If you look back on just the past decade of draft classes -- 2004 through 2013 -- you'll find No. 1 picks that all have paid off, at least to some degree. And some have been spectacular.

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