On Monday, April 11, the WNBA held its 2022 draft in New York City. 12 collegiate superstars and several coaches were invited to attend the draft in person, but not one of them played for the University of Connecticut. That does not mean the Huskies weren’t well represented in the draft.
For the first time since 2020 and the 14th time in the last 15 years, the UConn women’s basketball team had at least one player drafted by a WNBA team. The Huskies had three seniors — Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook — selected in the second round by three championship-winning programs.
With the 2022 WNBA season tipping off on May 6, how will the soon-to-be UConn alumni fit with their new teams?
Writer’s Note: I can’t analyze basketball perfectly, but I will explain what each UConn player brings to the organization.
Christyn Williams: Washington Mystics (Round 2, Pick 14)
I really like this move for Washington, and it’s a small but important step toward working its way back to the WNBA Finals after winning it all in 2019.
What the Mystics selected in Williams was another guard who can complement the team’s scoring by making tough shots. Their backcourt was already strong as Ariel Atkins finished second on the team with 16.2 PPG in 30.6 minutes while Natasha Cloud averaged 8.7 PPG. Add Williams’ 14.2 PPG into the mix and the Mystics can run a three-guard rotation without having to worry about foul trouble or injuries.
Williams is a natural leader. Everyone talked about how Caroline Ducharme caught fire while Paige Bueckers was out with injury, but it was Williams who led the Huskies in scoring and stepped up big. In the 19 games Bueckers missed, Williams scored less than 10 points twice. Her scoring prowess and ability to shoot from anywhere (45.4% from the field) made her the winner of the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award as the nation’s best shooting guard.
Most importantly, Williams’ personality fosters a positive locker room culture and will help develop several close connections. I’ve observed through numerous post-game press conferences that she has one of the best attitudes on the team and her energy is simply electric. I can’t perfectly describe the Mystics’ locker room last season, but adding Williams makes the team’s culture that much better.
If everything works in Williams’ favor, this could be a steal for the Mystics.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa: Los Angeles Sparks (Round 2, Pick 19)
The city of Los Angeles just got its best forward since Pau Gasol, who helped the Lakers win two consecutive NBA championships. Nelson-Ododa can do it all, whether it’s offensively in the paint or defensively on the glass.
The Sparks needed scorers as Nneka Ogwumike is the only returning player who averaged over 10 points a game last year. Nelson-Ododa (9.2 PPG) fits the mold by attacking the paint and reaching for long passes en route to the bucket. When Nelson-Ododa gets a shot opportunity, it’s going to go in more times than not, as she shot 59.5% from the field (which led the team) on 200 shot attempts.
Los Angeles already has two players averaging over five rebounds a game, but adding Nelson-Ododa’s 7.5 RPG (5.1 DRPG) gives them a reliable third lockdown forward that can contain opposing offenses. If Nelson-Ododa builds off her college numbers and decreases the number of turnovers she commits, then she’s a future Defensive Player of the Year winner.
The only weakness in Nelson-Ododa’s game is fouling, a common theme among frontcourt players. Nelson-Ododa fouled out in three games, had eight other games with four fouls and led the Huskies with 94 fouls charged against her. If Nelson-Ododa escapes foul trouble, she could be an All-Star with a steadily increasing number of minutes.
The Sparks were already loaded on the frontcourt with the Ogwumike sisters, but picking up Nelson-Ododa gives them a future franchise center who will make noise in year one.
Evina Westbrook: Seattle Storm (Round 2, Pick 21)
Seattle’s called UConn Northwest for a reason. Westbrook joins three former Huskies in Breanna Stewart, Gabby Williams and future Hall-of-Famer Sue Bird on a championship-contending roster.
As UConn players gradually returned from injury last season, Westbrook was relegated to the bench. She took that position with open arms, contributing off the bench 21 times while providing more depth come tournament time. Even without winning the Big East Sixth Woman of the Year Award, Westbrook (9.0 PPG) produced when it mattered.
Williams said that “everybody eats,” but Westbrook put bark to Williams’ bite. Westbrook excels at generating assists as her 3.1 APG, good for third on the Storm last year, were the third most for the Huskies behind Bueckers and Nelson-Ododa. In addition, Westbrook had the second most assists with 113, and reached that number while having one double-digit assist performance against St. John’s.
Westbrook is a natural communicator both on and off the court. Whether it’s with a microphone or a basketball in her hands, Westbrook can break down the defensive schemes and adjust her gameplay on the fly. It’s those transferrable skills that make her a high-class floor general.
On top of her playmaking prowess, Westbrook knows how to win. She enters her third winning program in the last six years, the other two being the University of Tennessee and UConn. The three programs have won 23 combined championships.
This is a very underrated pick, but one that could pay dividends for the Storm over the next few seasons.
After an outstanding collegiate career that ended with a championship game appearance, the future is bright for each Husky in the league. Although none were first-round picks, we’ve seen second round picks thrive in years past and I wouldn’t be surprised if each player becomes a regular contributor for their teams by August. Until then, we can only wait for the new season to tip off.