WNBA Draft to ‘own the sports landscape’ after coronavirus cancellations

Jane Havsy, Morristown Daily Record Published 5:05 a.m. ET April 14, 2020

On Friday night, the WNBA has “the opportunity to own the sports landscape.” With the WNBA draft as the only live sporting event scheduled, Dallas Wings president and CEO Greg Bibb was optimistic.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the draft picks live on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, with top prospects taking part remotely.

The New York Liberty has the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft for the first time. Head coach Walt Hopkins is expected to choose Oregon point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who he called, “just a phenomenal leader in multiple ways” on a conference call Monday afternoon.

Dallas Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb, left, poses for a photo with newly hired head coach Brian Agler, right, after a news conference where Agler was officially introduced, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Dallas Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb, left, poses for a photo with newly hired head coach Brian Agler, right, after a news conference where Agler was officially introduced, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (Photo: The Associated Press)

The Wings have four of the first nine selections, six in the first two rounds. Bibb said Monday his team has been building toward the 2020 draft “for the better part of two years,” stockpiling selections with an eye toward this class.

To be eligible for the draft, players must be at least 22 years old, and have no college eligibility left — or, if from overseas, be at least four years out of high school.

“In terms of preparing, those conversations still haven’t changed from any previous year. Instead of doing them in person, we’re doing them via videoconference,” Bibb said. “In terms of losing the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four, that was unfortunate, but our preparation for the draft started long ago. Many of these players, we’ve been watching for many years … I think I watched more live basketball this season than any previous college season.”

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The league and players’ union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in January, which increased player salaries up to 53 percent. 

Under the new deal, players selected with the first four picks receive a base salary of $68,000. Players chosen fifth through eighth receive $65,250 and the rest of the first-round picks would earn $62,500.

The new CBA also boosted the average salary up to $130,000 and the max to $215,000.

With 103 wins in five seasons, Sandy Brondello is the winningest coach in Phoenix Mercury history.

With 103 wins in five seasons, Sandy Brondello is the winningest coach in Phoenix Mercury history. (Photo: Cheryl Evans/Arizona Republic)

The fate of the upcoming WNBA season is in flux.

Training camp is scheduled to begin April 26, with games tipping off May 15. The WNBA was supposed to have an all-time high of 36 games per team. 

However, everything has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It is a crazy situation we’re in at the moment,” Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said. “I think we all can say we’re staying in close contact with each other and preparing for the season, whenever it does start.”

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19 before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

All winter and spring NCAA Tournaments have been cancelled.

Major League Soccer, including the Hanover Township-based Red Bulls, have suspended the season until at least May 10. The National Women’s Soccer League, which was slated to start the season Saturday, has a training moratorium until at least May 5.

The NHL also announced its season has been suspended, and Major League Baseball suspended operations as well.

“Even though we will be doing it in a remote, unique fashion because of what’s going on in our country right now, the buzz is higher,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst Holly Rowe said. “Because we don’t have sports, people can focus on this. The lead up to this has been good. … I’m really excited people care. The buzz is there. It’s filling a hole in my heart with no sports out there. It’s even more magnified because we all want something good and positive in sports.”

Jane Havsy is a sports reporter for DailyRecord.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis, subscribe today.

Email: JHavsy@gannettnj.com Twitter: @dailyrecordspts 

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