April 8, 2010 9:20:00 AM
By Adam Minichino
None of the four WNBA coaches and/or general managers could pinpoint where Mississippi State seniors Armelie Lumanu, Chanel Mokango, and Alexis Rack and University of Mississippi senior Bianca Thomas will be picked today in the annual WNBA draft.
But all four individuals agreed all four will be drafted, likely in the first two rounds of the three-round event.
"I don''t see any of the four going in top four picks," Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "I am not seeing them projected to go in the top 10, but I think they all could go anywhere after that."
With the No. 11 pick in the 12-pick first round, the Fever could be in prime position to select any one of the four Southeastern Conference standouts. Dunn couldn''t divulge who her team was considering, but she praised all four players and feels they have the potential to make one of the 12 teams in the league.
The problem all potential draft picks and free agents will face, though, is a smaller number of available sports. The recent folding of the Sacramento Monarchs and the subsequent dispersal of that team''s players to other league teams coupled with the reduction in roster sizes from 13 to 11 means all players will have to find the right fit in training camp.
"It is going to be extremely hard to make a team, harder than it has ever been," Dunn said. "If the three Mississippi State players don''t make a team they can go overseas and get more experience to help them be prepared for an opportunity to make a team in the future."
Dunn feels all three MSU players have that ability. She credited coach Sharon Fanning-Otis for doing a great job in guiding the Lady Bulldogs to the first Sweet 16 appearance in the program''s history. She said Lumanu, Mokango, and Rack, three of eight seniors on the roster, played integral roles in helping MSU beat Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament and then upsetting Ohio State in the second round.
Florida State ended MSU''s run in the Sweet 16 with a 74-71 victory.
"I think the success they had in the NCAA tournament really has drawn some attention to those seniors," Dunn said. "Everyone is more familiar with Rack, but as the NCAA tournament went along Mokango and Lumanu, the SEC''s Defensive Player of the Year, attracted even more attention. All three are very athletic, and they are what I would call pro prospects."
Dunn said she likes Rack''s versatility to play point and shooting guard. She also likes Lumanu''s defensive presence and her ability to play on the wing. She said Mokango, a 6-foot-5 center, can affect the game inside and is developing as an offensive player.
"I would bet all three of them are gone by the end of the second round," Dunn said.
Dunn feels the same way about Thomas, who led the SEC in scoring at 20.9 points per game. She said her ability to score is something every team needs.
Chicago Sky coach/GM Steve Key agrees. He said Thomas'' ability to score is even more impressive because teams knew Thomas was Ole Miss'' primary option, they knew she had 3-point range, and she still put up big numbers.
"If you''re looking for somebody who can put the ball in the basket I don''t think you can go wrong with somebody like that if you pick her in the second or in the third round," Key said.
Key feels Lumanu is a "lockdown defender." He said it has been a long time since he has seen someone like that. Does that mean the Sky are looking to select Lumanu? Chicago picks fourth in the first round and doesn''t have another choice until No. 28 in the third round. There is no telling if any of the players will still be available at that point, but Key said all of the players have plenty of strengths.
"I think Alexis Rack has the ability to play at this level, especially considering her ability to run a team and to score," Key said. "Mokango might have the most potential at our level because of her length and her athleticism. I see more room for growth in her because she hasn''t quite filled out, she runs the floor well, and she disrupts shots. She is only going to get more polished on offense as she gets stronger with her legs and her upper body."
Key said the number of available roster sports might work against Lumanu and Mokango, in particular, because they haven''t been playing basketball for very long. Both players are from Kinshasa, Congo, and played two years at Southeastern Illinois College before transferring to MSU and playing two years for the Lady Bulldogs.
Key said all new players to the league are going to have to come in and work harder than they ever have in part because a lot of good players are playing in the league longer. With no taxi squad or developmental league, players who don''t make a WNBA roster will have to go overseas to stay sharp.
Washington Mystics GM Angela Taylor said many executives in the WNBA consider the SEC to be one of the nation''s top conferences As a result, they know SEC players have been tested and likely are ready for the up-tempo and aggressive style of the WNBA.
Taylor praised Rack''s versatility and improvement over the course of her four years at MSU. She also believes Lumanu and Mokango have a lot of potential that the right team could tap into with the right draft pick.
After all, not every team is going to get to select a player like University of Connecticut center Tina Charles, who likely will be taken by the Connecticut Sun with the top pick in the draft.
"There are a few players who will make an impact right away," Taylor said. "But outside of a couple of different players the rest will be role players, which will be an adjustment for some of them."
Atlanta Dream coach/GM Marynell Meadors and the Dream have the No. 9, No. 21, and No. 33 picks, so they could be in prime position to add a Lady Bulldog to their roster. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but Meadors likes the chances the MSU players have to be selected.
"I think all three of them are very, very talented," Meadors said. "All three are athletic and defend well and are very disciplined in what they do. I look at them and I see athleticism everywhere. They played within a system with Sharon''s team and they''re winners. They play so hard and when they can''t go anymore, they can''t go anymore. Their effort never went unnoticed by any of the coaches who were watching them."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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