By the time the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament rolls around, WNBA coaches and GMs are likely putting the finishing touches on their draft boards, but that doesn’t mean their pre-draft work is done quite yet. A strong showing by a draft prospect in the tournament can do wonders for how they’re perceived at the professional level.
As in any NCAA Tournament, in 2021 there have been a handful of draft-eligible players who have stepped up their games and raised discussion on where they should be drafted on April 15. Due to the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted its athletes, every player who wants to go pro will have to notify the WNBA by the evening of April 1 (or, for players competing in the Final Four, 48 hours after their last game), ultimately making things more difficult than normal to project. If the following players decide to move on to the WNBA, though, chances are they’ll be leaving college basketball on a high note.
DiJonai Carrington (Baylor)
Mention Carrington’s name and chances are you’ll be met with a strong opinion of whether or not she was fouled during the waning seconds of Baylor’s Elite Eight loss to UConn.
It’s unfortunate that the game’s ending is the main topic of discussion, particularly when it comes to Carrington, because she had a very solid NCAA Tournament otherwise. Carrington gave Baylor starter-quality minutes off the bench, her defense and size on the perimeter and relentless transition offense perfectly embodying how the Lady Bears want their wings to play. Not only did she lead Baylor in scoring twice during the tournament — once against UConn and also against Virginia Tech in the Round of 32 — but she also racked up 12 steals, continuing her regular-season role as a defensive playmaker and fast break starter.
Granted, Baylor’s style of play inflates some of its players’ statistics — particularly when it comes to creating those fast breaks — and Carrington is no exception, recording an enormous 33.2 percent of her offensive possessions in transition (Synergy Sports). Size on the perimeter isn’t something that can be taught, though, and neither can quick hands and defensive instincts — both of which Carrington has. WNBA front offices are always looking for big perimeter players, and Carrington’s performance in the NCAA Tournament should lock up her status as a mid-to-high second-round pick.
Kiana Williams (Stanford)
It’s always fun playing in front of your friends and family, especially during a pandemic when fan attendance is limited and should be considered a luxury. You can bet it’s not something that Williams is taking for granted.
A native of San Antonio, Williams has taken full advantage of playing NCAA Tournament games in her hometown. Stanford cruised through its first three tournament games, winning by an average of 27 points, and Williams led the way, scoring a total of 49 points and knocking down 14 threes while turning the ball over just three times.
It was Williams’ performance against Alamo Region No. 2 seed Louisville, however, that showed the kind of player she is. After shooting just 1-for-11 in the first half, Williams came roaring back in the second, leading a Cardinal comeback that sent Stanford to the Final Four. Not only did Williams overcome her slow start to finish with 14 points and a pair of 3-pointers, but her defense in the game was spectacular as she forced four steals. She may have struggled with her shot early, but she didn’t let it affect her game on the other end of the floor, which is something WNBA coaches will surely love.
The main takeaway: If Williams hadn’t already proven herself as a winning player after years of excelling at Stanford, she’s done so in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. While most expect Louisville’s Dana Evans and Arizona’s Aari McDonald (as well as UConn’s Evina Westbrook, should she declare her eligibility) to be the first lead guards chosen in the 2021 Draft, Williams won’t be far behind, and her even-keeled, pro-ready mentality will be a big reason why.
Jenna Staiti (Georgia)
If you play in the SEC, you’re going to need size in your frontcourt, and that’s exactly what the 6-foot-4 Staiti brings to Georgia. The Bulldogs’ run to the SEC Tournament Final and earning of a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament were due in large part to her rise as one of the country’s top rebounders and shot-blockers; according to Her Hoop Stats, Staiti grabbed 24.2 percent of all available rebounds as a senior, while her 11 percent block rate ranked 14th among all Division I players.
Though Staiti blocked just one shot during Georgia’s NCAA Tournament run, she established herself in other ways. In particular, her scoring was highly efficient: Staiti racked up 19 and 18 points in games against Drexel and Oregon, respectively, and she did it on a combined 15-for-25 (60 percent) shooting effort.
It wasn’t all on layups or putbacks, either. During her career at Georgia, Staiti has shown glimpses of a developing an outside shot, and she knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in Georgia’s first NCAA Tournament game. While Staiti shouldn’t be treated as a stretch five prospect quite yet — her rebounding and shot blocking remain her calling cards — the feathery touch she’s displayed on her jumper suggests that a consistent long-range shot is something she’ll become comfortable taking in the future. That will be a key factor in separating Staiti from the pack later in the draft.
All statistics for the 2020-21 NCAA season are current as of March 31, 2021.