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2023 WNBA Draft Watch: Elizabeth Kitley has been the cornerstone of Virginia Tech’s ascent

Elizabeth Kitley just became the all-time leading scorer in Virginia Tech Hokies history, adding to her already-impressive list of accomplishments for Kenny Brooks’ program. The 6-foot-6 center is one of the most prolific low-post scorers in the country, and has been remarkably consistent statistically throughout her career.

Wake Forest v Virginia Tech
It’s been a record-setting season for Elizabeth Kitley, who will go down as one of Virginia Tech’s all-time greatest players.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies are finishing up the 2022-23 regular season as the ACC’s hottest team, having won seven straight games to sit at 23-4 overall. The Hokies, who are 13-4 in the ACC and currently ranked No. 9 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, will finish with their best record under head coach Kenny Brooks since he was hired in 2016, reaping the rewards of a rebuild that has put them near the top of one of the most competitive conferences in basketball.

During the more recent (and successful) years of that rebuild, Elizabeth Kitley has been what most would consider Virginia Tech’s foundational player. A 6-foot-6 center from Summerfield, North Carolina, Kitley has been an impactful player for Brooks and the Hokies since day one, putting together an impressive statistical resume that has made her one of Division I’s most recognizable stars. More importantly for Virginia Tech, she’s been the centerpiece of the program’s ascent, and recently broke the Hokies’ all-time scoring record, passing former teammate Aisha Sheppard’s mark of 1,883 points.

It’s a feat that impressed a panel of ACC Network analysts, including legendary ex-Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.

As McGraw and her fellow panelists noted, Kitley — who has averaged better than 18 points per game on 53 percent shooting or better from the field for three consecutive seasons — has been eerily consistent throughout her career, and it has her in first-round discussion for the upcoming 2023 WNBA Draft. A recent mock draft by ESPN’s M.A. Voepel projects Kitley to be drafted at No. 8 by the Atlanta Dream; Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan and Matt Cohen mocked her going as high as No. 6, also to Atlanta.

There’s still a good amount of collegiate basketball to be played until then, though, including an NCAA Tournament that will hold high expectations for Kitley and the Hokies. In the meantime, let’s review what she’s accomplished thus far at Virginia Tech and how it may translate to the WNBA.

Honors and statistics

Kitley was ranked as the No. 33 overall recruit (No. 7 post player) in the class of 2019 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz, and she’s been starting for Virginia Tech since her first game as a Hokie. Kitley made her presence felt early, winning ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in her first collegiate season.

Since then, Kitley has been a model of consistency and a regular at the top of individual ACC leaderboards. She averaged 18.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game as a sophomore and 18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game as a junior; Kitley was named ACC Player of the Year as a junior and also earned All-American Honors from the WBCA, USBWA, and The Associated Press. Most recently, Kitley was named to watch lists for Naismith Trophy, Wooden Award and Wade Trophy, as well as the Lisa Leslie Award, which is given annually to the nation’s best center.

Kitley’s low-post prowess powers the Hokies

Wake Forest v Virginia Tech
Kitley has a soft, effective touch around the basket, and at 6-foot-6, she has a shot that’s difficult to contest.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

In an era of basketball that is placing more and more emphasis on stretch bigs, skilled “unicorn” forwards, and frontcourt players that generally operate outside of the painted area, Kitley’s game is a throwback to the days of dumping the basketball into the post and letting the best big win. She is almost exclusively a halfcourt player — Synergy Sports has logged just nine of her 450 offensive possessions this season as coming in transition — and over 77 percent of her halfcourt possessions come on either post-ups, cuts or offensive rebounds.

That doesn’t mean that Kitley’s style of play is ineffective. She’s highly efficient, shooting 75 percent on offensive rebounds and ranking in the 85th percentile in scoring out of post-ups, and skill-wise is one of the more fundamentally sound players of her archetype in Division I. Sure, Kitley is capable of simply overpowering smaller defenders (of which there are many), but she has the hands, footwork and patience to take full advantage of her height in other ways, namely through step-back, short-range jumpers that, due to her high release point, are more or less unguardable. Despite facing significant defensive pressure on a nightly basis, it’s rare to see Kitley get rattled, her deliberate pace of play often prevailing over whichever defensive scheme opponents employ to try to speed her up.

In a way, Virginia Tech has adapted its playing style to that of its star center. Though the Hokies have a talented group of guards including long-range bomber Georgia Amoore and former Purdue combo guard Kayana Traylor, Brooks has largely structured his team’s offense around Kitley, preaching a methodical, patient pace that gives the big center time and space to go to work.

Look no further than Virginia Tech’s recent win over the rival North Carolina Tar Heels to see the Hokies’ strategy in action. Kitley asserted herself against a physical Tar Heel squad, recording 21 points, 10 rebounds and a game-winning shot that looked as routine as a free throw in a full 40 minutes of action.

Highlights: Kitley records a big double-double in a win over North Carolina

Just as reliably as she’s scored in the post and rebounded the basketball, Kitley has blocked shots — 248 of them, to be exact. Once again, it’s mostly thanks to her size; Kitley is not the type of big who can make several rotations on a possession and she prefers to stay back in drop coverages, though her length makes her enough of a rim deterrent to anyone who challenges her there. It’s this area of Kitley’s game that may give pro coaches pause, as perimeter offense is significantly more dynamic in the WNBA, and she’ll need to prove that she can move her feet well enough to play consistent minutes in more aggressive WNBA defensive schemes.

Still, 6-foot-6 is 6-foot-6, and if there’s a way for a center who isn’t fleet of foot to stay on the floor, it’s to be an efficient offensive player and to contribute on the glass. Kitley has long since proven to be that and more, and with an offensive game that has seemed pro-ready since before her senior season, she’s sure to have fans in WNBA front offices as draft day approaches.

Watch her play

Kitley and Virginia Tech will play their final regular-season game on Sunday against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (ACC Network). The ACC Tournament will then run from March 1 through March 5, though the Hokies will get two bye rounds, having clinched one of the tournament’s highest seeds. Each of those games will also be broadcast on the ACC Network, with the championship airing nationally on ESPN.

The NCAA Tournament begins on March 17, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Virginia Tech will be participating. ESPN’s Charlie Creme currently projects the Hokies as a No. 2 seed in the tournament in the latest edition of the network’s Bracketology.

All statistics and team records for the 2022-23 NCAA season are current through Feb. 25, 2023.