Virtual WNBA draft will be business as usual for Sky

There’s sure to be some “rookie mistakes” as the WNBA hosts its first virtual draft due in the league’s 24 years of existence.

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James Wade gets emotional as he accepts his Coach of the Year award ahead of the Sky’s playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury at Wintrust Arena. | Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

One year ago, Sky general manager James Wade made a big mistake on draft night: he didn’t answer his phone when owner Michael Alter called.

“Rookie mistake,” Wade says now with a laugh.

There’s sure to be some of that Friday as the WNBA hosts its first virtual draft in the league’s existence due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But while other teams deal with the logistical problems of not being in the same room on draft night, it’ll be business as usual for the Sky.

Last year, Wade was in Hungary for the Euroleague playoffs, while the draft took place in New York City. With three cell phones, a laptop and an iPad in front of him, Wade had his coaching staff and other members of the organization on a video conference call as he made the Sky’s three picks from his hotel room.

This year, he’ll have a similar set up, though in a different location.

By the time the Sky make their first pick at No. 8, it’ll be just after midnight for Wade, who joined his wife and son in France last month as Euroleague was one of the many professional sports leagues suspended over coronavirus concerns.

“I’m always a virtual guy at the draft so that’s something that I’m used to,” Wade said. “I guess the interesting thing for me is that I’m in the house with my family, they’ll be asleep but I’ll have the den or whatever all to myself, and just have the coaches on Zoom and have ownership and the rest of the organization on speed dial — we’ll just go from there.”

Overall, the Sky are in a better position now than where they were one year ago.

Coming off their first playoff appearance since 2016, the Sky are in win-now mode. They retained their core group of starters in free agency, while adding point guard and frontcourt depth with Sydney Colson and Azura Stevens.

The Sky’s busy offseason paired with the new collective-bargaining agreement have put the Sky up against the salary cap. As a result, they’ll carry an 11-player roster this season.

With that said, the Sky’s first-round pick is anticipated to make the team, though she won’t necessarily be relied on to contribute in a major way.

“The players that we talked to, we told them what we expected from them coming in and what could potentially be their roles,” Wade said. “The good fortune about us is we’re too deep in their position and so it’s not because you’re not playing the minutes you played ... just a few months ago that you’re not in our plans, but it’s going to probably be a little bit patient on both sides. So I’m not going to ask a player to be patient and us not to be patient too.

“We have a really good team with a bright future so I don’t expect especially someone we’re picking at eight to come in and demand minutes right away.”

Since the Sky don’t have a glaring need heading into the draft, they’re looking to take the best player available when they’re on the clock. They could benefit from adding a point guard to develop behind Courtney Vandersloot and Colson or another forward since Jantel Lavender and Stevens are coming off foot injuries.

Here are four first-round prospects for the Sky:

F Bella Alarie, Princeton

Averaged 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 23 games last season

Alarie was easily the best player in the conference and hasn’t even reached her full potential yet. Her numbers took a slight dip from last season, when she averaged a double-double, but she was a leader on the Princeton team that went 26-1. The Sky could use another tenacious player on defense, like Alarie.

PG Crystal Dangerfield, UCONN

Averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 30 games last season

The Sky don’t necessarily need another playmaker, but Wade has expressed interest in Dangerfield. The 5’5 UConn product possesses a pass-first mentality, similar to that of Vandersloot, and has proven quickness and keen court awareness. However, she needs to kick her defensive intensity up another notch. If the Sky drafted Dangerfield, she would be groomed by defensive-minded guards Vandersloot and Colson.

PF/C Ruthy Hebard, Oregon

Averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds in 33 games last season

Hebard is another player the Sky have taken an interest in — and for good reason. Standing at 6’4, Hebard is a menace in the paint and has the ability to pass out of double teams. She was highly efficient last season, shooting 68.5 percent. Wade said her touch around the basket and overall game reminds him “a little bit of the Rookie of the Year from last year, Napheesa” Collier.

PF/C Beatrice Mompremier, Miami

Averaged 16.4 points and 10.1 rebounds in 16 games last season

Mompremier is an athletic big who can shoot from anywhere on the court. She would be another good frontcourt addition for the Sky, especially with her scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. However, there is some concern surrounding Mompremier as a foot injury forced her to miss 13 games last season.

WNBA draft info

When: Friday at 6 p.m. on ESPN

Format: Three rounds of 12 picks each

Sky picks: No. 8, No. 30 and No. 32 (barring any trades)

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