On Monday, I found myself back to business as usual however this was not the usual. I was participating in a Pre-2020 WNBA Draft virtual press conference via Zoom with Head Coach Nicki Collen and President and GM Chris Sienko.
Going into the press conference I had a few questions about the 2020 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm that will be held on April 17. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNBA will hold a virtual draft without players, guests, and media. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the draft picks live on ESPN2 with coverage beginning at 8 p.m. ET, and top prospects will take part remotely. The draft will also be available on the ESPN App.
The first thing that popped in my head was what happens if technology fails and the Dream face technological issues.
Coach Nicki reassured me that everything would be fine. If technological changes and challenges occurred there are people on standby to handle the issues accordingly.
President and General Manager Chris Sienko spoke on how much communication needs to happen before the Draft.
“We talk to all teams quite often, quite honestly, and this has been going on for quite some time. There have been some conversations, even when free agency started or before – and obviously that was pushed a little bit because of the CBA – so we have conversations, and with such limited time we kind of want to know going into Friday what we’re going to do or what potential options may be. As we go through the Draft and if there’s any potential opportunity to switch things around or make a shift in where we stand and what we acquire, we kind of have a good feel for that ahead of time.”
Currently the Atlanta Dream hold four picks in the 2020 WNBA Draft – No. 4 (First Round), No. 17 (Second Round), No. 25 and No. 27 (Third Round). Coach Collen spoke on the need for a point guard and the need for a small forward with size and using the fourth overall pick to select a player based on need or based on best available.
“I think it’s a little of both, and I think it’s determining what that looks like. When you have a lottery pick, you feel like you can get a player that can impact you, so I think from that perspective you’re not just basing your pick on depth – we need someone that can impact us. You should be able to get a player at four that impacts you. So it’s a little of both, when you talk about who those options are at the top of the Draft, we can assume Sabrina [Ionescu] is off the board, but when you look at those other guys – Satou Sabally can fit the small forward, Chennedy Carter obviously a guard that can play off the bounce, even Megan Walker has size and shooting ability and can be a small forward. Bella Alaire’s a little bit of a unicorn, so probably a four right now, but ultimately could be a little four-three-ish in the right system. Those are some of the name’s we’re obviously talking about. And then when you talk about best available, could it be Lauren Cox at four in terms of someone who maybe is not exactly what we need, but is just too good to pass up on.” said Collen on using the fourth overall pick to select a player based on need or based on best available.
Collen also spoke on the possibility of part of the season being played without fans in attendance.
“It’s hard to prepare for that. I don’t know what that looks like, I don’t know what that feels like… I think it’ll be tough, let’s face it. Ironically, I’ll use Elizabeth [Williams] as an example – Fenerbahce was dominating the Turkish League, and they played one game before they shut the league down in a closed arena, and they lost a game that you would never expect them to lose. Fenerbahce has some of the most excited and wild fans on the planet, so there’s a difference. There’s a difference in motivating yourself when there aren’t 5,000 people or 10,000 people screaming for you or against you, and don’t underestimate how important that is, it’s going to feel like a closed scrimmage. We’ll all be in that same environment together, but I think it will be a challenge for everybody in this league to compete at the highest level they can under the circumstances. Knowing that we’re closed and there’s no fans, that probably means that it’s on TV or being streamed somehow some way, so people are watching us, and it’s another stage for our players to show just how good they are and not to take it lightly.”
During the draft, the WNBA will honor Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester – who tragically passed away in a helicopter accident on Jan. 26. The WNBA also plans to honor the late Kobe Bryant, a passionate advocate of the league, at the draft and during the upcoming season.
The league is conducting ongoing scenario planning around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the upcoming season, including the currently scheduled start of training camp on April 26 and the scheduled May 15 tip-off of the WNBA season. Stay tune for updates regarding any changes to key dates.