The Atlanta Dream, which traded last week to acquire the No. 1 pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, selected Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard with the No. 1 pick Monday night in New York.
The Washington Mystics won the toss in December but traded the No. 1 pick to Atlanta last week as the Dream dropped from No. 3 to ensure they got Howard.
The 6-foot-2 Howard, sophomore and junior SEC Player of the Year, averaged 20.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during her senior season, leading the Wildcats in points, rebounds, 3 points, interceptions and blocks. The only other SEC player to do this in the past 20 seasons was Mississippi State’s Tan White (2003-04 and 2004-05).
“I’m shaking right now,” Howard told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after being selected No. 1. “It’s a dream come true.”
Baylor’s 6-foot-4 forward NaLyssa Smith, the Big 12 Player of the Year for the past two seasons, was the No. 2 pick for the Indiana Fever, which had four first-round selections.
“I come in hungry,” said Smith, who can play power forward or small forward in the WNBA. She’s been known to score in the paint and thinks her range will continue to grow.
Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds last season for the Bears, who won the Big 12 regular season title for the 12th straight season. She was part of Baylor’s 2019 national championship team as a rookie.
The first three picks went to plan, as the Washington Mystics selected 6-foot-5 Ole Miss center Shakira Austin at No. 3. Austin averaged 15.2 points and 9.0 rebounds for the Rebels in 2021-22 and can be a force in Washington’s home offense and defense.
The Fever were expected to get big on defense and the posts with their early-round picks, and the last in the lottery at No. 4 matched the two: Louisville’s 6-foot-1 forward Emily Engstler, who helped the Cardinals make the Women’s Final Four. The same description goes for Fever’s No. 10 pick, Smith Baylor’s teammate, 6-foot-3 center Queen Egbo.
But Fever’s selection at No. 6 was a surprise: Stanford guard Lexie Hull, who many projected as a second-round pick. But Hull, who helped the Cardinal win the NCAA title in 2021 and return to the Final Four last season, impressed Indiana general manager Lin Dunn with his relentless hustle and 3-pointing ability.
It was the first time a WNBA team had four first-round picks. With Smith, Engstler, Hull and Egbo, Dunn hopes Indiana has a young foundation to help the Fever return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Franchise legend Tamika Catchings retired after this season.
“We’re going to rebuild with young players,” Dunn said of Fever, who last had a regular-season winning record in 2015. “I see highly skilled players coming out of college, but the real key adjustments are the physics and the speed of the game. I need players who can adapt quickly.
The No. 5 pick brought another “sister act” to the WNBA, as Oregon center/forward Nyara Sabally heads to New York. His older sister, Satou Sabally of Oregon, went to Dallas with the No. 2 pick in 2020.
Sabally was able to train with Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionescu when the two were at Oregon and is thrilled to have the chance to play with her in the WNBA.
“Sab is an amazing playmaker,” Sabally said. “I saw her in training every day and I’m delighted to share the pitch with her.”
The Wings, meanwhile, got the No. 7 pick this year and went with Northwestern guard Veronica Burton, who was the Big Ten and WBCA Defensive Player of the Year. The 5-foot-9 Burton is considered a top perimeter defender for a Dallas team that could use an upgrade there.
Another upset came at No. 8, as Las Vegas brought in Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed, who helped the Buffaloes qualify for the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2013. The Aces went on to defeat Kierstan Bell of the Florida Gulf Coast at age 11.
Bell, who started his college career at Ohio State and averaged 23.6 points and 9.4 rebounds at the FGCU, has won the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year award for the past two years and will now have the chance to play for her.
Tennessee winger Rae Burrell, who helped the Lady Vols to the NCAA Sweet 16, was the Los Angeles Sparks selection at No. 9.
Connecticut finished the first round picking Michigan State’s Nia Clouden.
Howard is the second player the Dream has picked No. 1, following Louisville’s Angel McCoughtry in 2009. McCoughtry led the Dream to three WNBA Finals appearances.
Howard’s 284 career 3-pointers are part of what makes her a multifaceted threat, as she’s also big enough to take on most defenders. Howard can seize the opportunity to become a signature player for a Dream franchise that went 8-24 last season and missed the playoffs four of the last five years.
Howard, who was the first Kentucky player to become No. 1 in the draft, will be close to home, having grown up about 90 minutes from Atlanta.
“For it to be so close, it’s huge. A lot of family and close friends can come out and support me,” Howard said. “To begin with, I have no words at the moment. Still shaking. Super excited and proud of myself and grateful for everyone who has been on this journey with me and helped me get here.”
Rookies were able to attend the event in person for the first time since 2019, as the draft had to be done remotely in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The WNBA season begins May 6, with training camps opening later this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.