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The Biggest Wnba Draft Steals Of the Last Five Years

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It is no secret that the WNBA draft is top heavy. Due to the staying power of many of the league’s stars, new spots are hard to find, and they are typically filled with highly-touted first round prospects.

With 12 teams and 12 roster spots apiece, there are just 144 spaces open. Between injuries and other transactions, that number can grow a bit in any given year. In 2019, for example, 157 different players saw the court.

Only the best of the college game and international prospects are able to last.

In 2019, eight third round draft picks played a total of 1,537 minutes, or 1.9% of all player minutes for the season. For comparison, 11 first overall picks played a total of 7,552 minutes. That figure does not include Angel McCoughtry, Breanna Stewart, or Sue Bird, all former first overall selections whose injuries kept them off the court (or Maya Moore, who skipped the season to focus on freeing a prisoner she believes was wrongfully convicted).

Even among second round picks, there were only 37 active players in 2019, for just 17.7% of the league’s total minutes. To say the least, in the WNBA, draft steals are few and far between.

To honor those who beat the odds, I’ve gone back over the past five draft classes to find the best hidden gem from each.

First, some ground rules. A “steal” was defined as a draft pick in the later two rounds who vastly exceeded outside expectations, or, where necessary, a first round pick who has done the same. Extra credit was awarded to contributions to championship-caliber teams.


Two All-Stars have come out of the 2015 draft class, the first overall pick Jewell Lloyd and fourth pick Elizabeth Williams. The steal of the draft, however, was Natasha Cloud, taken 15th overall by the Washington Mystics.

Before trading for Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics had historically built through the draft. The longest tenured player, Emma Meesseman, was the 19th pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft. In this, Cloud fits right in. The 5-foot-9 guard was the first player from St. Joseph’s to make a regular season lineup for a WNBA team since Susan Moran in 2002.

During the Mystics 2019 title run, Cloud averaged nine points, 5.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds as the starting point guard. Against New York on June 7, she poured in a career-best 26 points. In the playoffs, she turned it up and improved both her field goal shooting and 3-point shooting by five points to 44.2% and 37.8%, respectively. She also upped her scoring to 13.1 points per game and assists to 6.1 per game during the championship run. Consistently, her playoff numbers exceed those from the regular season.

Five seasons and 150 games later, Cloud’s 6.2 win shares are tied for fourth in her class. In 2019, she set the Mystics single-season assist record with 194. She was also awarded the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award.


It is difficult to imagine a draft being more top heavy than Breanna Stewart as the first overall pick. That was the situation in 2016, when Stewart and then two other UConn teammates were picked one after another.

While no one drafted outside of the top 10 has played four seasons, Temi Fagbenle has put together three consecutive strong seasons. The eleventh pick of the third round by the Minnesota Lynx, Fagbenle decided to take a year off from basketball to finish up her master’s degree at USC after coming over as a graduate transfer from Harvard.

“Then and now, I knew it was the best decision for me,” she said while fighting for a spot at the Lynx preseason camp. “Basketball has a shelf life and I thought if I can finish my education right now, just take a year off and that’s just a short period of time in the grand scheme of things. I got it done and continued to play basketball and that was great. I’m able to do this now, so hopefully I can make the most out of this situation.”

So far, Fagbenle has. As a 24 year old rookie, she not only made the roster, but won a championship in her first season. In total, she has played in 69 regular season games, averaging 9.3 minutes, 3.1 points and 1.9 rebounds while shooting 51.1% from the field.


The 2017 draft in New York City was a tough one. Just 11 players from the draft were active two years later in 2019. Only one player drafted after the first round made it to year three, Indiana Fever’s Erica McCall, selected 17th overall from Stanford. No one has become an All-Star.

Still, Brittney Sykes surprised a lot of people. Not even invited to the draft, many thought that she would be the second player taken from Syracuse after Alexis Peterson. Instead, the Atlanta Dream took Sykes seventh overall, making her the highest drafted player from Syracuse ever. Soon after, she was the Rookie of the Month in July.

At 11.3 points per game in her career, she has been the leading scorer in her class, even ahead of Kelsey Plum, the NCAA all-time leading scorer taken first overall. She also shares the WNBA record for most points in a quarter — 22 — with Diana Taurasi, who set the initial record in 2006. Russell scored 22 in the third quarter against Phoenix on July 7, 2019.

In the off-season, Sykes came over to the Los Angeles Sparks, where she has a shot at the starting small forward position according to head coach Derek Fisher. For her career, she has started in 57 of 97 regular season games, including the final 24 games of the 2019 season, as well as all five postseason games with Atlanta in 2018.


Mercedes Russell was the tenth pick of the second round by the New York Liberty, and the 22nd overall selection. In 2019, Russell’s 1.3 defensive win shares were 22nd in the entire league. The path there was a little less than linear.

In just two regular season games with the Liberty in 2018, Russell averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 16.2 minutes. Then she was cut and signed by the Seattle Storm. During the 2018 championship season, she was a relative afterthought, averaging 4.6 minutes, 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds off the bench.

That changed in 2019, when the injury bug bit the Storm hard. Russell appeared in all 34 regular season games and started 30. In 25.6 minutes per contest, Russell contributed 7.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game while shooting 51.7% from the field. Those numbers put Russell in the top 50 in the entire league in player efficiency rating.

On June 14, she notched her first career double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds at Washington and then on July 3 scored a career-high 19 against New York. Seattle lasted just two games in the 2019 playoffs, but Russell started both and averaged 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds shooting 76.9% from the field.

The 6-foot-6 center from Tennessee had her NCAA title aspirations cut short, but soon after became a WNBA champion. In a class with three All-Stars, Russell was the biggest steal.


There has been just one season during which to evaluate the 2019 class, but early signs point to Natisha Hiedeman as the steal of the draft. The sixth pick of the second round by the Minnesota Lynx, Hiedeman became the first Marquette women’s basketball player to earn an in-season contract in the WNBA. But it wasn’t with the Lynx.

The Lynx had already secured Napheesa Collier from UConn, who won Rookie of the Year and was named an All-Star, and Notre Dame’s Jessica Shepard by the time Hiedeman was selected. So the Lynx traded Hiedeman’s draft rights to the Connecticut Sun. With nine returning players from 2018, and Bria Holmes returning from pregnancy, spots were limited. The Sun’s own draft picks, Kristine Anigwe at nine and Bridget Carleton at 21, made the roster ahead of Hiedeman, who was the team’s last cut.

From there, Hiedeman signed with the Atlanta Dream as a EuroBasket replacement for Alex Bentley. By the time Bentley returned, Hiedeman had yet to make an appearance, and was once again waived to make space. Without a team once again, the Sun called her back after Layshia Clarendon suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

“I’d just been back and forth, back and forth,” Hiedeman said. “But, being cut actually helped me a lot because it just helped me accept failure and want to work harder to get to where I want to be.”

Debuting in the second quarter of a game against the Dream, Hiedeman scored 10 points before halftime to re-introduce herself to her team.

On the season, Hiedeman appeared in 20 regular season games, collecting 3.7 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for a team that reached the WNBA Finals. Her player efficiency rating was fourth-highest in her draft class and 45th-best in the league, and the 1.9 win shares per 48 minutes is sixth in the class. 45th-best PER.

In seven games in the WNBA Playoffs, Hiedeman shot a combined 60% from the field, 66.7% from beyond the arc and 100% from the line. Twice in the playoffs she scored eight points in nine minutes, first against Los Angeles in the semifinals and later in the fourth game of the WNBA Finals.


Teams had to trim their rosters this week to get under the salary cap. That meant a lot of rookie players were cut without ever getting a chance to train in front of their coaches. Once again, the WNBA is proving to be one of the toughest professional leagues to crack.
Still, as the players above show, there’s always hidden gems. And while it might take a few years to determine who will be the steal of this year’s draft, don’t be surprised if it’s someone you never saw coming.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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