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WNBA MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 13, 2020
New York, New York
THE MODERATOR: We are welcoming to the call Greg Bibb from the Dallas Wings, Sandy Brondello from the Phoenix Mercury, Walt Hopkins from the New York Liberty and Cheryl Reeve from the Minnesota Lynx. Thanks for joining us.
Q. This is for Walt. My question for you is looking beyond the No. 1 pick, what are some of the things that you and the Liberty franchise are focused on, either through the draft or other means leading up to or after the draft?
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, we've got a lot on our plate. We're really trying to feel out any possibility to make our team better in any way. We're wide open in terms of we don't have a position that we're zeroed in on, anything like that. We're really just looking for high-character players with the capacity to fit into our system.
Q. And if I can follow up with that, Coach, you have some players that I don't think we've heard from officially, Tina Charles being one of them. Can you give an update on Tina and other players that you're awaiting word on?
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, right now Tina is with the Liberty, and anybody else that you haven't heard of, the case is the same with them. We're just kind of keeping our options open and looking in different ways to maximize this group.
Q. My question is for Walt Hopkins. When it comes to the development of your draft picks, how big a resource is the connection to the Brooklyn Nets? Do you see a benefit in younger players having relationships with guys like Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, given that prospects such as Sabrina Ionescu have trained with NBA players?
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, anytime that you can bridge the two worlds, I think it's good for both. I think they learn from one another. I think this is going to be the same type of situation in Brooklyn. Our ownership is really good. They're really committed to both franchises, and I know from speaking with Sean Marks with the Nets as their GM, he is really big on collaboration. We've talked a lot in the off-season about ways that we can best kind of bridge the two groups, so it's absolutely going to be a consideration for us and something we'd look to maximize.
Q. This question can be for Walt and Sandy. I'm looking at some third round type players, and I'm curious about two Louisville players, Kylee Shook and Jazmine Jones, and I'm curious what their strengths are and how their skill sets could translate to the pro level.
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, I can speak to both players. Jaz has some high upside. She's athletic. She shoots the three at a high clip, doesn't shoot a ton of them, but really high-character person. Same with Kylee. The research we've done, we've really been reviewing them as extensively as we can. Both players look like they could be good fits, depending on going into a system that suits their strengths or not, which is obviously the case with anyone that gets drafted in a given year. But Kylee is a high-level defender, shoots the three, and like I said, both players are highly thought of by everyone we've talked to, so they both have potential.
Q. This is for Greg. Just kind of obviously a big draft, but just overall, how do you approach it, especially with four picks in the top nine? Obviously I assume you feel like this could be an organization-defining draft for you all?
GREG BIBB: Yeah, good afternoon, and thanks for your interest in coverage, both from you and everyone on the call. It's greatly appreciated. We have been preparing for Friday for the better part of two years, going way back to our transaction involving Liz Cambage. We certainly picked up two players that we feel like will be a big part of our future in Moriah Jefferson and Isabelle Harrison, but we also prioritized picks in the 2020 draft because at that time I thought the draft had the opportunity to be a good one, and then moving forward to the transaction involving Skylar Diggins-Smith, by that point I was feeling more confident about the quality of the draft, so we really emphasized getting draft picks as assets in return rather than established players that candidly at the time of the transaction I would have felt we weren't getting the value in return that we were giving.
We became somewhat speculators at that point and had hoped that the new collective bargaining agreement may entice some of the juniors to enter early. We have some of those now in the draft, so I think it's a really solid draft class, and Friday is a very important day for us. If we get it right, it could set the chart for our organization for the next decade and beyond.
We certainly have tried to point our organization toward this draft and looking forward to executing that plan on Friday.
Q. Cheryl, I know this is probably something you balance every year, but specifically this year, how do you look at the team's greatest need versus what the positional grouping might be of the best players available at 6?
CHERYL REEVE: You know, I think that probably our focus every year is regardless of what position we're drafting, you want to have the best player available. It's utopia when the best player available also fills a need. I think if you look at last year's draft, we had come off of free agency where we signed Karima Christmas-Kelly, who at that time we thought was healthy enough, so our plan wasn't necessarily to have the No. 6 pick be a starter, it just worked out that way, and Collier made the most of an opportunity.
I don't know that this year's No. 6 is any different in terms of our mindset. It's a deep league, and positions are hard to come by, let alone starting positions. Our mindset is grab a talented player. I think that the narrative for everybody is high character and a great talent. We're all looking for the same darned thing, and we'll be no different at 6.
Q. Greg, you touched on it earlier, but just with how big and how deep this draft is and how big it could be for your rebuild, how do you kind of manage that with the somewhat full roster you already have?
GREG BIBB: Well, there certainly is a finite number of spots, and that's 15 under contract and then obviously 12 when the season begins. If we do our math, we're a little off that number right now. I'd say a lot off that number. But we'll do some things between now and then. We have to to get ourselves to the appropriate numbers, but really kind of pulling back and looking at it globally, the idea was to create as much competition as possible in an environment where we're extraordinarily young, perhaps painfully young, and to give ourselves enough assets to get to where we want to be.
So I think along the way, you could see some unconventional moves from us. Certainly there could be some players that are good enough to be on the WNBA roster or perhaps players that have been drafted with a high pick in the past that ultimately don't end up on a roster, whether it be for equitable value in return or maybe for no value in return because they're released, but for us it's really about the destination, not so much the journey, and we've aggregated the picks to be able to afford ourselves the most margin of error possible and to arrive at the best 12 players by the time we play.
Q. Walt, I don't know if you've had a chance to look at a lot of tape of D.J. Williams at Coastal Carolina. She had a game where she put up 50 and then followed that up with a triple-double. I just wanted to know if in your estimation she has the skill set to play in the WNBA.
WALT HOPKINS: I actually haven't spent time watching her. The handful of players that we've narrowed down to, she just hasn't been one of them, unfortunately. I wish I could give you a little bit more.
Q. I just wanted to ask you about Stella Johnson. I know she's definitely kind of a later round pick, but I just wanted to know what you guys had seen from her that maybe you liked or thought might translate well to the next level.
GREG BIBB: I can answer that because I'm a MAC guy, I'm a Marist College graduate, so I had the opportunity to watch Stella play a couple games against my Red Foxes. I think she's a WNBA talent. I think she's an elite scorer. Obviously it's going to be a step up and an adjustment for her, but she's got the size. I think she has the right mindset. I think she puts in the effort on the defensive end, so I think it's all there for her. I think for a player like Stella it may be about the right fit and the right opportunity, but I certainly think she has the ability to play in the WNBA.
Q. My question was something Cheryl touched on a moment ago, but if Sandy or Walt have any sort of perspective on just the way, whether it's the changes to the collective bargaining agreement in terms of top-line salaries and just the way that we saw so many picks change hands during the off-season, what type of impacts that might have just in terms of planning a roster, especially with the uncertainty right now, not maybe being able to meet with your front office and things like that. Just sort of the top-line change that that might have.
SANDY BRONDELLO: I think it really is obviously a crazy situation we're in at the moment, but I think we all can say, we've stayed with close contact with each other and just preparing for the season for whenever it does start.
You know, obviously the salary increase, I think that was a great thing for the players and the owners and the teams. It's really been a crazy free agency with so many players moving, and I think that's exciting for the WNBA. It will generate more media attention, and I just think that it's just going to go from strength to strength. It's more about just trying to make your team the best it can be because we're all about trying to win championships and finding a way to do that.
WALT HOPKINS: Seconded.
Q. I had a question for Coach Brondello. A name that's kind of been floated around a lot at you guys' position in both the second and third round has been Haley Gorecki. What's the chatter surrounding her, and does her injury history play a big factor in her draft stock?
SANDY BRONDELLO: Look, obviously she's talented. I mean, she'll be picked, yeah, in the second or third round, and like I said, teams -- we all prepare differently, but talented players, you hope they get a shot, and it's about coming into training camp and just proving their worth. Obviously they all have an adjustment to make. There's been players that we've all signed on if they're injured, but it really hasn't impacted them too much as long as they're healthy come training camp, and if not, you sit on them a year. It's just a wait and see. For me, I just look at Jacki Gemelos, maybe I didn't say that right, but for her to get another opportunity in Connecticut just shows it's consistent, she's continued to work on her game, and she's getting herself a shot, so good for her.
Q. Sandy, with the addition of Skylar (Diggins-Smith) in the off-season and kind of the way you have the big three now, first question is how do you approach complementing the big three in the draft, and the second is how do you plan to spend draft night virtually?
SANDY BRONDELLO: Yes, good question. I'm not sure about the second one, how we're going to do that yet. Still working on that. It's a process. But it's still exciting. You do so much preparation here trying to put your team together, so it's an exciting time, obviously none more than for the players who are going to get chosen. But for us to have the opportunity to bring Skylar in, you talk about the big three, she's just a quality player, and obviously she's an All-Star, and we just thought she complemented Diana (Taurasi) extremely well, and then you have the inside-outside attack with obviously (Brittney) Griner there. And filling out our roster, we knew we had to get younger and more athletic, more play making, have more shooting. We just needed to get better all around, and that's what we're trying to do with the players, whether it's through the draft or with the training camp contracts we've had. We're just trying to put players around that will complement those big three but also bring us something different, as well.
Yeah, so excited for the draft, and I'm pretty sure that we'll get a good player at 10.
Q. I'm curious, what are your thoughts on Rice's Erica Ogwumike, and where do you project her going on Friday?
WALT HOPKINS: I haven't watched Erica a ton. She probably isn't high on our radar.
CHERYL REEVE: Yeah, I can talk on Erica a little bit. I think all of us would state the obvious. Great bloodlines, right, and this is a player that -- very, very different than Nneka and Chiney in that she's more of a guard. She's got a good strong build, obviously the Ogwumike athleticism, and I think probably the greatest quality for her is that, much like Nneka and Chiney, the way they go about their business, they're great people, they're committed, they're well-rounded, and so Erica would be falling in line with the traditions that her sisters have established.
You know, I'd say from a skill set standpoint she does some things that are really appealing. She's somebody who gets fouled at a frequent rate. As I mentioned, she's got a great build. She's certainly going to have to add the perimeter aspects, not unlike Nneka and Chiney. The difference is that Erica is a guard, so she's going to need to establish that pretty quickly. But I'm pretty sure she's a player you'd love to have around, and I hope she gets an opportunity.
Q. Curious what you see in Iowa's Kathleen Doyle; it seems like second, third round is where she's projected, but I'm also curious how much the way she plays, her tenacity and all that as somebody who may get a better shot or somebody to take more risk on just because of that aspect of her game.
CHERYL REEVE: I think Doyle had a great senior year. I think if you look at obviously Megan Gustafson getting a lot of the shine through the last few years, Kathleen Doyle is exactly what that program needed, and her ability to show what she can do and carry her team to a high level of success again down at Iowa, it's a credit to her.
Certainly consider her getting the opportunity. You mentioned the second round. That seems appropriate. And then from there, it's just about opportunity and fit and what team she's drafted to, is there going to be an opening. I think she's somebody that will be highly competitive and will put herself in great position to compete, and it's just really, really hard. Just go through and look at rosters before the draft starts. There's not a lot of openings. So obviously the road to hoe would be a tough one for anyone drafted in the second and third rounds, but Kathleen I think -- if you have a mindset that this is a process, this is not about right now, if it doesn't happen for her this season, I certainly see her being a player that continues to play basketball and work to get her shot, not unlike Gustafson. Obviously, Dallas found a way to kind of keep that going down there for Megan, and I think the same thing could happen for Kathleen in the right situation.
Q. My question is for anyone who wants to answer, and this is about Minyon Moore. According to a lot of the draft boards, it looks as if she could go early in the second round or maybe in the third, but she just had such an important role on that Oregon Ducks team, so any of you who are willing to answer on that.
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, so getting to watch her a lot both at USC and at Oregon, she's a really tough, really well-rounded player. Obviously, there's concerns about her ability to consistently stretch the defense with her jump shot, but she was a leader, getting to watch her in practices. She's really vocal. She's a fantastic defender. She can get to the rim. She's a plus athlete. I think it's really realistic somebody is going to take a shot on her and I hope they do because she's a really, really tough player.
Q. This is a question for Cheryl. You shared a little bit about this before, but of course you chose Napheesa Collier last year with the No. 6 pick and this year have the sixth pick again. Do you feel there's similar talent at that spot this year?
CHERYL REEVE: You know, that's hard to know because I think it's the hindsight piece because I don't necessarily know going into the draft that we felt like we would be getting a player that would be a starter and be a candidate for Rookie of the Year. I think going into the draft I was concerned about any prospect getting the minutes that you would want for them to have the opportunity to prove what their talent is, and so that's probably the same position we sit in today is we feel like, again, most of our teams, if you don't have the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 picks that the players you're getting are probably going to be role players, and then when there's an opportunity that presents itself, you find out more about them.
We probably sit in about the same place. I see the draft a little different than last year, but I think overall, the mindset would be most of us in the middle of the first round feel like there would be a good player, somebody that could be a good player in our league for a long time. What level they reach I think is the harder projection.
Q. Sandy, can you discuss a little bit what you see in (Megan) Walker and (Mikiah) Herbert Harrigan?
SANDY BRONDELLO: Yeah, obviously Walker, she's one of the juniors that's come into the draft, and she had a real solid year this year, and obviously I think everyone sees that she's a great three-point shooter. Obviously she has a strong body. It's like most of these kids coming in; there's going to be an adjustment period, and they've just got to get used to playing against players probably better than them.
But I see a lot of upside in all of them, to be quite honest. (Bella) Alarie, obviously she's got a great bloodline, that's for one. It's a pity that the NCAA didn't continue because I think her stock probably would rise even more, but she's a strong post player. She can shoot it. She can get into the post. I just think she's going to get better and better. You've seen her play against tougher opponents, I think that's probably what we would have all liked to see.
Sorry, who was the last player?
Q. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, from South Carolina.
SANDY BRONDELLO: Yeah, well, obviously she had a great season. I mean, South Carolina, she was part of the reason there. Just her athleticism, I think that always makes the transition a little bit easier, someone that obviously she can stroke it, she's got a smooth stroke there. Yeah, so I think she will be a handy player in the pros and continue to develop her outside shooting and her engine, but yeah, I think she has a lot of upside, as well.
Q. Coach Hopkins, aside from Sabrina Ionescu, what other players have you looked at, and how do you think a player of her magnitude could immediately impact the team when the season eventually starts?
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, you know, we had to look at everybody that was in consideration for that top pick, so we've looked extensively at Satou Sabally, Lauren Cox, Chennedy Carter, Ty Harris, I mean, we've really taken a little bit of time and delved into those players a little bit more. I think that's probably why we're unable to speak to some of the later round players quite as much as we might normally be able to. I think any one of those players can be a cornerstone type player, depending on how you use them, and I think that hopefully you have a system in place and players in place you're able to build around one of those players, and in the case of a Lauren Cox or someone like that, she might be a little bit better attuned to be a piece of a system rather than a cornerstone, but the rest of the group is pretty strong, and you could probably make an argument for any of them.
Q. I'm curious to know for any of the coaches with the NCAA Tournament being canceled due to the pandemic, did you have to sort of undergo or have you been undergoing any kind of creative scouting during this period, either game film and communicating with your staff? And then the second part of the question is with the draft now being on ESPN and being for two hours, could you also comment on the additional exposure that the league will be receiving now that it's been moved from ESPN2 to ESPN?
GREG BIBB: So in terms of preparation, obviously the logistics, someone spoke to this a little bit already, maybe it was Sandy, we're still sorting through that, but in terms of preparing, those conversations haven't changed much from any previous year. It's just now instead of doing it in person, we're doing them over videoconference.
In terms of losing the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four, that was unfortunate, but I'm sure like everyone else on the call, our preparation for the draft started long ago. Many of these players we were even watching for multiple years, but certainly starting in November with the start of the women's collegiate season, we hit the road, and knowing we were going to have more picks than a normal year, we doubled down on that, so I think I watched more live basketball this college season than any previous season.
In terms of the opportunity for the league, I think it's a silver lining. Obviously what we're dealing with as a society in general is awful, and we all hope to be back sooner rather than later as soon as everyone is safe and we can all figure out a way to do that, but I think if there's any kind of silver lining in this situation, it is the fact that we have an opportunity to kind of own the sports landscape on Friday night, and I think our partners at ESPN are doing a great job in leading the way on that front and adding additional elements for the draft and the coverage and additional content around the league on that day. So very thankful for their partnership, and really excited to see the chatter about and around all of the teams' work on draft night and then thereafter all the conversation around the picks.
Q. Coach Reeve and Coach Brondello, in general, if you guys are evaluating players and you think, hey, this player is sort of a borderline pick, is that generally easier to tell with a guard or a forward, or does it make a difference? I guess I ask are you generally willing to take a little bit more risk at one position based on what you think will be a pro development whereas at another position you think, hey, I want this player to be pretty ready by the time she gets here?
CHERYL REEVE: I would say it's not so much positional as opposed to specific player prospect, what you'd like to have the prospect to have if they are a borderline player, the traits of who they are as an individual, their work ethic, their passion for the game, that sort of thing. I would say that would probably be our preference. I don't know how the other coaches would go about the evaluation process.
But I think if you're borderline, it's a long road, and again, it's more of a process as opposed to an immediate what happens this year, the year you're drafted. We have some good examples of players that -- both post players and guard players that have been cut numerous times and then finally get an opportunity, obviously none greater than Allie Quigley probably, right. So, I think that would probably be my answer to that. I don't know how Sandy would feel.
Q. Cheryl, with your experience playing Oregon with the national team, looking back at that, did you feel that night that that team had the potential for not just the No. 1 pick with Sabrina but possibly the 1 and 2 with Satou (Sabally) and maybe even a third first rounder with Ruthy (Hebard)?
CHERYL REEVE: Yeah, I'm not sure I needed that night to tell me that. Certainly, I think people use it as a measuring stick and that's part of the reason for Oregon playing in that game was to allow their players to see how they measure up and that sort of thing. It was a useful evaluation tool for sure, but I think with or without that game, I think we had an idea how special the Oregon group is.
Q. Walt, beyond what Sabrina Ionescu brings on the court, the Liberty sent quite a good number of personnel to Eugene over the course of the season. Can you speak to some of the things that the organization gathered on her away from what she brings to the basketball court in terms of her skill?
WALT HOPKINS: Yeah, I mean, I can speak for what I've seen. She's really just a phenomenal leader in multiple ways. One, she's not somebody who just stands back and says what to do. She'll come down on teammates but it's in a way that's constructive and you can watch their body language as they take that feedback. It's not easy to be that type of a leader because you have to be doing everything you're saying in order to have the credibility to lead the way that she did, and I think to see the poise with which she's handled all the things that have happened in the past couple months -- obviously we've all been through some things, but I think Sabrina in particular has been through a lot, with her proximity to Kobe (Bryant), speaking at his service and then flying and going and playing in a game where she didn't even warm up, all these things speak to a person who really is pretty special, and I think you need to look no further than the way that she's handled herself in times of crisis to know what type of a leader she is and what type of leader she could be at the next level.
Q. I was asking about UConn's Crystal Dangerfield and where you think she ranks among the available point guards and how her game will translate.
CHERYL REEVE: I think Crystal will be the point guard taken after Ty Harris more than likely. I think Crystal is probably looking at, in the right situation, having the opportunity to be a reserve player in our league as she develops, and I think she's got some good qualities. She can defend. Obviously, she can shoot the three, comes from a great program, so I think all those things would allow her to get the opportunity probably later in the first round, and if it's the right situation and there's opportunity in terms of a roster spot, she seems like somebody that could make the most of an opportunity.
Q. My question is for Coach Cheryl. With Maya Moore sitting out again and then possibly a shortened roster, what's the mindset or approach to continuing to have that sense of confidence, especially making the postseason with an altered roster?
CHERYL REEVE: Well, I think what gives us that confidence is we still have the best center in the game in Sylvia Fowles, who continues to play at a high level. That probably gives us the most amount of confidence. Obviously with Napheesa Collier's emergence, Damiris Dantas had a nice season, so we have a front line that I think is competitive enough. That's the strength of our league right now, so I think that gives us some confidence, and we have some guard play that -- Odyssey Sims, who had one of her best seasons as a pro. When she returns to play, we think that we have something to build on there. So I think we have some good players, and I think that probably gives us the most confidence.
Q. Greg, if you could assess, if you don't mind, the three Baylor prospects in the draft, particularly the first two with Lauren Cox and Te'a Cooper and in particular how Te'a helped herself with the season that she had.
GREG BIBB: Sure. I mean, I think that Lauren Cox obviously is an elite-level talent. I think the thing I might like the most about her is her leadership ability. I've watched her lead at Baylor from early on in her college career, and I've watched her teammates respond to her favorably, I think like Walt spoke of Sabrina, I feel that same kind of leadership by example kind of trait in Lauren, and obviously, I think she's a great defender. I don't personally have the concern over the medical stuff that others may. I think she's going to be a fantastic pro and have a long career.
And I think Te'a (Cooper) helped herself tremendously. Coach (Kim) Mulkey has definitely figured out a formula in terms of plugging in a point guard and having success. Much like Chloe Jackson before Te'a being more of a combo guard, came in and had an opportunity to showcase herself at the point, did really well. I think she's got the pro body. I think she has the ability to hit her shot from almost everywhere. Obviously, the more minutes she gets at the point guard point the more comfortable she'll feel there, but I think she is for sure also WNBA talent.
Juicy (Landrum) I think is an elite shooter. I think she's probably a later selection, maybe end of second round, somewhere in the third round. I think for her it's probably more situational, where does she go, what does that roster look like, is there an opportunity for her to make a roster first as a specialist and then develop into more than that on a WNBA roster. But I think all three certainly have an opportunity to be a part of the draft and get a shot in the WNBA.
Q. I know the Indiana Fever are heading into the season with a first-year coach in Marianne Stanley. I know she's been approached at several levels across the league. What does a Marianne Stanley coach look like, and how do you think she'll utilize the talent on the team?
SANDY BRONDELLO: I think Marianne, for me, obviously has a lot of experience in the WNBA and all of coaching, so she's dealt with so many different players throughout her whole career. Obviously, she's well-respected. She's going into a team that is very skilled and talented, so it's more about just getting into the leadership, which I think should be a great fit for her. It's just getting those right players to buy in and play hard, but like you said, they are a young team, so I think her leadership will certainly help get them to that next level.
CHERYL REEVE: Yeah, it's been so darned long since Marianne got her opportunity after her early years in the WNBA. She didn't get a chance to be recycled like some of the others that we've seen. Really interesting to see how she does this time around.
Q. I just wanted -- I was curious about your evaluation of Chennedy Carter, obviously a terrific shot maker and able to create her own shot, but how her game and how she'll be able to fit at the next level.
GREG BIBB: You know, Chennedy grew up down the road from College Park Center, our home arena, and when I say that, I don't mean it figuratively, I mean it literally, down the road from the arena. So, obviously, a player we've known about for a long, long time. I think she's an elite scorer. I think she's very dynamic on the offensive end. I think that she can translate, if necessary, depending on the roster, to the point guard position better than maybe some people want to give her the credit for. I think when she has WNBA talent around her, you'll see a little bit more out of that ability.
You know, I think obviously commitment at the defensive end, like any prospect, is something that she'll probably have to work on and be more consistent in that regard, but in terms of going and getting a shot when you need a shot and being the kind of player that has the makeup to want to take that shot when it matters the most, it's hard to beat her in this draft class, so I think she's going to be an exciting professional to watch for a long, long time.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports