'It's a great opportunity': WNBA, Lynx testing first virtual draft Friday night

For at least two hours Friday night, the WNBA will become the center of the sports universe.

The WNBA Draft will host its virtual draft at 6 p.m. Friday, broadcast on ESPN. It will be done remotely, with selections announced and interviews done remotely through video conferencing due to the Coronavirus pandemic. They’ll be the first to try the venture, with plenty of eyes from across the sports world watching.

It should provide a good glimpse of what the NFL might look like when its virtual draft goes live April 23.

“I’m just excited that people care, the buzz is there and I think at least for me anyway, it’s filling this hole in my heart of no sports right now,” ESPN WNBA reporter Holly Rowe said Monday. “It’s even more magnified because we all want something good and positive right now in sports.”

League officials say they’ve tested out the technology that will go into Friday’s draft and are confident they have what they need to pull out off without issues. It won’t be the first virtual draft for Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve.

She had to do video conferencing in 2014, after being hospitalized and on bed rest. Friday’s draft likely won’t be perfect, but Reeve says she’s been in communication with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and is hoping for the best.

“I told her may your bandwidth be plentiful. You hope that there are no glitches in this kind of real-time, very important event,” Reeve said. “I just think it’s a tremendous opportunity to have our league front and center, put on a great show. Maybe the NFL will learn something from what the WNBA does.”

Reeve has double duty in the draft as the Lynx head coach and the general manager, finding the best player available and also hoping that it fills a need. Minnesota has the No. 6 pick in the WNBA Draft for the second straight year, and last year, they took UConn star Napheesa Collier with it.

Collier ended up taking a starting role, averaging more than 13 points per game and leading the Lynx in minutes. It’s something Reeve didn’t see coming as they finished 18-16 on the season.

“I was actually concerned about getting her enough minutes as a rookie to do anything meaningful. You have your plans and sometimes circumstances decide something different. Napheesa just made the most of the opportunity,” Reeve said.

So who will the Lynx take at No. 6. Reeve joked that she always feels there’s one less player to become a star or immediate contributor than where you’re slotted in the draft. The consensus is that the top three players in the WNBA Draft are Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Lauren Cox.

CBS Sports has the Lynx taking UConn forward Megan Walker, as does Draftsite and ESPN. The Ringer has South Carolina guard Tyasha Harris coming to Minnesota. Reeve said Tuesday she doesn’t see a rookie starting at point guard for the Lynx next season, whenever it starts.

That said, she feels they’ll get a talented player at No. 6.

“I think our greatest need is to add a good player, add talent. That’s our greatest need, period,” Reeve said.

The other complication to the WNBA Draft is there was no NCAA Tournament. Prospects didn’t get a chance to be seen before the draft in live action, or in workouts. The tournament is a chance for some to boost the potential for their pro career.

Regardless, 36 players will experience the life-changing moment of hearing their name called Friday night.

“That’s one of the things I’m so excited about for this draft, even though the circumstances are far from ideal and even though none of these players got a chance, especially the seniors, to fulfill their dream for their collegiate career. There still is a dream coming true for some of these women on Friday,” ESPN draft analyst Rebecca Lobo said.

Add talent, fill a need. Most of all, we sort of have live sports to be excited about again.

“We have some veteran players in the league that are really excited about anything WNBA,” Reeve said. “To be front and center on ESPN in a live event, it’s a great opportunity.”