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Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith Among Initial List of 2022 WNBA Draft Candidates

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMarch 30, 2022

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

The WNBA announced the list of players who have renounced their remaining eligibility to enter the 2022 draft.

As expected, Kentucky star Rhyne Howard and Baylor star NaLyssa Smith lead the group. The list is likely to grow with the 2022 NCAA women's basketball tournament still ongoing.

Khristina Williams @Khristina

.<a href="https://twitter.com/WNBA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WNBA</a> announced today the initial list of 88 players from colleges and universities who have formally filed for inclusion as candidates for the 2022 WNBA Draft ⬇️<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WNBA?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WNBA</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WNBATwitter?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WNBATwitter</a> <a href="https://t.co/EntGd0sP4p">pic.twitter.com/EntGd0sP4p</a>

As a result of the pandemic, some players who otherwise would've exhausted their eligibility already had the opportunity to return to school for the 2021-22 season. As with last year's draft, there remained a level of intrigue as to whether any marquee names would exercise that option.

Iowa State star Ashley Joens, who just wrapped up her fourth season with the Cyclones, announced Monday she was returning to the team:

Ashley Joens @ashleyjoens

🌪❤️💛 <a href="https://t.co/xlNGjdPPyE">pic.twitter.com/xlNGjdPPyE</a>

North Carolina State star Elissa Cunane wasn't listed with the 88 draft-eligible players, either, though she has more time to decide with the Wolfpack's season only ending on Monday. The same goes for Michigan star Leigha Brown, who came out on the losing end against Louisville in the Elite Eight on Monday.

Otherwise, it doesn't look like WNBA teams will have to drastically alter their draft boards, especially if Cunane bids adieu to NC State.

The Washington Mystics will be the first team on the clock after winning the draft lottery. It was a fortuitous outcome for the 2019 champions, who slipped to ninth in the league largely because of Elena Delle Donne's lingering back trouble.

Washington now has the opportunity to lay the foundation for its future while remaining firmly in the 2022 playoff hunt.

The Mystics' decision will likely come to down either Howard or Smith, who have distanced themselves as the two best players available.

Howard averaged 20.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a senior. While she only shot 38.3 percent from three-point range, her offensive potential is through the roof.

Smith can't space the floor as well as Howard but averaged more points (22.1) while hauling down 11.5 boards per game. Per Her Hoop Stats, the 6'4" forward is 32nd in Division I in defensive rebounding rate (26.1) and 50th in total rebounding (19.2 percent).

Bleacher Report's Jackie Powell projected Howard to land in the nation's capital, with Smith falling to the Indiana Fever at No. 2.

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